At the end of the eighteenth-century Britain fell in love with nature. Two books marked this moment - Gilbert White's "Natural History of Selborne" and Thomas Bewick's "History of British Birds", the first 'field-guide' for ordinary people, illustrated by woodcuts of astonishing accuracy and beauty. But it was far more than that, for in the vivid vignettes scattered through the book Bewick drew the life of the country people of the North East, children and farmers, travelling musicians, old soldiers and beggars, housewives and fishermen - a world already vanishing under the threat of enclosures.
In this superbly illustrated short life, Jenny Uglow tells the story of the farmer's son from Tyneside who never courted fame yet revolutionised wood-engraving and influenced book illustration for a century to come. It is a story of violent change and radical politics, of Newcastle and the Tyne, workshops and family life, mines and fells, the sea and the fierce west winds - a journey into a past whose energy and power still haunt us today, and the beginning of our lasting obsession with the natural world.