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H is for Hawk

3.75  ·  Rating Details ·  30,764 Ratings  ·  5,002 Reviews
A New York Times bestseller

Winner of the Costa Book Award and the Samuel Johnson Prize

When Helen Macdonald's father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she'd never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshaw
Hardcover, 300 pages
Published July 31st 2014 by Jonathan Cape
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Dmitry Everybody does.
Kathie Schulman I just couldn't get into this was too sad and then I lost interest.

H is for Hawk by Helen MacdonaldWaterlog by Roger DeakinNotes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger DeakinWildwood by Roger DeakinThe Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane
British and Irish Nature Writing
1st out of 124 books — 78 voters
H is for Hawk by Helen MacdonaldWesley the Owl by Stacey O'BrienThe Birds of Pandemonium by Michele RaffinWhere Song Began by Tim LowThe Thing with Feathers by Noah Strycker
Books for Bird Lovers
1st out of 165 books — 59 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Oct 17, 2014 Greg rated it really liked it
H is for Hawk

This is Mabel.

She is a goshawk.

I didn’t know what a goshawk was before I started to read this book. I wasn’t actually sure I knew what a hawk was either.

“Seriously, Greg? You are forty years old and you don’t know what a hawk is?”

Well, sort of. I knew that it is a bird and that it is a predatory animal. I had no idea what one looked like. If you showed me pictures of some birds and told me to pick out the hawk and you had some falcons and maybe some non-bald eagles I wouldn’t hav
Louise Miller
Feb 23, 2015 Louise Miller rated it it was ok
Didn't rate this at all. I have to be blunt here. H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald is not my cup of tea in the slightest. To say it won the Costa Book of the Year and to be given widespread praise and five-star reviews by many including being labelled as a ‘soaring triumph’ by the Telegraph, I expected something better, something much much better.

To say that I didn’t rate it highly is something of an understatement. Yes, there is some pretty prose on the pages, but even some of this seems rather
Oct 06, 2015 Steve rated it really liked it
A is for Ascendant
Prose to sweep you away

B is for Birds
With a passion for prey

C is for Cambridge
She’s one of their scholars

D is for Dinero
Nice royalty dollars

E is for Elegiac
So sad when her dad died

F is for Flying
Bird and soul, side by side

G is for Grateful
Susan, you pointed the way

H is for Hawk
A great book, I must say

OK, you get the idea. This one is beautifully written, scholarly, a bit sad, and ultimately uplifting. It’s been quite a success, too, both at the bookstores and with critics. Oh,
Will Byrnes
The archaeology of grief is not ordered. It is more like earth under a spade, turning up things you had forgotten. Surprising things come to light: not simply memories, but states of mind, emotions, older ways of seeing the world.
Helen MacDonald had suffered a great loss. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy wrote, Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Perhaps the same might be applied to grieving. I know for myself, during an acute period of grieving I was practi
Jul 26, 2016 Julie rated it it was amazing
Here’s a word. Bereavement. Or Bereaved. Bereft. It’s from the Old English bereafian, meaning ‘to deprive of, take away, seize, rob’.
Here’s another word: raptor, meaning ‘bird of prey’. From the Latin raptor, meaning ‘robber,’ from rapere meaning ‘seize’. Rob. Seize.

Here’s another word: Captivating. H is for Hawk stole me, holding me captive with its madness and love. Part claustrophobic memoir of grief, part luminous tribute to the sport of falconry, Helen Macdonald’s book is brilliant and tens
Aug 24, 2015 Diane rated it it was amazing
This is gorgeous nature writing and it is also a graceful memoir about bereavement. Helen Macdonald has managed to blend the two genres beautifully.

When Helen's father died, her grief was so great that she decided to adopt a goshawk. Helen had loved hawks since childhood and had studied falconry, but this was her first time trying to train a goshawk.

In real life, goshawks resemble sparrowhawks the way leopards resemble housecoats. Bigger, yes. But bulkier, bloodier, deadlier, scarier, and much
Rebecca Foster
In an original blend of memoir, biography and nature writing, Macdonald reveals how raising Mabel the goshawk helped her heal after her father’s sudden death. Throughout, Macdonald compares her own falconry experience to that of T.H. White, who, in the 1930s, was a lonely schoolteacher at Stowe – and a closeted homosexual with sadistic tendencies. Macdonald recognizes the ways in which, for White, too, flying a hawk was a means of exploring one’s own wild depths and testing the links between ...more
Nov 11, 2015 Snotchocheez rated it liked it
I certainly would not want to dissuade anyone from reading H is for Hawk, Cambridge professor Helen Macdonald's moving memoir of coping with the loss of her photojournalist father. Her twin academic disciplines of English and ornithology (specifically, falconry) provide the source of her occasionally gorgeous prose as she recounts her attempt at raising a goshawk. If she'd focused more on herself, her birding, and her subsequent descent into near-madness, this would've been a solid four-star rea ...more
Jun 24, 2015 Carol rated it it was amazing
H is for Hawk could be H is for Hope or Heart or Home as all of these capture in some small way the essence of this beautiful book.

When Helen Macdonald’s father dies, she finds herself inconsolable in her grief. In an effort to heal her soul and regain a connection with her father she sets out to find and train a hawk. Not just any hawk, a Goshawk. And here is just one of the beauties of her story. The descriptions of her Goshawk, Mabel, are so vivid that I can see her in all her regal glory.

Mar 09, 2016 Michael rated it really liked it
Helen Macdonald is a college English teacher who goes into a tailspin after the death of her father. She works her way out of her grief by taking up the challenging task of mastering and training a goshawk. She had the experience of working with smaller, more common hawks in her youth, but goshawks are big and notoriously unruly. In this process she reads about a beginner’s efforts chronicled in T.H.White’s book from the early 30’s when he was a young teacher at a boarding school. Instead of ...more
Apr 02, 2016 Brad rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I generally don't do memoirs, but not because I'm a snob for everything else. I don't do them because I'm not really interested. A bit more oddly, I'm only mildly interested in hawks and falcons. I certainly never went out of my way to learn more after reading Stephen King's The Gunslinger, so why am I going out of my way now?

Mostly, it's because of the writing. I heard from several sources that it was good and I stayed as a low blip in my radar for quite some time, but then, finally Ilana tippe
"The archeology of grief is not ordered."

Helen Macdonald’s book-length nonfiction is so many things at once: a eulogy, an elegy, a biography, a memoir, a training manual, a journey. It is a conversation about death, and community. It is so filled with passion and pain that one reads, breath bated, to see which will crush the other. This book is only partly about a hawk, despite the title. It records the author’s journey of a few years, starting with the unexpected death of her father, through th
Sara Steger
Sep 01, 2016 Sara Steger rated it it was amazing
I do not read enough non-fiction. When I come to a book like this one, it makes me wonder why. Helen Macdonald has written a marvelous chronicle of her journey from grief to acceptance, achieved through the training of a goshawk.

When Helen loses her father, she loses her stability. He has been her friend and mentor, and in many ways she has patterned her life after his. The loss seems insurmountable. Having a background in and love of falconry, she decides to get a goshawk from a breeder in Ire
Nov 14, 2014 Penny rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature-fauna

I normally don't go near a 'Misery Memoir'. And I know exactly how it feels to lose a much loved father. Do I really want to read about someone else's loss?

However, this book is astonishing.

It's hard to describe - in fact whilst I was reading it I tried to explain to a friend and fellow book lover what it was all about, and the words just wouldn't come. I know I won't do it justice.

I'll try again - it's a non fiction book about a woman, a Cambridge academic and falconer, who spirals into grie
Lynn Matheson
Jun 05, 2015 Lynn Matheson rated it it was ok
Shelves: autobiography
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
This is probably a decent book and several of my smarty-farty friends have read it, but we all know I'm a moron and every time it is spammed recommended to me on my feed I can only picture this . . . .

^^^^^Now that book I would totally read.
Aug 03, 2015 Mona rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Haunting, Poignant Account of Grief and Falconry

Memoirs Are Not Usually My Cup of Tea

I usually avoid memoirs. You know, the Hollywood celebrity tell-alls. I'm just not interested. (I made an exception for Patti Smith and Alan Cumming, but then, those were not celebrity gossip memoirs at all, but much more personal ones. And both of those people feel like kindred spirits.)

A Very Different Kind of Memoir

This book is a memoir, but in a very different vein.

The Death of Helen's Father

It's a very pers
Jan 04, 2015 Elyse rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
"Breeding goshhawks isn't for the faint-hearted."

"Human hands are for holding other hands. They are not for breaking the necks of rabbits, pulling loops of viscera out of necks out onto leaf-litter while the hawk dips her head to drink blood from her quarry's chest cavity" ....

Falconry is not pet keeping. We learn just how time consuming it must be-- --the dedication -the passion it takes to even appreciate the depths of ...'the sport'...'the art'....'the meditation'.

Helen Macdonald is also a
May 30, 2016 Malia rated it really liked it
I didn't know what to expect from this book, despite having read the summary and several glowing reviews. It seemed to have an odd premise, added to that I'm not a huge fan of reading non fiction, nor do I have an interest in birds of prey. Nonetheless, I was intrigued and grabbed a copy, and I'm glad I did. The story itself is not so much about hawks, as it is about Macdonald dealing with grief and finding a reason to get up in the morning. This was, for me, not unputdownable, however, I ...more
This review first appeared on my blog, Shoulda Coulda Woulda Books.

…And so you run towards those little shots of fate, where the world turns. That is the lure, that is why we lose ourselves, when powerless from hurt and grief, in drugs or gambling or drink; in addictions that collar the broken soul and shake it like a dog. I had found my addiction on that day out with Mabel. It was ruinous, in a way, as if I’d taken a needle and shot myself with heroin. I had taken a flight to a place from which
Mar 15, 2016 Melanie rated it it was amazing
"If birds are made of air, as the nature writer Sy Montgomery says, then writing a great bird book is a little like dusting for the fingerprints of a ghost. It calls for poetry and science, conjuring and evidence. In her breathtaking new book, “H Is for Hawk,” winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Costa Book Award, Helen Macdonald renders an indelible impression of a raptor’s fierce essence — and her own — with words that mimic feathers, so impossibly pretty we don’t notice their ...more
Nov 21, 2014 Mandy rated it it was ok
I’m definitely in the minority with this one. It has received almost universal acclaim, rave reviews and won the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. But I found it tedious and I just couldn’t engage with it at all. An amalgam of nature writing, memoir and literary history, the impetus for writing it came from Helen Macdonald’s extreme grief at the sudden death of her father, to whom she was very close. In a strange sort of identification, she bought and trained a goshawk, Mabel. Mabel ...more
May 11, 2015 Jill rated it it was amazing
When a friend extolled the virtues of H is for Hawk, nothing about it sounded particularly appealing. Falconry? To me, the subject is a big yawn. T.H. White? Certainly T.H. White is a brilliant author, but Arthurian legend The Once and Future King is not the kind of book I gravitate to. So why, then, am I so sure that H is for Hawk will not only land on my list of the best books I read this year, but also take its place as one of the finest contemporary books I’ve read, period?

For me, the answer
Mar 18, 2015 Nikki rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This is one of those quiet books that links nature and human grief… without really sentimentalising it. Macdonald trains Mabel (the goshawk) as a way of reconnecting with herself, of dealing with grief about her father’s death, and she writes about that beautifully without ever reducing it to a picture-perfect moment of “nature healing” or something. I actually found it pretty painful to read: recognising some of the grief, the depression; knowing all about that disconnection.

I can see why peopl
I may be one of the few people who didn't love this book. A more accurate rating for me would be 2.5 stars.

I was very excited to read this memoir by Helen Macdonald as I am a birder and was drawn to the idea that the author turned to raising a goshawk as a way to channel her grief over the sudden death of her father. The book starts off promisingly, and much of the language is lyrical and just beautiful to read. However, I found myself less and less interested while reading -- to the point wher
Apr 02, 2015 Esil rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for an opportunity to read H is for Hawk. 3 1/2 stars. It has taken me an inordinate amount of time to get through this book. It's a book that I appreciated but generally did not enjoy reading. Helen MacDonald writes about grieving her father's death while raising a goshawk, drawing parallels between herself and T.H. White's experience over 50 years ago as a falconer. It felt like there were too many strands to this book -- raising Mabel the goshawk, ...more
May 11, 2015 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
H is for Hawk is a tale of loss, of grief, of finding one's way out of that grief into whatever may lie beyond. It's a tortured tale. Helen Macdonald's father died suddenly, leaving her with an enormous hole in her life and a need to fill that hole purposefully so she turned to the arena that had been an area of interest and love since childhood, the world of nature. She had already trained falcons but now she was determined to train a goshawk, a far more tricky venture, a more feral bird.

One of
Book Riot Community
This award-winning book is part grief memoir, part narrative about hawk-training, part biography of T.H. White. But that (admittedly odd) description doesn’t really capture the tricky, surprising, utterly gorgeous text that Macdonald has produced. And no description really could. In fact, it was a single sentence, reproduced in a New Yorker review, that convinced me I had to read it. So, in an effort to tell you about the book, here’s that sentence, in all its length and lushness and sadness and ...more
Karen Witzler
Jul 16, 2015 Karen Witzler rated it it was amazing
Fabulous book. Highly recommended. Helen MacDonald has produced a tapestry of nature writing, grief-memoir, literary analysis of the writer T.H. White (large portions of his book The Goshawk are included or retold) , history and terminology of falconry, and of course, the brilliant description of her relationship with her own goshawk. Somewhere in the middle I really felt that I was in her head and that she was in the hawk's head, and that we were all hunting together. Beautiful and poetic writi ...more
Jun 18, 2015 Patrick rated it liked it
Borrowed this from the library with a vague awareness of the overwhelmingly positive response it has received, and with a genuine sense of curiosity. I do enjoy non-fiction books which treat a very specialist topic matter with a highly personal, subjective approach, and I particularly enjoy the recent trends in British nature writing which have done exactly this. And of course I flicked through the pages while browsing the aisles, and the prose seemed very good. And I read it, and I enjoyed it ...more
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Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, historian, illustrator and naturalist. She's worked as a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, as a professional falconer, and in raptor research and conservation projects across Eurasia. She is an affiliate of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. She lives in Suffolk, UK.
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“There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, [...]” 117 likes
“We carry the lives we've imagined as we carry the lives we have, and sometimes a reckoning comes of all the lives we have lost.” 82 likes
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