THE BIRDS OF HEAVEN: Travels with Cranes

Peter Matthiessen, Author, Robert L. Bateman, Illustrator . FSG/North Point $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-19944-9

Prolific and gifted novelist and naturalist, National Book Award–winner Matthiessen (The Snow Leopard) provides literally a worldwide tableau in his quest for various subspecies of cranes. These large flying birds celebrated in myth and folklore are found everywhere from Siberia to Australia, sub-Saharan Africa to North America. The author moves through each of these diverse climes as he not only reminds readers of the awesome beauty of the natural world but also introduces them to fascinating bits of local history and legend. The title of the book derives from the lore of taiga-dwelling shamans, who believe these great birds possess the ability to traverse the three realms of heaven, earth and the underworld. In practical terms, that's not so far off: some species of cranes can fly as high as 20,000 feet, others migrate as far as 3,100 miles. In his wanderings, Matthiessen meets fellow travelers and "craniacs." Ornithologists, guides and hunters offer intriguing anecdotes about cranes and other creatures encountered during their adventures and misadventures in various wildernesses. Additionally, Matthiessen reaches into his store of historical and political knowledge about these remote places. He good-humoredly details, for example, the reluctant cooperation between Russian and Chinese environmental authorities as they try to study and ensure the survival of the various threatened crane subspecies that dwell along their faraway, beautiful, but politically tense borderlands. Eloquent and graceful, this lovely, moving narrative will inspire and delight readers with or without ornithological background or interests. Paintings and illus. not seen by PW. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 09/24/2001
Release date: 12/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Prebound-Other - 978-0-613-92285-2
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-86547-657-8
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