To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, a Son, and a Lifelong Obsession
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To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, a Son, and a Lifelong Obsession

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  380 ratings  ·  73 reviews
What drives a man to travel to sixty countries and spend a fortune to count birds? And what if that man is your father?

Richard Koeppel’s obsession began at age twelve, in Queens, New York, when he first spotted a Brown Thrasher, and jotted the sighting in a notebook. Several decades, one failed marriage, and two sons later, he set out to see every bird on earth, becoming...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 25th 2006 by Plume (first published January 1st 2005)
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Microhistories are a subgenre of non-fiction books which take a particular subject or single event and through intensive historical research try to contextualize the chosen subject within the broader picture. As a history nerd, I find that a well written microhistory uncovers a previously unthought-of subject or event and breathes life into the history cannon as a whole. Several years ago I read and enjoyed a microhistory called Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World by Dan Koeppel...more
An inspiration for fledgling (hah) birders and compulsive list-makers like me. A son chronicles his father's discovery of birding as a child and subsequent rise into the ranks of famous listers--people who travel the globe trying to check birds off their life lists. I feel so...insignificant.
The author did an admirable job of telling a story that could have been a boring diatribe about “Daddy & Me,” or worse, a clumsy attempt to make birding an action adventure. Instead, he wove a heartfelt (although occasionally spilling into maudlin) story consisting of three parts: a biography of his father, the desperate relationship with his father (or lack of one), and the “sport” of big listing (birds). The biography was one of a man who didn’t fulfill his early ornithological career ambi...more
Jane Wetzel
A fascinating true story. It is partly a story of Dan Koeppel's family, from his grandparents on down to himself and his brother. This was done so very well with impersonal honesty, even though his subjects were so personal to him. His childhood was tough, by his parent's making, and his father's life was overly influenced by his parents. But Dan wrote with integrity, compassion and love, and relayed the stories of their lives with understanding and without blame. It was a most refreshing and co...more
A friend gave this book to my mother for her birthday, which is in March, and I asked if I could read it first, since I’m a fast reader. She kindly said yes and I finished about half of the book during that visit to her house, then put it away and forgot about it. I stumbled across it again recently and tried to start where I had left off, but because I couldn’t remember where that was, I started at the beginning. All this to say, I’ve read the book one and a half times.

This is a sweet little bo...more
Scott Taylor
Less of a book about the joys of biology and birding, more of a biography about the author's dad. And frankly he wasn't all that interesting. Child of the 1930s, grew up in the idyllic 1940s and 1950s, ended up with a job he hated in a fairly loveless marriage, experimented with everything in the 1960s and ended up divorced and jaded, became a seeker in the 1970s, then fled into obsessive birding as an escape for the rest of his life. The whole time basically neglecting his own family.

My feeling...more
Malin Friess
Richard Koeppel is a divorced, smoker, antisocial, ER physician who has become an intensely dedicated competive Bird Watcher or Birder or as they might like to be called a "big lister". Dan (Richard's son) writes a retrosprective biography of his Dad's life always thinking whenever Dad was looking through his binoculars (all the time) he was never looking at me?

There are over 9600 bird species found on earth (only about 900 can be found in the continental US). But this book is even bigger than...more
The title tagline actually describes the book - Dan Koeppel talks about his first his father's life and how it intertwines more and more with the world of top-level bird watching (Listing), then he talks about his own life and how his father's birding affected him and his family as a whole. I appreciated that he wrote in the things that weren't great - about his family and his own choices, instead of making everyone seem 'okay'. Using the word obsession should indicate something that has sweepin...more
Oct 16, 2008 Sonny rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: very few people
Well I didn't really care about the people. And I didn't really think the writing was much to, uh, write home about. And the birds themselves were kind of a sidebar to this self-indulgent bio-book about the ignored kid/author, the distant father and self-indulgent mother. So I guess I wasn't that crazy about this.

However, I've run the gamut of these bird-chaser stories and they seem to have something in common. The obsessed birders who run after these birds to add them to a list might as well be...more
Another father-son (auto)biography, this one focused on the obssessive culture of Big Listers who spend their energy and resources chasing bird sightings. It makes me sad that some of the listers don't even seem to LIKE birds, their purpose is to check as many species off on their list as they possibly can. By the end, this seems to be the case with Richard, the father of this piece. He was initially drawn to bird watching as a young boy, and the segments that describe those early experiences we...more
I have been a dedicated lister for nearly a half of a century and this book gives a good explanation of the personalities, compulsions, experiences, obsessions and focus of successful listers. It also gives a glimpse into the personality weaknesses, failures and quirks of some of those burdened with this affliction. It highlights the benefits of travel, nature study, experiencing other cultures and simply expanding one's intellectual database. This story meant more to me because it was written b...more
" To see Every Bird on Earth" opens with the author celebrating with his father, when his father sees his 7000th bird. Known as somewhat of a bird fanatic in my own family I was instantly drawn to this book. I immediately counted the birds that I have positively identified and realized what an amatuer I am, when the number is 130. This book, however was not just a book about bird watching. It was the story of a son who longed to have a relationship with his father; a story of a family and the co...more
This was a very interesting view into the life of a big lister. I enjoyed listening to the entire book. We learned some things we didn't know about making lists of birds and funny thing is, we found out that we do a lot of normal things birders do without ever having been initiated to the ideas.

My favorite part about this book was the memoir portion of it. Up to this point, any books we have read that include family relationships have been the kind that you might want to model your family after....more
John Geary
This book is not just about traveling around the world looking for birds and adding them to a list. While that particular activity does form thread that connect all the events, it really is a memoir of the author and his father,about growing up and getting older, about finding a way to connect with each other and then finding a way to make peace with each other and the world. It touched me on many levels, first as a lover of nature, someone who loves to see birds; and, more deeply, I could relat...more
Garrett Burnett
Don't mix birding with complicated family dynamics. That's the take-away from this dreary, disjointed book. Koeppel basically sketches a biography of his father, one of the world's foremost "birders." While the two didn't share a very good relationship, Koeppel tries to be understanding and write sympathetically, to outline and explain his fractured interactions with his dad. He also writes about birding. All the stuff about Koeppel's father is maudlin drudgery. A lot of the birding stuff is enj...more
Carey Jensen
This book isn't really about birding. It's about dealing with a family member who is so obsessed with "listing," in that he spends every waking moment planning trips to try to locate birds that he has never seen before. It was great to read an outsider's perspective on the hobby.
Interesting introduction for me, a wannabe birder, into the world of big listers. I'll never reach the level of obsession Richard does but I could still relate to him in a number of ways. I found him much more interesting and likable than his son and the author of this book. I don't blame Richard for keeping a distance from his son, I would too if my son were as emotionally needy as Dan comes across here. I wouldn't complain if all parts dealing with their family life and Dan's persistent unhapp...more
The author writes about his father's birdwatch quest-- one of the handful of people in the world that has checked more than 7,000 birds off on his life list. It's not the way I birdwatch, but it's kind of weird and fascinating, and the competitive lister birdwatchers help push the science of ornithology in interesting ways. To get the interesting stuff out of this book though, like John Audobon being kind of a loser for most of his life, or how and why his father became such a driven birdlister,...more
Enjoyed this book far more than I expected. It took me a little while to read the book, but every time I picked it up I enjoyed it. For an amateur birder it is a dangerous book and could give someone ideas of becoming a big lister. While that isn't feasible anytime in my near future, it has definitely given me a renewed interested in birds and has also given me insight into the world of birders that was quite fascinating. I'm not sure if this book would appeal to someone who doesn't already have...more
I read Koeppel's book, Bananas, before I read this one. Koeppel learned his father's detailed systems of record keeping when he was trying to understand his father's obsession and detailed listing of birds throughout his lifetime as he quested to record as many bird species as he possibly could. That training must have been very helpful in researching the Banana book.

Koeppel is a good writer and just about when I had read more detail than I could take then he would turn both books toward the per...more
Emilia P
You know, I really thought I'd give this book a chance.
But probably listening to it didn't help - I missed the dry explanation of different bird-counting methods and so was confused about that through the whole book. The memoir part of it was good for a while - the author's father's childhood in New York and the stories of his parents in turn were very nice, but as it got farther into his life, and it got to be less about the discovery of a wonderful hobby and more about obsession, it just got k...more
Chi Dubinski
Nature and adventure writer (Audubon and National Geographic Adventure) writes about his father Richard, a “big lister” bird watcher. Richard is one of only ten or so people who have recorded more than 7000 birds in their lives. He stated at age 11, with a brown thrasher. Dan tells the story of his dad, who was pushed into medical school by his parents and never wanted to be a doctor. His mom, who married very young, wanted an adventurous, artistic life.
Richard eventually quit medicine to spend...more
I will gladly read any book having to do with birds, so it is not surprising that I enjoyed this. The author took a different angle than I was anticipating (It was more of a biography/memoir than a nature book), but I still found it interesting. Overall, it served as an intriguing look at the sport of birding, family dynamics, dreams vs. duty, and the line between passion and obsession. However, something about the described 'big listers' and their motivations saddens me. Of course, the author d...more
This was about obsessions and family dynamics, not really about birding - I'd have been disappointed had I expected a book about birds. It did provide quite a lot of information about birders and what might make listing birds an appealing activity, which is something I've never really understood before. The family story was interesting at a few points, but it was sometimes maudlin and there were sometimes more details than I wanted to know. This was a quick enough read, though, that it didn't ma...more
About 9,600 species of birds.
100 people have spotted 6,000.
12 people have 7,000

PETERSON: "The boom in birding seems to be an antidote for the pressures and artificialities of the modern world."

Birders : John Cahoon searching for Raven's eggs, lost control of ropes and tumbled to death, corpse hung over palisade for several day before retrieved. Others killed in crashes, Phoebe Snetsinger raped, David Hunt killed by tiger while chasing a Forest Eagle Owl.

April 1886 - passenger pigeons shooti...more
Part memoir, part exploration into the psyche of Big-Listers, Koeppel has crafted a book that should appeal to all who have even a mild interest in birds. I was fully absorbed by the book, but I think that it might be a bit too much for non-birders. My only issue with it was that there was some redundancy. I didn't need lumping and splitting explained a half dozen times. I didn't care for multiple explanations of a particular lister's habits, or in one case, untimely death. I enjoyed the book ov...more
Another addition to my list of books about birds and people who are fascinated by them. In many ways, this is a sad story--Richard has this great passion that none of his family really accepts or understands until fairly late in his life, and the great majority of his personal life years are disastrous. Dan's conscious decision to document his dad's passion, and this book which is the result, redeem the sadness to some extent. But like Dan, I wondered how different and how much happier all their...more
Well, I certainly don't think this book improved my view of Big Listers as kind of self-centered and emotionally dysfunctional (after reading a book also about the amazing Phoebe Snetsinger) but I thoroughly enjoyed this son's view of his dad's growing listing obsession, and how he eventually resigned himself and even accompanied his father on a birding trip (one on which his father achieved his 7000th bird.) His efforts to connect with and understand his father, even though he'd been hurt himse...more
It took me a while to warm up to this book but in the end I enjoyed it quite a bit. I am a birder myself so it was interesting to see a commentary on birding (extreme listing in particular) by essentially a non-birder (but one with close ties to birding). I don't necessarily agree w/ all the conclusions reached about birding but I can see where they came from. I am not a serious "lister" so my motivations are somewhat different from the main character here but I can still relate to many of his e...more
The title seems a little misleading, I thought it would be more about birds. A lot of the book dealt with the author's life and his relationship with his father . The father was the one who had the obsession with birds and you didn't hear his version of how he felt about birds. Also I kept hearing about how unhappy the author was with his childhood . It was akwardly written, especially in the begining. I guess I should read a book in the first person if I want to hear someones thoughts on birds....more
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