Synopses & Reviews
Cranes are ubiquitous in the earliest legends of the world's peoples, where they often figure as sentinels of heaven and omens of longevity and good fortune. For their great beauty and imposing size they are the largest of all flying birds on earth they are held near-sacred in many lands. Their broad wilderness habitat requirements make them "umbrella species"; protecting them ensures that other creatures and the earth and water of the ecosystem are also protected. In addition, the enormous spans of cranes' migrations have encouraged international conservation efforts.
In The Birds of Heaven, Peter Matthiessen chronicles his many journeys in search of the world's fifteen species of cranes. From the vast taiga of Siberia's Amur basin and the Mongolian steppe, breeding grounds for the glorious red-crowned and white-naped cranes, his travels take him to India, Bhutan, China, Japan, and Korea, then on to Australia, Africa, and western Europe (where the native crane is being encouraged to return), and finally to Wisconsin, Nebraska, the Gulf Coast, and Florida, where ingenious efforts are under way to establish a nonmigratory population of the rare whooping crane. He is accompanied by erudite and passionate ornithologists and "craniacs," along with many fascinating regional people, from Mongolian nomads to Gujarati nawabs. Through their eyes as well as his own, he portrays the astonishingly tenacious cranes' struggles to survive in a rapidly developing world in which man is leaving less and less place for other creatures. He also captures the deep loss to humankind should these majestic creatures their majesty illuminated by Robert Bateman's eloquent renderings be permitted to disappear.
"Peter Matthiessen has a strong claim to being the most distinguished all-around writer of our postwar years." Frederick Turner
"There is...no writing life more vital and of greater distinction in the second half of our century." Howard Norman
"The Body of his enormous work, and its integrity and range, continues to amaze me." W.S. Merwin
"An original and powerful artist...who has produced as distinguished a body of work as any writer of our time....He has immeasurably enlarged our consciousness." William Styron
“A gorgeous, plangent work: a cri de coeur for the cranes protection and a testament to Matthiessens enduring high caliber as writer and world traveler . . . [He] projects an undiminished passion for the specific creature, the distinct landscape, the cultural oddity, the startling word. In The Birds of Heaven
, he conveys that feeling through serendipitous prose as elegant as the stately birds that inspire him.”—The New York Times Book Review
“[Matthiessens] body of work in the last four decades is among the most impressive by any living American writer . . . As always, he has an impeccable eye . . . an informed understanding of the broad cultural, historical, and political context of the places and people he encounters, and an extraordinary talent for serendipitous adventure.” —Los Angeles Times
A leading naturalist and writer travels the globe in search of a prized-and vanishing-bird
Cranes are ubiquitous in the earliest legends of the world's peoples, where they often figure as harbingers of heaven and omens of longevity and good fortune. They are still held sacred in many places, and for good reason. Their large size and need for wilderness habitat makes them an "umbrella species" whose wellbeing assures that of other creatures and of the ecosystem at large. Moreover, the enormous spans of their migrations are a symbol of, and stimulus to, international efforts at conservation.
In The Birds of Heaven, Peter Matthiessen has woven together journeys in search of the fifteen species of cranes in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and Australia. As he tracks them (and their declining numbers) in the company of scientists, conservationists, and regional people encountered along the way, he captures the dilemmas of a planet in ecological crisis, and the deeper loss to humankind if these beautiful and imposing creatures are allowed to disappear. The book includes color plates by renowned wildlife artist Robert Bateman.
“You dont have to be a ‘craniac . . . to appreciate [this book] . . . All you really need is a passion for prose as good as it gets.” —Chicago Tribune
In legend, cranes often figure as harbingers of heaven and omens of longevity and good fortune. And in nature, they are an “umbrella species” whose well-being assures that of the ecosystem at large. The Birds of Heaven chronicles Peter Matthiessens many journeys on five continents in search of the fifteen species of cranes. His telling captures the dilemmas of a planet in ecological crisis, and the deep loss to humankind if these beautiful and imposing creatures are allowed to disappear.
About the Author
Peter Matthiessen is a novelist, life-long naturalist, environmental activist, and wilderness traveler whose nonfiction includes The Tree Where Man Was Born, which was nominated for the National Book Award, and The Snow Leopard, which won it. Among his honors are the Gold Medal in Natural History from the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences; the Heinz, John Hay, and Society of Conservation Biology awards; and the John Burroughs and Christopher medals. His fiction includes At Play in the Fields of the Lord (also an NBA nominee), Far Tortuga, and the powerful Watson trilogy that begins with Killing Mister Watson (the Ambassador Award) and culminates in Bone by Bone (Southern Book Critics Circle Award). He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; he is also a 1991 Laureate of the Global Honor Roll of the United Nations Environment Programme.