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The Goshawk

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3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  307 ratings  ·  47 reviews
The predecessor to Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, T. H. White’s nature writing classic, The Goshawk, asks the age-old question: what is it that binds human beings to other animals? White, the author of The Once and Future King and Mistress Masham’s Repose, was a young writer who found himself rifling through old handbooks of falconry. A particular sentence—”the bird reve ...more
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Published April 25th 2012 by NYRB Classics (first published 1951)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,058)
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Karen Witzler
Went there after reading H is for Hawk, stayed for the pure pleasure of T. H. White's writing, which totally outweighed Helen Macdonald's retelling of the entire story within her recent book.
Lance Greenfield
This was one of the books that I had to read for O-Level English literature, and it was the only really interesting one out of the set. (These were the UK school exams for 16 year-olds back in the early '70s).

This is a role model for those who would practice the craft of writing great literature. The language is so descriptive and captivating and really pulls the reader in to experience the emotions of the author.

We were told that this is NOT the way to train a falcon, but it is a brilliant acco
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Lizzie
This is one of those marvelous books that is so small, yet written in a way so that each sentence carries the work of ten. Somehow, it tears your heart out with just a word. Just right out.

Because, this book is as much about what lies beneath T.H. White's words as what his words say. His words are telling us about a period when he trained a goshawk. (See that video for an incredibly gorgeous view of the creatures.) The rest of the story is in the underbelly, in what he is confessing about his p
...more
Shannon
Last spring I reread The Once and Future King, and ever since then I've been wishing there was more of it. Recently I went looking for other T. H. White books, which I had never done before, and came across this one. It chronicles White's efforts to apply the falconry methods of the Middle Ages and train a bird named Gos.

In some ways The Goshawk is a difficult book to read. A certain amount of failure seems inevitable, and there's cruelty in the sport of falconry that contrasts with White's deep
...more
Mmars
The oddest thing happened while reading this book. Having just finished White's Sword in the Stone, and having just learned what an acciptor is (raptors, including goshawks, who diet on other birds) I discovered that T.H. White had written this memoir. But while reading it, I kept thinking that White, who referred to himself as an austringer (a keeper of goshawks) lived in the 1600s. The language of this "sport" is so specialized and near-archaic the book read as such. Plus, one of the handful o ...more
Dan
I love T. H. White, and the reason why I love his writing shines through in punctuated brilliance in this brief book. Be aware that the descriptions on the back cover are misleading: This is NOT a book about good falconry. This is a book about terrible falconry performed with zeal fired by the best intentions and armed with very antiquated source material.

Still, White's enthusiasm for the sport and for the intense relationship between falconer and hawk is moving and incisive. His joys and pains
...more
Kelly
White's utterly charming use of language manages to save what would otherwise be a repetitive journal primarily concerned with a hopelessly redundant pastime. Can't go too far wrong with couplets such as this: "Standing in the thick grass, with slow heart beats soothed by the still night, I thoughtfully broke wind. The horns of elfland faintly blowing." Plus, I also have a penchant for memoirs concerned with personal failure.
Daniel Simmons
Imagine if Henry David Thoreau had gone off to write "Walden" with a ferocious bird of prey to keep him company, and you'll get an inkling of... -- No, scratch that, this book defies fanciful mash-up thinking. "The Goshawk" is a wonderful and weird little book that is unlike anything I've read before. For one thing, it manages to make sheep-corpse-eating maggots ("clean, vital, symbolical of an essential life-force perfectly persisting") and breaking wind ("the horns of elfland faintly blowing") ...more
Kelly
This is a beautiful book, and one that I would recommend to anyone who is beginning at something new. T.H. White is best known for the Sword in the Stone books, I think, but his writing is totally different here because, without taking any of the introspective or analytical detours that can so quickly become tedious, his account of the day to day work of training a goshawk is deeply personal and poignant. Although it's not the gripping page turner that gets written about, this book is worth read ...more
Christine
I came to this book as though it were a prequel: I’ve been looking forward to Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk for months now, and that book is partly about this one, so I read it first. Hers is also a chronicle of training a goshawk, the most difficult of the raptors to train, and White’s is an account of a failed attempt.

This is a buried treasure for me (published in 1951), and what a delight it has been. He wrote this book out of economic necessity, or so he says, because he needed to write a
...more
Julie
I love T. H. White's writing. Ever since I read The Once and Future King in high school -- and laughed and cried and looked up words -- I knew I was in it for life. For some reason I waited a long time to read this book, The Goshawk, and I'm sort of glad I did. There's no magic in this story, no legendary characters sweeping across the page in search of legendary artifacts -- unless you count the first-time austringer trying to man a goshawk aptly (and adorably) named Gos. White takes the reader ...more
Mark McKenny
Sometimes you stumble upon books without really knowing why, and sometimes those books end up being your favourites. This will go down as one of those.

It's a brilliant read. To be read alongside Macdonald's 'H is for Hawk' is very enjoyable. Helen references this book, and White's up-and-down life in her own book. Both document the struggle an austringer faces when attempting to train a goshawk.

Maybe it doesn't sound up your street? It didn't mine either. But White's writing is a delight and thi
...more
Paula
I like nature writing, but it often lacks a story. This book did have a plot, but it was a bit in and out. I really enjoyed it though. Some brilliant passages on relationship between people and animals, eg:
"The thing about being associated with a hawk is that one cannot be slipshod about it. No hawk can be a pet. There is no sentimentality. In a way, it is the psychiatrist's art. One is matching one's mind against another mind with deadly reason and interest. One desires no transference of affec
...more
John
The author, as well as being a professional writer, was an avid sportsman and this was a well written account of his efforts toward training his own Gos. But with no knowledge or experience, he embarked upon the rigorous task of an Austringer while not realizing that a Goshawk should only be attended by the most experienced handlers. Falconers train falcons; Austringers train accipiters and other hawks. Goshawks, the largest accipiter, are infused with extreme independence, wildness and intracta ...more
Angie
I read this in preparation for reading highly anticipated H is for Hawk, sort of like reading the book before the movie, only reading the book before the book. And it's a gem in and of itself. A wonderful piece of reflection on training a hawk, which requires almost inhuman patience, in a time of upheaval in Europe and the world.
Matt
Biographical inference and intrigue aside (is there a homosexual subtext? A masochistic one?), and White's beautiful control of the elements taken as a given, The Goshawk seems to me a book fundamentally about patience - and would work perfectly well as an obscure kind of parenting manual. The very notion of patience as an active force is a revelatory one.

Also very funny - I'll be stealing 'like being chained to a moron in a chain gang'. And I could happily have read a much longer version of th
...more
Brian Berrett
I read this book quite a while ago and am doing a review on it with my brother. I loved the book. I felt a lot of emotion coming from the main character and his feelings for his goshawk. It was one of those books where there isn't much of a plot, but you feel like you are the author because you feel the emotions as he felt them. The passion, the frustration, the highs, and the lows. Great book!
Jed Mayer
The first half is nearly perfect, where White describes his often embarrassing and pathetic attempts to master his bird in candid, moving language; the second half falters, as the author himself clearly did at the time described, and undermines what might have been a more accomplished work.
Patrick
A kind book. Probably better to pop in and out of as a supplement to the book you're actually reading. Although difficult to pick this up and not be charmed by T.H. White and want to read more about the man himself.
KarmA1966
I knew of White but had never read anything by him. Highly recommended for readers of nature writing and those who enjoy the symbiotic--sometimes telepathic--relationship of man and animal.
Kay
A beautifully written account of T H White's first attempt at training a hawk. It was rather a catalogue of errors, but very interesting and refreshingly honest.
Erica Tuggle
There are some real gems of philosophy and observation to be found in this one. Although, most of it will not be of interest to anyone who is not actively pursuing falconry.
Stuart Ridgway
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It took me back to a time on farms in the North and Midlands where I spent hours waiting for hares, rabbits and pigeons. The countryside and the practices of local people were really well drawn. I know nothing about bird handling or the austringer but this gave a very personal and untainted view of a man taking on the wild and his struggle in a field he was new to. Yes there were times when he appeared naive, but that is the point, he was honest about his position ...more
martin
I come from a family of twitchers all obsessed by birds. Most of them love this book but I was never able to get into it. Perhaps because reading books at school tends to be like a dissection experiment and only great stories can survive that process intact. This book is by its very nature detailed and technical - a diary and a step by step approach to the training of bird and handler in the art of falconry. Not a book to read under a school Eng Lit microscope.

Maybe I should read it again and s
...more
Katie
As always, T. H. White's writing ability here makes even his farts seem thoughtful and nostalgic. (Not kidding. At one point he "breaks wind" and somehow achieves Thoreauvian transcendence.) This autobiographic work is definitely an artifact of times past: it's about the author relying on a centuries-old guidebook to train a hawk for falconing after WWI. But it's precisely this odd layering of past-times that, for me, makes White's presentation of himself, his hawk, and his English countryside e ...more
Robert Beatty
Excellent story. Especially if you like hawks and wildlife.
Stuart
Goshawk. Gos. Cuisinier. Caterer for the mess. A dark vision of man vs beast. Savage and cruel beauty. Whites Romanticised battle to tame the wildness outside and within himself. His dream to escape a world which has treated him so cruelly. Such sad irony. Companion reading for lovers of H is for Hawk. Your guide on how NOT to train a hawk. A pilgrimage of pain through past & present. Splattered with comedy and a fair amount of mutes too. A book of blood, anger and torment. A White heat!
Kathryn French
His writing is as always: humorous, educated, readable, satisfying. But (he admits) he was out-maneuvered by his hawk the whole time.
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NYRB Classics: The Goshawk, by T.H. White 2 6 Oct 23, 2013 04:26PM  
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Born in Bombay to English parents, Terence Hanbury White was educated at Cambridge and taught for some time at Stowe before deciding to write full-time. White moved to Ireland in 1939 as a conscientious objector to WWII, and lived out his years there. White is best known for his sequence of Arthurian novels, "The Once and Future King", first published together in 1958.
More about T.H. White...
The Once and Future King (The Once and Future King #1-4) The Sword in the Stone (The Once and Future King, #1) The Book of Merlyn (The Once and Future King, #5) The Once and Future King (The Once and Future King, #1-5) Mistress Masham's Repose

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“It happened like this in the world. Old things lost their grip and dropped away; not always because they were bad things, but sometimes because the new things were more bad, and stronger.” 4 likes
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