An Indifference of Birds by Richard Smyth [9/10]

An Indifference of Birds,” a slim (109 pages), hard-to-obtain British masterpiece by writer/reviewer Richard Smyth, has enriched my life in a way that none of the other numerous birding books I’ve read managed to do. It’s achievement is this: by flipping the viewpoint to how birds view humans, rather than the usual perspective, it has revolutionized my thinking about us human creatures and the birds on our warming planet. An early new insight (I guess I knew it, but really didn’t) is that “no human was ever born into a birdless world”; birds have flown the Earth perhaps fifty times longer than humans have roamed it. And later in the book: “to birds, we might as well be weather”; we are the centre of our worlds, but birds are birds, and birds do what birds do. Each of the five chapters offers stark new perspectives on history, environmentalism, rewilding, global warming; on and on the thought gems flow. And Smyth is a beautiful, rhythmic prose stylist. How many times did I gasp with astonishment at his flowing riffs on the avian kingdom? Enough, enough: if you have any interest in the world beyond your door, latch onto “An Indifference of Birds,” a highlight of 2020’s lockdown reading.

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