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Coming soon: New bio of Wilson by Burtt and Davis


Ellen Paul

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Coming on 23 April 2013 from Harvard University Press, a biography of Alexander Wilson by E.H. (Jed) Burtt and Ted Davis.

 

"Audubon was not the father of American ornithology. That honorific belongs to Alexander Wilson, whose encyclopedic American Ornithology established a distinctive approach that emphasized the observation of live birds. In the first full-length study to reproduce all of Wilson’s unpublished drawings for the nine-volume Ornithology, Edward Burtt and William Davis illustrate Wilson’s pioneering and, today, underappreciated achievement as the first ornithologist to describe the birds of the North American wilderness."

 

"Abandoning early ambitions to become a poet in the mold of his countryman Robert Burns, Wilson emigrated from Scotland to settle near Philadelphia, where the botanist William Bartram encouraged his proclivity for art and natural history. Wilson traveled 12,000 miles on foot, on horseback, in a rowboat, and by stage and ship, establishing a network of observers along the way. He wrote hundreds of accounts of indigenous birds, discovered many new species, and sketched the behavior and ecology of each species he encountered."

 

"Drawing on their expertise in both science and art, Burtt and Davis show how Wilson defied eighteenth-century conventions of biological illustration by striving for realistic depiction of birds in their native habitats. He drew them in poses meant to facilitate identification, making his work the model for modern field guides and an inspiration for Audubon, Spencer Fullerton Baird, and other naturalists who followed. On the bicentennial of his death, this beautifully illustrated volume is a fitting tribute to Alexander Wilson and his unique contributions to ornithology, ecology, and the study of animal behavior."

 

“Our knowledge of New World birds stems deeply from the adventurous spirit of a talented rebel poet, Alexander Wilson. This richly illustrated, very special book brings him back to life as an engaging and influential character whose passion for birds primed ours. I couldn’t put it down.”—Frank Gill, ornithologist

 

“A definitive work on the history of bird art, ornithology, and nature writing. Volumes have been written on Audubon as though he were the dean of American ornithology, but Burtt and Davis reveal Alexander Wilson as providing the foundation.”—Bernd Heinrich, author of The Nesting Season

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