A Wing and a Prayer by Anders & Beverly Gyllenhaal [8/10]

Seasoned environmental reporters Anders and Beverly Gyllenhaal set off at the start of 2021 on a 40,000-kilometer camper trailer odyssey around America, with detours to South America and Hawai’i, a feverish close-up look at how desperate humans from different branches of society—science, birdwatching, conservation, philanthropy—are scrabbling to protect our fellow winged beings. Their story, chronicled with directness, grace, and humility, is told in “A Wing and a Prayer: The Race to Save Our Vanishing Birds.” As it becomes ever clearer that we are flirting with cascading species extinctions over coming decades, if there is one book you need to grasp the urgency, this is it. Their chapter “Vanishing by the billions” is alone worth the price of the book, dramatizing as it does the 2019 publication of a joint paper revealing that a quarter of American birds have died in the last half century. Even the paper’s authors were shattered by their findings. The authors provide riveting examples of bird rescue attempts, new technologies (audio, radar, satellite, eBird community science), and last-ditch efforts (such as releasing hordes of lab mosquitoes into Hawaiian skies or clonal resurrection work). Throughout, Anders and Beverly remain upbeat and in awe of the ambitions and hearts of the heroes they portray, but this reader, turning the final page, wept. A Wing and a Prayer is a 2023 must-read.

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