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Hope Is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds
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Hope Is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  213 ratings  ·  32 reviews
An award-winning nature writer weaves natural history and personal experience into the dramatic story of the last days of six North American bird species. With a compelling blend of science, history, politics, and memoir, Cokino draws on unpublished photographs and documents to make these long-vanished birds come alive.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published April 1st 2001 by Grand Central Publishing (first published 2000)
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Community Reviews

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Paulette Lincoln-baker
The world is diminished with each passing of a species into extinction. That is the clear point of Christopher Cokinos book in which he traces the history of vanished birds, the Carolina Parakeet, the Heath Hen, the Passenger Pigeon, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, the Labrador duck and the Great Auk. It is a personal odyssey for this author who writes very movingly of his research and what he discovers as he visits some of the places where these vanished birds once existed. The story of Martha, th ...more
In Hope is the Thing With Feathers, Christopher Cokinos takes his readers through the history and legacy of several now-extinct or otherwise "vanished" avian species, including the Passenger Pigeon and the Carolina Parakeet. His doorway to these otherwise intensively researched and scholarly essays is his own personal experience, including his boots-on-the-ground attempts to track down actual and physical records of their final appearances in the wild and captivity, and to encounter the birds (o ...more
I really enjoyed the first half of the book, though it was depressing to read story after story about how people worked hard to help the heath hen, passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet and ivory billed woodpecker only to be met with ultimate doom. But, I found the second half more tedious to read. There are two detailed chapters on the "afterlife" of two stuffed passenger pigeons (Martha and Buttons, the last in existence and the last in the wild). I don't really think we needed to know every det ...more
Elizabeth Humphries
It took me years to finish this book. Not because it's bad - it's well-written and includes interesting anecdotes about the extinct North American birds. It's just so depressing when you see the impact of humans on nature laid out in chapter after chapter after chapter. Normally I'll reread books in a heartbeat, but I don't think I can for this one.
Stalled on page 61 after I flipped through the very end of the book (not something I usually do) and read the author's conclusion that "we are frightened enough of the future and certain enough of the toll 6 billion humans are taking on the planet that we have decided not to have children." That plus the author's admitted profound depression during portions of the times he describes of his own life make for a far less optimistic tone than I expect from a book whose title starts with "Hope." Even ...more
I was recently reminded of this book while discussing the demise of the dodo bird with my sons. The dodo is ancient history from some nowhere in the Indian Ocean. Christopher Cokinos brings the story of bird extinction to our very doorstep, with parts of the history occurring within 1 generation of the present.

It is an eye opening reminder of how careless man can be with the natural resources around him. In some cases 11th hour revelation by a few early conservationist are not enough to stem the
Steven Bennett
An old favorite I now have several copies of that inspired me in so many ways. It was wonderful to have so many forgotten lives & worlds revealed.
“Time is the deepest wilderness in which we wander,” writes author Cokinos.

This book was something of a watershed moment for me. Cokinos introduced me to the detailed story of six lost species of birds that once lived in North America. But now they are gone. His personal peregrinations and resultant chronicle are highly moving.

“I have learned much from this history and have realized, finally, that sadness at loss is our best first response. It should not be our only response. We know the world
Wonderful book and depressing at times. Made me very sad to read of birds we no longer have.
This is a book that can be appreciated on a number of levels. Of course, it is instructive about the life cycle of the extinct species. But, it is even more revealing of human nature and its strange attraction to the rare. It seems that no matter how beautiful something is, if it is common, we regard it as less valuable (indeed, "common" can sometimes be used as a pejorative term). When that which was common becomes rare, we often come to regard it as valuable and struggle mightily to save it. W ...more
I just loved this book. A beautifully written requiem for lost species. I especially enjoyed the section on the Carolina parakeet, you can tell it was the spark that started the whole book. I think the heath hen chapter got a little bogged down in the politics, but apart from that it was a very engaging read.
Sherrida Woodley
This book was the defining resource for my writing Quick Fall of Light. Without it, I would've had far less to go on (re: the passenger pigeon), not to mention getting a much clearer understanding of the earth's most notable bird extinctions. It will make you cry and wish and hurt for what we've lost.
A very dry and disappointing book. I picked it up when I read a positive review about it. The author is a poet and I thought it would be a good read about a less than exciting subject. Wrong. It was a boring read about a subject that could have been very interesting.
So many passenger pigeons, and we slaughtered millions.
The passenger pigeon section was fascinating. The section on the woodpeckers was something I had already read about, and I found the details tiresome. I didn't quite get his interest in the parakeets.
Betsy Curlin
This book is a beautiful testament to the amazing bird species that we have lost through our own greed and insensitivity. The writing is thoughtful and poetic, and one can genuinely feel the writers' regret at the loss of these national treasures.
Frederick Bingham
This is the story of some species of extinct birds, the Heath Hen, Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, Ivory-Billed woodpecker and Labrador Duck. How did they become extinct? What were the stories of the last members of their race?
David R.
Cokinos does not engage in the kind of in-your-face writing that is all too common in this genre nor does he overplay the emotion hand. His chapters on the Heath Hen and Passenger Pigeon are especially haunting.
An interesting natural history and personal reflections on the lives and extinctions of six birds: the Carolina Parakeet, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Passenger Pigeon, Heath Hen, Labrador Duck, and Great Auk.
Jul 27, 2008 Trina rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: biologists, bird lovers, nature lovers
Recommended to Trina by: Charlie
Good book. I've read lots about extinctions, etc. but this one really went into depth about the last of some species. Before the "rediscovery" of the Ivory-billed. Interesting perspectives.
Jennifer Baldy
Loved this book, a story of human interaction with nature and the mistakes that were made, and a documentation of the things that were lost for those who have no memory of these species.
I enjoyed reading this, but I found that it sometimes went on for longer than I'd have preferred about the people surrounding the birds rather than the birds themselves.
What's not to like here--the author loves birds, poetry, and lives in Kansas. Fascinating stories of extinct North American birds, and why they matter to us today.
hala osman
This book wonderfully connects the reader to some of the world's most delicate creatures. Some books are flags of awareness, this is one of them.
It's sad to think these birds are gone forever mostly due to humans and yet we don't learn from the past. :(
This book is so good, it convinced me to go to Arkansas to look for one of the birds covered in this list.
Christopher Eckman
Beautifully written, but tragic tale about birds recently lost the world will never see again.
great account of some extinct species. A must read for budding biologists.
So good. It brought me to tears at points. I want everyone to read this book.
A very haunting collection of tales, of searching and of hope.
Marla Glenn
I love the way this guy writes! You can tell he's a poet.
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