The Bird Man – The Extraordinary Story of John Gould
The Bird Man – The
Extraordinary Story of John Gould by Isabella Tree Ebury Press 2003 £14.99p ISBN 071262158X [previously published in 1991 by Barrie &
John Gould is as fascinating a Victorian as one could wish to read of and, as the title implies, he was a remarkable and fascinating character. Son of a pauper [who rose to become gardener to the Royal household] Gould was barely educated yet went on to become one of the truly great figures of scientific ornithology. The history of the gardener`s son stuffing tableaus of birds shot on the royal estates at the age of 14, through to his eminence as ornithologist, publisher and entrepreneur is well told in a book I wish I had read years ago.
Uniquely given access by the
family and others to much correspondence and memorabilia the author has extracted a story well worth the telling to non-birders as
well as us obsessives. Moreover, within its pages are many references and longer tales of other great men and women whose lives he
touched like Lear and Darwin.
Those who did not know before will also find him to be self serving and cold even to having left unacknowledged many contributions to his own great works. Above all his adoring wife who painted much of what most think of as his work. It turns out that he could sketch [rather better than the author credits] but the artistry was Lear`s and the draughtsmanship his wife`s.
This is a great read about a
fascinating man but it has failings too. I found myself irritated by florid language that was unnecessary when the tale itself has
more than enough colour. There are too a few scientific inaccuracies one of which in particular grates as it is often repeated – that
of using the word animal when she should have used mammal!
The reviews I have seen quoted from seem to me to have been written by reviewers of biography and the praise is fulsome; a birder will find less to praise in the style and more to be irritated by in the prose – nevertheless the content and the author`s meticulous research are her saving grace making this a book I highly recommend.
Created: 29th Jan 2004