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John James Audubon

4.15  ·  Rating Details  ·  383 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
John James Audubon came to America as a dapper eighteen-year-old eager to make his fortune. He had a talent for drawing and an interest in birds, and he would spend the next thirty-five years traveling to the remotest regions of his new country–often alone and on foot–to render his avian subjects on paper. The works of art he created gave the world its idea of America. The ...more
Paperback, 528 pages
Published April 11th 2006 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2004)
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Mar 03, 2008 Marty rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: birders, American history fans, biography fans
Recommended to Marty by: Don
As a birder, I've always known that we owed a lot to John James Audubon. But until I read this biography, I hadn't realized quite how much American ornithological history owes to one man's quest to document the species of birds found in this country (or at least, once did).

This book was given to me by a friend almost a year ago, and it took me this long to give it the attention it deserved. The biography covers the life - and times - of John James Audubon, author and illustrator of the "Birds of
Feb 15, 2008 Charles rated it liked it
Well-researched and informative. Great insights into Audubon's life and career. Better insights into the American frontier during the early 19th century. For the first hundred pages, I was a bit put off by the author's sentence structures and turns of phrase, but Audobon's story is deeply engaging--full of twists, turns and trials. Rhodes has provided us with a monumental portrait of a monumental man, and an insight into the mania, triumphs, and setbacks that punctuate the lives of artists.
Sep 02, 2009 Cheryl rated it really liked it
I'm not very good at this book review thing. My grandfather did it professionally and he was a master at it. I enjoy reading as much as he did but I lack the ability to put into words at a lofty and intellectual level, why I specifically liked it. I mention this only because I think this book should get a better review than I'm going to be able to provide, mine being, I fear over-simplistic....

This was a wonderful book about an intriguing man, his family, and also, in some ways, about the chang
Sep 22, 2008 Zeb rated it really liked it
I finally finished this book this AM, and I am really happy I took the time to learn about the man whose name has become synonymous with bird conservation in the US.

The diligence, energy, and passion Audubon had for his desire to document the birds of America is astounding and probably difficult to find in many others in our present technological age.

The author of this book unearths interesting facts and excerpts from Audubon's journals throughout the book. I really enjoyed the thoroughness of t
Apr 15, 2011 Dennis rated it really liked it
Although Audubon was a Frenchman, he became an American in the truest sense of the word. As a businessman he lost everything in the panic od 1819. He then reinvented himself as an artist and naturalist, becoming one of the most famous men of his time. He devoted his life to Birds of America. He also witnessed and chronicled the beginnings of the destruction of the American wilderness by the people who thought our resources were limitless.
This is a fine, well written account of this life, and I
Jan 06, 2014 Sara rated it it was amazing
I'd give this six stars if I could. Rhodes knows his stuff. He's a meticulous researcher, but even better, he tells a riveting tale. I had trouble putting this down, and Jeff began to curse Audubon. If you want a true story of love and hardship, adventure and art, perseverance and foresight . . . well, this is it. Rhodes draws on journals as well as personal and business letters to make his tale personal, detailed, and poignant. Loved it.
Jan 12, 2008 Denise rated it it was amazing
i loved this book- but i'm a bird nerd and love books set in frontier america. richard rhodes must have lived and breathed james audubon for years to come up with such a rich and compelling picture of audubon, america and europe in the 1700's.
Nov 19, 2013 Shelli rated it it was amazing
Excellent research and writing. This was a wonderful window into a fascinating time period is our country's history and about a unique passionate and driven man. However, I can't say that I would've wanted to be his wife!
Jun 16, 2014 David rated it it was amazing
On second reading, the detail which results from extensive research and primary documentation is impressive. At times one might wonder if the details and quotations are a bit too much, and better to have been presented in concise terms by the author.

Rhodes has provided a thorough picture of Audubon's development, marriage, artistic methods and problems, and the huge problem of getting the drawings published - with the involved financial difficulties which even trailed down decades into the last
Chris Alexander
Jul 12, 2011 Chris Alexander rated it it was amazing
Art, nature and American history - three of my favorites - combined into one perfect trifecta of a book. The writing is so well done and researched that it feels like a movie. Gives a vivid description of the 1800s and the vast, still unexplored American landscape. One interesting aspect of the book is how we take email and instant responses for granted. The letters that Audubon wrote to his wife and she to him took months to reach each other. A fight that occurs over letters takes months to res ...more
Charles Matthews
Dec 07, 2009 Charles Matthews rated it really liked it
This review ran in the San Jose Mercury News on October 17, 2004:

John James Audubon produced his paintings of the birds of America by killing, skinning and dissecting thousands of them. Those astonishing images of birds full of life -- flying, fighting, mating, preening, feeding their young -- were achieved by mounting dead birds on a contraption of his own devising: ''Sharpened wires embedded in a board onto which he could impale his fresh specimens in lifelike attitudes,'' as Richard Rhodes de
Bookmarks Magazine

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb comes a far different story about the intersection of innovation and death__Audubon had to kill his subjects, after all, to illustrate them. Critics differ in opinion about Rhodes's newest effort. Rhodes certainly offers a compelling and complex portrait of Audubon's place in antebellum America and constant desire to reinvent himself. Rhodes also raises timeless issues about the value of nature, family, and fame; he never lo

Dec 08, 2015 itpdx rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not sure why some biographers can write an interesting narrative and others are not able to. Rhodes in this biography of John James Audobon is one that can tell a story even while sticking mostly the documents that survive. Audubon is an interesting part of US history from what he contributed to our understanding of the wild life that was here as well as how families lived and struggled in the early 19th century. He was a spark that created a field of natural history study as well as invent ...more
Renee Thompson
May 09, 2011 Renee Thompson rated it really liked it
Well worth the read, although occasionally frustrating -- due more to the subject's personality than a lack of talent on behalf of the writer. Audubon was a profoundly gifted artist, but a substandard husband, gone more than he was home. For a variety of reasons he was unwilling to bring his wife Lucy to him, or to go to her, even after she wrote and told him they were perhaps ill-suited to one another -- an example of her own frustration with his procrastination.

Given the artist's talent, we c
Oct 05, 2009 FrankO rated it it was ok
As a birdwatcher, I wanted to like this book so bad, but it didn't hold my interest. The book is very detailed, perhaps too much, and a bit dry. It's truly amazing how many birds Audubon shot in his efforts to create his remarkable drawings. The author defends this as being the practice of the day. Audubon shot some birds to wound them so that he could collect the wounded birds because "he clearly liked to work with live specimens." Here's an interesting quote from the book:
"But while this 1816
I almost never review books before I finish them, but this is one of the best I've read in a long time. Besides being a fascinating look at the life of an incredible adventurer, it is a history of the expansion of the United States and the post revolutionary war period, a geopolitical treatise and a fascinating look at what the Ohio valley was like at the turn of the 19th century. I can see why the author has won Pulitzers. I wish I had a better brain for details. And on top of it all, all the p ...more
I'm recalling this book now as I take a year-end look over the books I read in 2010. This one was one of the nicer surprises. This biography of Audobon had been sitting on my shelf for years. I bought it in a discount book store, unsure if I'd ever be motivated enough to read a book about a guy who painted birds, but it was much better than I expected. A terrific look at American life in the early part of the 19th Century, and Audobon had a more interesting life than I realized. I was also struc ...more
Rick Jones
Mar 17, 2016 Rick Jones rated it really liked it
Great biography of the man, and his trials in getting such an audacious work published. Context of his times was lacking, for me. I would have liked a little more exploration of the scientific community in which he traveled.
Jul 17, 2012 Pete rated it it was amazing
A really well-written and enjoyable book about the famous birder/naturalist/painter/illustrator... and illegitimate son of a French naval officer. It follows him from childhood to death and chronicles his travels all across the new and wild (dangerous) America, mostly on foot but also by boat and horse.

Nicely woven story about Audubon's many ups and downs... successes and failures. He was almost constantly poor or in debt, and was away from his wife and family for months or years at a time leavi
Jan 29, 2013 Trailhoundz rated it it was amazing
JJA is my favorite artist and this book didn't disappoint! It was very deep and beefy, with a fabulous color insert of artwork and B/W art/photos throughout. Everything you want to know about JJA (with a wonderful smattering of early American history) is here. I only wish: a) there was a map/maps of JJA's homes and travels and b) there was more information on his "Quadrupeds of America" project (major focus was his "Birds of America" project. However given allusions to fires/loss of journals/etc ...more
Jan 24, 2016 Lee rated it it was amazing
As I come to the end of this book I am impressed with the writers approach. The first part of the book is almost biblical in its history of a man living in his Eden (America); as well as providing a litany of birds like the generations of a life form. The incredible blending of the authors words and original letters of Audubon and other historical figures is seamless. The second half, the part I am in now, is a deeply personal look inside a family struggling with an emerging fame and past hardsh ...more
Marjorie Semmens
Jan 23, 2016 Marjorie Semmens rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, nonfiction
Read for a study group facilitated by my brother. Lots of detail interesting read. Bryan Fox Ellis did a performance as part of the study group at Forrest Park. What fun
Feb 10, 2009 Kathleen rated it it was amazing
This was an exciting book once it got started. There are a lot of famous names dropped throughout the book.
I had no idea Audubon's life was so interesting. He was born to a slave mother and French naval officer who adopted him after his mother's death. He lost two of his children shortly after their birth. He went bankrupt after financing a steam powered sawmill. He still managed to publish his amazing collection of bird paintings at a time when the author paid the printer.
His journals reflect
Lon Cohen
Sep 29, 2015 Lon Cohen rated it really liked it
One of the better biographies I've read.
Mar 17, 2014 Rob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio
A fine biography of an interesting man living in even more interesting (to me) times. Rhodes fine prose carries us through the at times too-detailed narrative.
May 15, 2012 Janelle rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
John James Audubon was always an enigma for me...I guess I always knew he was not a native born American, but I had no idea he originally settled in the Philadelphia area, not far from where I myself grew up. This biography emphasizes the clear vision he had to document and illustrate the Birds he encountered in his adoptive homeland, but also to document them and share them with the world. Being as famous as he was, I always assumed he was successful in life, when in fact that couldn't be farth ...more
Nov 02, 2014 Bev rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, birding, nature
I gave this a 4-star rating more because I am a birder and was fascinated by the story of his life. I would have given it a 3-star rating otherwise. The book was well written. The narrative and descriptive passages moved along at a good pace and kept me really interested. However, the but contained far too many insertions of correspondence between JJA and his wife Lucy. Many of these were repepitive and boring. In many instance descriptions would have been a better choice.

That being said, it was
Mar 10, 2014 Michael rated it liked it
Overall I enjoyed reading Rhodes' biography of Audubon, but after a while the book became a bit tiresome to read. I felt that the author Rhodes relied too heavily on direct quotes from Audubon and his family & friends to narrate the life story of John James Audubon. Rarely (if ever) did the author go more than a page without quoting directly from his source material instead of using his own voice to accurately portray the life and work of Audubon.
Jul 02, 2007 Katherine rated it liked it
This book was recommended to me by a museum colleague (we are preparing to install an exhibition on Audubon). It is wonderfully written, but so damn depressing I couldn't finish it! Audubon nearly died twice before turning 30, had four children (half of which died), and he declared bankruptcy twice before turning 34. He also frequently escaped murder attempts by his rivals.

Yes, I do feel guilty about not finishing it, and maybe one day I'll return.
Sep 01, 2013 Judy rated it liked it
I was disappointed in this book... it had such rave reviews. I never quite experienced the sense of how Audubon epitomized "an American life". I did learn a bit about what it might have been like to live on the American frontier of Kentucky-Ohio-Mississippi. I also came away with a better understanding of how John James incorporated French painting style into his bird portraits.
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Richard Lee Rhodes is an American journalist, historian, and author of both fiction and non-fiction (which he prefers to call "verity"), including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), and most recently, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (2007). He has been awarded grants from the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation a ...more
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