This is the miracle of flight as you've never seen it before: the evolutionary story of life on the wing. A bird flits overhead. It's an everyday occurrence, repeated hundreds, thousands, millions of times daily by creatures across the world. It's something so normal, so entirely taken for granted, that sometimes we forget how extraordinary it is. But take that in for a moment. This animal flies. It. Flies.
The miracle of flight has evolved in hugely diverse ways, with countless variations of flapping and gliding, hovering and diving, murmurating and migrating. Conjuring lost worlds, ancient species and ever-shifting ecologies, this exhilarating new book is a mesmerising encounter with fourteen flying species: from the first fluttering insect of 300 million years ago to the crested pterosaurs of the Mesozoic Era, from hummingbirds that co-evolved with rainforest flowers to the wonders of dragonfly, albatross, pipistrelle and monarch butterfly with which we share the planet today.
Taking Flight is a mind-expanding feat of the imagination, a close encounter with flight in its myriad forms, urging us to look up and drink in the spectacle of these gravity-defying marvels that continue to shape life on Earth.
Lev Parikian is a writer, birdwatcher and conductor. He is the author of Into the Tangled Bank, longlisted for the Wainwright Prize, Light Rains Sometimes Fall and Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? He lives in West London with his family, who are getting used to his increasing enthusiasm for nature. As a birdwatcher, his most prized sightings are a golden oriole in the Alpujarras and a black redstart at Dungeness Power Station.
"[Lev Parikian] brings a sense of infectious enthusiasm to his account of the evolution of flight in the natural world, from mayflies and bees to bats and hummingbirds by way of pterosaurs and archaeopteryx, combining a wealth of information with a sense of wonder."
– The Observer
"This accessible account of the animal kingdom's development of flight exhibits a layman's enthusiasm for an everyday wonder."
– Times Literary Supplement
– Country Life
"A compelling, chatty and wildly informative look at the various species on Earth with the ability to fly [...] An evocative, entertaining and educational flight path through the natural histories of various winged creatures."
"[...] Piecing the story together with fossils, field observations, pop science and academia, Parikian draws on his passion for ornithology to weave a narrative in how own unique way – with plenty of humour, cultural nods and perfectly placed anthropomorphism [...] It's a fun an fascinating ride, propelled by the author's ability to deliver even the driest science with wit and clarity. [...]"
– Tiffany Francis-Baker, Resurgence & Ecologist 339, July/August 2023
"This book soars. Lev Parikian illuminates one of the most magical mysteries of the natural world: how birds, bats, and insects break the bounds of Earth and fly through the heavens [...] Parikian is a nature writer at the top of his game."
– Steve Brusatte, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs
"As dashing as a swallowtail, as colourful as a hummingbird [...] An illuminating book written with Lev's characteristic warmth, I didn't want this flight to end."
– Jon Dunn, author of The Glitter in the Green
"Lev Parikian's writing – about the extraordinary wonders of flight – is as magical and uplifting as the aerial dynamics of our tiniest insects and birds."
– Ann Pettifor, author of The Case for the New Green Deal
"Whether you're an engineer, a linguist, a historian or just curious, this book has something for you [...] Get ready to be swept away by the expertly crafted harmony of Taking Flight."
– Professor Lucy Rogers, author of It's ONLY Rocket Science
"Lev Parikian explores one of nature's most astounding evolutionary conjuring tricks [...] A work of clarity, levity and joy."
– Caspar Henderson, author of A New Map of Wonders
"This is a soaring, joyful book, filled with the wit and wonder of aerial gymnastics, deep time, evolution and biology. It might just be the nearest thing to flight in a literary form."
– Patrick Barkham, author of Wild Isles
"A beautiful concept, flawlessly executed, Taking Flight is among the most charming popular science books I've read in years. Parikian is fast becoming one of the finest science writers out there."
– Jules Howard, author of Wonderdog
"Witty and enlightening. This book may not give you wings, but it will give you a deep appreciation for all those animals that glide, soar, hover and flutter [...] and penguins."
– Helen Pilcher, author of Life Changing: How Humans are Changing Life on Earth
"Lev Parikian has produced a clear, crisp and entertaining account of the history of animal flight. A delightful and insightful read."
– Dominic Couzens, author of A Year of Bird Song
"Had P. G. Wodehouse ghost-written Attenborough's Life on Earth, we might have had Taking Flight forty years ago. This is a charming book, which – like its author – fizzes with erudition, wordplay and humour."
– Nick Acheson, author of The Meaning of Geese
"Taking Flight is full of wonders, large and small, and Lev's own sense of the astounding fact of flight will make you look at the world differently. Those of us who can't distinguish a pigeon from a pterosaur will learn lots, but it's also bang up to date and informed by research."
– Chris Lintott, University of Oxford
"Taking Flight is a triumph of science communication. Full of surprises, insights and connections, I found delights with every turn of the page."
– Amy-Jane Beer, author of The Flow
"This book is fascinating – packed with "well, I never!" and "who'd have thought?" lines which you feel compelled to share with anyone within earshot – and beautifully written with characteristic warmth and humour."
– Brigit Strawbridge, author of Dancing with Bees