cover image Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World

Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World

Christian Cooper. Random House, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-24238-4

Cooper, a Black birder who first gained media attention after sharing a video of him being falsely accused by a white woman of threatening her in Central Park in 2020, debuts with a lively, thoughtful memoir in which he defines himself by the hobby he was pursuing the afternoon he made headlines. Identifying himself as a “Black gay activist birder,” Cooper recounts his longtime love for the winged creatures, nurtured during his Long Island childhood and college years at Harvard. With colorful and sometimes snarky commentary (“southern screamer” birds are “not to be confused with a vocal Alabamian in the throes of excitement”), Cooper reflects on how his hobby provided skills, including sensory sharpness he’s since deployed at protests and other potentially hostile confrontations, that have helped him navigate the world as a gay Black man. In addressing the Central Park incident, he elegantly frames it within both his own bird-focused narrative and a broader conversation about racism and police brutality: “I have lived my whole life as a Black man in the United States. I don’t have to go all the way back to Tulsa and Rosewood and Emmett Till to know what it means for a white woman to accuse a Black man, and who would likely be believed.” These more sweeping arguments are never made with a cudgel; instead, they organically emerge from his captivating personal story. Meanwhile, his passion for birding could make hobbyists of even the most avian-agnostic. This rewarding memoir adds heft and heart to the headlines. Agent: Gail Ross, Ross Yoon Agency. (June)