BOOKS: Falcon, Bee & Parrot

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2006:

Falcon by Helen MacDonald
Bee by Claire Preston
Parrot by Paul Carter
Reaktion Books Ltd. (33 Great Sutton St.,
London, EC1V 0DX), 2005. 208, 224, and 224
paperback. $19.95 each.

Reaktion Books’ new natural history book
series explores not only the natural history of
animals, but also their places in human history,
culture, and current affairs. The authors
discuss the differences between the real-life
behavior of each animal and the behavior
attributed to the animal as used in political,
military, and commercial symbolism.

Helen MacDonald’s compelling book on
Falcons, for example, explains falcon myths and
legends, the sport of falconry, how the
pesticide DDT nearly exterminated raptors through
food chain buildup, how falcons and humans
interact in cities, and how falcons have been
used as mascots and weapons of war. Falconry is
making a comeback, MacDonald says, arguing that
this is partly because masculine qualities
considered lost or marginalised in modern life
are being projected onto falconry. Falconry,
MacDonald believes, has become a romantic,
anti-urban, anti-modern pursuit.
An alternate explanation would be that
the explosive growth of interest in wildlife
rehabilitation in recent decades has resulted in
thousands of people trying to teach rescued young
raptors how to fly and hunt. This requires
learning the skills of falconry, and obtaining
the same permits as falconers.
Claire Preston’s book Bee is a heavily
intellectualised study of the complex role played
by bees in the art, politics and social thought
of human cultures. There are chapters on the
biology of bees and beekeeping, but Preston goes
much wider in her search for the less obvious
influences of bees upon society, studying the
aesthetic bee’ the folkloric bee’ the futile
bee’ and the retired bee’ among others.
Paul Carter’s book Parrot is beautifully
illustrated. Carter divides his work into three
sections: Parrotics, Parroternalia, and
Parrotology. Much of the treatment is abstruse,
and difficult for the general reader.
–Chris Mercer & Bev Pervan

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