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Winner of the 2018 Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing
Seabirds have always entranced the human imagination and Adam Nicolson has been in love with them all his life: for their mastery of wind and ocean, their aerial beauty and the unmatched wildness of the coasts and islands where every summer they return to breed.
Over the last couple of decades, modern science has begun to understand them: their epic voyages, their astonishing abilities to navigate for tens of thousands of miles on a featureless sea, their ability to smell their way towards fish and home. Only the poets in the past would have thought of seabirds as creatures riding the ripples and currents of the planet, but that is what the scientists are seeing now too.
In ten chapters, each dedicated to a different bird, and each beautifully illustrated by Kate Boxer, The Seabird's Cry travels the ocean paths along with them, looking at the way their bodies work, the sense of their own individuality, the strategies and tactics needed to survive and thrive in the most demanding environment on earth.
At the heart of The Seabird's Cry are the Shiant Isles, a cluster of Hebridean islands in the Minch but Nicolson has pursued the birds much further across the Atlantic, up the west coast of Ireland, to St Kilda, Orkney, Shetland, the Faeroes, Iceland and Norway; to the eastern seaboard of Maine and to Newfoundland, to the Falklands, South Georgia, the Canaries and the Azores – reaching out across the widths of the world ocean which is the seabirds' home.
But a global tragedy is unfolding. Even as we are coming to understand them, the number of seabirds is in freefall, dropping by nearly 70% in the last sixty years, a billion fewer now than there were in 1950. Of the ten birds in The Seabird's Cry, seven are in decline, at least in part of their range. Extinction stalks the ocean and there is a danger that the grand cry of a seabird colony, rolling around the bays and headlands of high latitudes, will this century become little but a memory.
Please note that this book has been published in the US with the title The Seabird's Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet's Great Ocean Voyagers.
Adam Nicolson is a prize-winning writer of many books on history, nature and the countryside including Sea Room, God's Secretaries, The Gentry and the acclaimed The Mighty Dead. He is winner of the Royal Society of LIterature's Ondaatje prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, the W.H. Heinemann Award and the British Topography Prize. He has written and presented many television series and lives on a farm in Sussex.
"[...] Scientists tend not to be good writers, and writers not necessarily good scientists, their prose sometimes getting the better of interpretation of evidence. On occasions in the book, I felt a little uncomfortable that the latter was happening, particularly in the way that seabirds were portrayed through human eyes. However, by eliciting the help of those experienced in seabird biology through conversation and review, Adam Nicolson has managed to weave a lot of scientific inquiry into his book, between the more literary content, and this will make it of wide appeal. [...] This book is not particularly aimed at ornithologists, who will be familiar with many of the stories recounted of their colleagues’ studies, in some cases with a slightly different take. But beyond its target audience I am sure there is something to be learned for everyone here."
– Peter G.H. Evans, Ibis 160, 2018
"[...] No one has previously captured the essence of seabirds, of their habitats or their lives, with such poignancy or perception as Adam Nicolson in this fine book. [...]"
– Stephen Carroll, British Wildlife 28(6), August 2017
"An exquisitely written paean to ten ocean-going birds [...] make no mistake, this is a clever book [...] a call to arms against the loss of this crucial part of our rich natural heritage"
– Books of the Year, The Times
"An extraordinary book, nothing less than a masterpiece"
– Financial Times
"Gorgeous book, a poetic soaring exploration of 10 species of seabirds [...] Generous and beautifully composed"
"No one has previously captured the essence of seabirds, of their habitats or their lives, with such poignancy or perception as Adam Nicolson in this fine book [...] [He] takes us on an extraordinary, constantly changing journey through the history, literature and biology of their lives [...] [His] exuberance for seabirds is infectious [...] inspirational"
– BBC Wildlife
"Nicolson writes with a heart full of poetry and a head full of science. He is up to speed with recent seabird research and tells the tales with relish"
– Mail on Sunday
"Full of fascinating and often gruesome details [...] [he] succeeds in expressing his sense of awe at these magnificent creatures"
– Sunday Times
"Though seabirds have ridden the surf and skies for 100 million years we are now casually wiping them out [...] Nicolson has accorded them this book. Its excellence constitutes some small recompense"
– Evening Standard
"It isn't sufficient to say that Nicolson writes well about birds. He is dizzyingly, dazzlingly good"
– Sunday Herald
"Beautiful and engrossing book [...] written with verve and weathered with wonder [...] there is no one I'd rather read writing about these creatures [...] the bigness of our author's excitements and passions is [...] abundant in this clear-sighted yet loving book and it is magnificent to have"
– Country Life
"Breathtaking [...] [Nicolson] has an intuitive understanding of the birds that feels almost uncanny [...] presents [...] research in a way that is not just comprehensible but compelling, even moving [...] His swithering between the forensic and the poetic creates a sense of wonder"