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John James Audubon: The Making of an Americanby Richard Rhodes
Illuminating and engaging, this intimate sketch of a prodigious talent sheds light on Audubon's character as well as his devotion to his art.
Synopses & Reviews
The first major biography of John James Audubon in 40 years, and the first to illuminate fully the private and family life of the master illustrator of the natural world.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Rhodes shows us young Audubon arriving in New York from France in 1803, falling in love, marrying, and crossing the Appalachians to start a new life in frontier Kentucky. We see him exploring the wilderness of birds — pelicans wading the shallows of interior rivers, songbirds flocking, passenger pigeons darkening the skies — and teaching himself to revivify them in glorious life-size images.
We follow him to instant fame in England, where he labors to publish his grand work The Birds of America. In the beautiful, often heartbreaking letters he and his wife, Lucy, exchange across the Atlantic, we read of their great and enduring love. We explore his legacy of acute observation — the sonorities of a wilderness now lost, the brash life of a new nation just inventing itself. And we see Audubon in the fullness of his years winning public honor: embraced by writers and scientists, feted by presidents and royalty. Here is a revelation of Audubon, both the artist and the man — an indispensable portrait of a true American icon.
"[An] absorbring story, and Rhodes tells it surpassingly well. Outstanding." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Reviews)
"This fresh, comprehensive biography will capture the imagination of readers everywhere." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Rhodes's thorough and well-documented book is the most complete record since Alice Ford's 1964 John James Audubon. Highly recommended." Library Journal (Starred Review)
Book News Annotation:
An award-winning author who has frequently explored science and American history offers the first major new biography in many years of ornithologist/artist John James Audubon (1785-1851). Rhodes traces Audubon's arrival in America from France, his (for a time) commuter marriage, and career culminating in his magnum opus The Birds of America. He presents a well-rounded portrait of the Audubon Society's namesake and the U.S. of the early frontier period. Illustrations include color plates of Audubon's celebrated watercolors of North American birds.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Pulitzer Prize—winning historian Richard Rhodes, the first major biography of John James Audubon in forty years, and the first to illuminate fully the private and family life of the master illustrator of the natural world.
Rhodes shows us young Audubon arriving in New York from France in 1803, his illegitimacy a painful secret, speaking no English but already drawing and observing birds. We see him falling in love, marrying the wellborn English girl next door, crossing the Appalachians to frontier Kentucky to start a new life, fashioning himself into an American just as his adopted country was finding its identity.
Here is Audubon exploring the wilderness of birds-pelicans wading the shallows of interior rivers, songbirds flocking, passenger pigeons darkening the skies-and teaching himself to revivify them in glorious life-size images. Now he finds his calling: to take his hundreds of watercolor drawings to England to be engraved in a great multivolume work called The Birds of America. Within weeks of his arrival there in 1826, he achieves remarkable celebrity as “the American Woodsman.” He publishes his major work as well as five volumes of bird biographies enhanced by his authentic descriptions of pioneer American life.
Audubons story is an artists story but also a moving love story. In his day, communications by letter across the ocean were so slow and uncertain that John James and his wife, Lucy, almost lost each other in the three years when the Atlantic separated them-until he crossed the Atlantic and half the American continent to claim her. Their letters during this time are intimate, moving, and painful, and they attest to an enduring love.
We examine Audubons legacy of inspired observation-the sonorities of a wilderness now lost, the brash life of a new nation just inventing itself-precisely, truthfully, lyrically captured. And we see Audubon in the fullness of his years, made rich by his magnificent work, winning public honor: embraced by writers and scientists, fêted by presidents and royalty.
Here is a revelation of Audubon as the major American artist he is. And here he emerges for the first time in his full humanity-handsome, charming, volatile, ambitious, loving, canny, immensely energetic. Richard Rhodes has given us an indispensable portrait of a true American icon.
About the Author
Richard Rhodes is the author of twenty books, including novels and works of history, journalism and letters. His The Making of the Atomic Bomb won a Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, a National Book Award, and a National Book Critics Circle Award. Dark Sun, about the development of the hydrogen bomb, was one of three finalists for a Pulitzer Prize in History. A Kansas native, he has frequently explored American history and biography in articles for national magazines. He lives in Half Moon Bay, California.
Richard Rhodess Masters of Death and Why They Kill are available in Vintage paperback.
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