Synopses & Reviews
Pigeons have been worshipped as fertility goddesses and revered as symbols of peace. Domesticated since the dawn of man, they’ve been used as crucial communicators in war by every major historical superpower from ancient Egypt to the United States and are credited with saving thousands of lives. Charles Darwin relied heavily on pigeons to help formulate and support his theory of evolution. Yet today they are reviled as “rats with wings.” Author Andrew D. Blechman traveled across the United States and Europe to meet with pigeon fanciers and pigeon haters in a quest to find out how we came to misunderstand one of mankind’s most helpful and steadfast companions.
Pigeons captures a Brooklyn man’s quest to win the Main Event (the pigeon world’s equivalent of the Kentucky Derby), as well as a convention dedicated to breeding the perfect bird. Blechman participates in a live pigeon shoot where entrants pay $150; he tracks down Mike Tyson, the nation’s most famous pigeon lover; he spends time with Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Pigeon Handler; and he sheds light on a radical “pro-pigeon underground’ in New York City. In Pigeons, Blechman tells for the first time the remarkable story behind this seemingly unremarkable bird.
Pigeons are athletes of the highest caliber. While racehorses receive all the glory with their 35 mph sprints around a one-mile racetrack, homing pigeons--a mere pound of flesh and feathers--routinely fly more than five hundred miles in a single day at speeds exceeding 60 mph, finding their way home from a place they've never been before, without stopping. Pigeon racing is an internationally popular sport that can count the Queen of England among its enthusiasts. Winning birds can bring home millions of dollars in prize money and fetch tens of thousands of dollars at auction. Although we all share a universal bond with this ubiquitous bird, there are some of us whose lives revolve around the bird in more profound--and often humorous--ways. I met trainers who ran around their backyards with whistles in tow, barking orders at their racing pigeons as if conditioning a team of professional soccer players; militant members of a New York City pigeon-underground, who prowl city streets in search of pigeon poachers; and backyard geneticists who toyed with the cellular composition of pigeons in their quest to create a bird more akin to a Dresden figurine than a child of nature.
Many people consider the ubiquitous pigeon to be a pest. But as Blechman demonstrates in his enjoyable and informative book, this much-maligned bird has served humans well for thousands of years.