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The Peregrine

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  2,378 ratings  ·  378 reviews
From autumn to spring, J.A. Baker set out to track the daily comings and goings of a pair of peregrine falcons across the flat fen lands of eastern England. He followed the birds obsessively, observing them in the air and on the ground, in pursuit of their prey, making a kill, eating, and at rest, activities he describes with an extraordinary fusion of precision and poetry ...more
Paperback, 191 pages
Published December 31st 2004 by NYRB Classics (first published 1967)
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Karthic Ss Hello Ben, Apart from the interest in birds, Werner Herzog was one of the reasons I picked up this book. As a filmmaker(mainly working on wildlife, bu…moreHello Ben, Apart from the interest in birds, Werner Herzog was one of the reasons I picked up this book. As a filmmaker(mainly working on wildlife, but a lover of all kinds of cinema) & this book is a must-read for the craft. Here's I think why-

1.Observe- Great impeccable observations of daily life of a Peregrine. Even while it looks like nothing happens- there's a lot happening. If you observe.
2. Level of detail- Observations are very very detailed, the level of detail goes down to the very tiny things too.
3. Become your film- This is a story of a man that becomes the bird he's following- you become what you're hunting, on film terms- you become your film.

In addition to how I relate to this film, I found this quote from Herzog himself-

“He has completely entered into the existence of a falcon. And this is what I do, when I make a film, I step outside of myself into an ekstasis.”

Thanks very much,


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Kobe Bryant
Nov 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
He walks around and looks at birds and writes about them real good
Dec 16, 2012 added it
Shelves: place
I spent some time in December on a virtual walk across a ten-by-twenty-mile area, trailing J A Baker as he in turn trailed a couple of peregrine hawks over the fenlands and the estuaries of east Anglia. Of course, my virtual walk was conducted from the comfort of my fireside and only lasted ten days whereas Baker was outdoors in all weathers in pursuit of his prey, and his walk lasted from October to March when the Peregrines migrate to Scandinavia for the summer months.

The Peregrine, first pub
Jun 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is just the most wonderfully poetic account of one man's year long exploration of the lifestyle of peregrines in the unnamed yet I assumed East Anglian area of the mid 1960's. Just beautiful.

On almost every page there is a wonderful simile or collective noun and his prose is the stuff for which fruity voices were made. He does stray on a number of occasions into prose so purple a whole college of Bishops could dress themselves in it but there are so many breathtaking phrases that I could f
Thus completes my reading cycle about hawks and falcons ( The Goshawk, The Pilgrim Hawk, and, surprisingly, The Adventures of Augie March). I thought this one the least overtly metaphorical of the bunch and certainly the lushest in language.

It is an odd hobby, to the point of fetish, to spend the day - every day - out in the landscape, regardless of weather, watching the peregrines . . . and the things that they kill. But then you learn this:

Wild peregrines love the wind, as otters love water.
The writing is exceptional. For this reason alone, it is worth reading. Nature writing that is prose poetry filled with synaesthetic imagery. The reader becomes one with a peregrine. I was told the book would infuse me with such a feeling, and it does.

Yet, not more than three stars? I liked the book. All in all, it wasn't amazing or even very good, and so it must be given three stars.

It is extremely difficult to listen to hours and hours of lines that say approximately the same thing, even if t
Michael Dodsworth
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I first read 'The Peregrine' back in the early 70's and it was this book more than any other which was responsible for my lifelong interest in Nature writing. I have often thought that there is a correlation between this and my other literary obsession, the Ghost Story. Something about remote landscapes and the creatures which inhabit them invoke an ethereal experience which is both personal and mysterious. My second reading of this ageless book, which won the Duff Cooper Prize in 1967, confirms ...more
I read an article about this book recently, celebrating the 50th anniversary of its publication.

The book is every bit as stunning as the article suggests. It was written as an elegy for these beautiful raptors, which 50 years ago were on the brink of extinction in the UK because of pesticides. Fortunately things have changed since then and the Peregrine is now safe again. The book is the result of 10 years of observation, distilled into one period from au
Feb 20, 2013 marked it as to-read
So when I get the Higgs boson blues something terrible and I am in a bad spot or life is just clinching its merciless little fist around me and squeezing squeezing something that always, without fail, cheers me up and/or sets my head a little straighter on neck is watching David Attenborough's nature specials- especially "The Life of [fill in the blank with type of animal here]"... I love David Attenborough and like 1200 hours worth of his material is available to stream on Netflix and I can jus ...more
Ah, I recognise cycle navigating that chilly mud from my fenland childhood.
This seemed like it was written in a slower time, free from today’s anxious rush to no more important endeavour. Plentiful intricate detail given for reflection and creative seasonal simile/metaphor. The Peregrine’s movement and appearance leaves Baker awestruck ....but it is rarely reduced to anthropomorphic sweetness (Baker acknowledges this), more glassy eyed singular absence, ‘the overwhelming indifference of natu
lyell bark
Dec 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Peregrines are one of the most impressive apex predators in this country, but it is one that we almost lost because of pesticides and persecution. They are bold, confident birds, fearing nothing else and can also claim to be the world’s fastest animal as they have been recorded at speeds in excess of 200mph in their stoop to kill their prey. Two things saved them, the banning of pesticides and they moved from the rural to the urban environment, skyscrapers replacing the cliff top eyries.

Half a
Tomas Ramanauskas
May 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Is this book on birdwatching? A poetry tome? A nature lover's journal? An impressive example of the magic of paying attention? I think, all four and maybe even more.

For me, the most fascinating part of this little diary is the focus of the observer, so deep that he becomes the thing he watches. Baker immerses you in a world in which you never had any interest before. It is a unique creation, slow, uneventful, repetitive yet somehow surprising, insightful, revealing.

Oh, and it was recommended by
Dec 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
this book will go in my best books I ever read shelf, and I will read it again and again. It will sit right beside Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. The Peregrine is J.A. Baker's season walking beneath, watching, learning from, hearing, and being a part of wild nature. He trailed peregrines in eastern England, down by the bottom of the country over ploughed fields, estuaries, woodland paths, fields, farms, towns, and in the process also watched and was part with hundreds of other birds, f ...more
J.M. Hushour
Oct 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"A hawk's kill is like the warm embers of a dying fire."

Like T.H. White's supreme The Goshawk (strangely never mentioned in any connection whatsoever in all that I've read about it), Baker's book is simple:

Guy watches hawk.

Now, there is a danger of oversimplification here, since Baker, at the time suffering from a debilitating arthritic condition that would eventually kill him, writes of spending six long months wandering the coast of East Anglia watching peregrines in action in a language so ev
Jun 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If I were ever to meet an extraterrestrial that wished to understand the curious relationship between man and nature, I would recommend this book. Baker captures the way that we seek to understand wild creatures while at the same time imposing on them our own beliefs and perceptions.
This slim work pushed me into a lot of self-reflection. It may be the closest thing to a self-help book that I am able to consume.
Aug 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Sometimes you read a book to find out "what happened?". Othertimes, you read as a kind of immersion process, to sink into a realm not your own and abide its rules and orders. This book is definitely suited for the latter kind of reading. There is no real plot to this book; it is, like much lyric poetry, interested in the nowness of its subjects rather than in the progress of the reader's journey.

This book really is more about the writer's relationship to nature in general and the peregrine in p
Jan 07, 2015 rated it liked it
A stirring account of one man's year long relationship with one of my favorite animals on earth - the peregrine falcon. So hard to review, this book is so beautiful and at the same time so completely repetitive. It crosses so many genres; it's like a nearly 200 page prose poem that is part memoir, part natural history, part travel narrative. The use of language is striking, and there are so many wonderful passages, but as the book moves along it's hard not to feel that all the pages sort of blen ...more
Jenny Cooke (Bookish Shenanigans)
Such a vivid account of Baker's observations and obsession with the movements of peregrine falcons.
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Near the brook a heron lay in frozen stubble. Its wings were stuck to the ground by frost, and the mandibles of its bill were frozen together. Its eyes were open and living, the rest of it was dead. All was dead but the fear of man. As I approached I could see its whole body craving into flight. But it could not fly. I gave it peace, and saw the agonised sunlight of its eyes slowly heal with cloud.
No pain, no death, is more terrible to a wild creature than its fear of man. A red-throated diver,
Jun 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2015
I've wanted to read this book for a while now, quite a few other nature books I've read have been inspired by this book, glad I gave it a go as it was a beautifully written book, almost poetic at times. Baker goes into great detail about the countryside, other animals and every aspect of the peregrines life. J. A. Baker was diagnosed as being very ill so he decided to dedicate his life to stalking these peregrines he had spotted. In the end he does start to go feral, at times when writing about ...more
Julian Hoffman
Feb 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature
Few books dance with language the way The Peregrine does. The story is simple enough:a man spends his winters tracking peregrines over the marshes, fields, and estuaries of eastern England. But that man, J.A. Baker, accomplishes something rare in the history of nature writing—he immerses himself so deeply in his search that he becomes the very thing
he seeks, finally coming to see the “pouring-away world of no attachment” through the peregrine’s eyes. The transformation is startling, lucid, and u
Terry Pearce
Jun 19, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a very subjective 3 stars. His prose deserves 5 stars, easily -- it's amazing. Beautiful, fresh, vivid... early on, I was loving it. But as the pages went by, I found it all quite samey. I needed some narrative rather than diary entries in which only the seasons really changed. That's very personal, so if that's your kind of thing, you will love this as the prose is some of the most poetic I've come across.
Jan 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those who want to reflect on the "meaning" of a falcon
Shelves: remainders
An amazing chronicle of one man's obsession, an unending, Homeric narrative of death and near death on the moors and estuaries of Essex. Baker deprecates and eschews anthropomorphism (none of the peregrines are given names, and only on rare occasions does Baker concentrate on any particular pair); instead, he does his best to turn himself into a peregrine.

The tone is elegiac, the prose gorgeous:
"I swung over the hills and down into the deep valley, seeing the tiercel diving down the fanned sun's
Barry Litherland
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Probably the finest natural history book I've ever read and a book of the highest literary merit in its own right. Some of the language is even more memorable than Proust. The wren 'like a little brown priest in a congregation of leaves.' Wonderful!
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
When J.A. Baker published this book in 1967, it turned the world of birding upside down. He was not a naturalist or a previously published birder. He was, by his own admission, new to birding and his book is based on diaries he kept of ten years of following a pair of peregrine hawks in the fields and marshes of Essex near Chelmsford, in Kent his home in England. These are not day to day reminiscences but rather a detailed compilation of the ten years written in astoundingly beautiful prose poet ...more
Apr 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Reading The Peregrine, stopped me in my tracks. As a writer, I became caught up in the incredible structure of Baker's sentences. Anyone who writes should take the time to read this short and gorgeous book. I read sentences aloud to my family touched by the soaring of his language and the world he watched. "Plovers volleyed from the fields and fretted the horizon with the dark susurrus of their wings." Read it again. Through out the book, Baker brings alive all of the senses together in one set ...more
Robert Jacoby
Nov 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-favorites
No other way to put it: This book is a treasure of the English language.

In The Peregrine J.A. Baker describes how he tracked and trekked over months and miles in his native England to watch and record in language like you've never read how peregrines hunt and feed and fly and play and rest. The language he uses to construct his sentences is like none other I have ever read. It's a vivid mix of nature writing and the best poetry. The text is so dense, the sentences are so packed with words bring
I am aware of the Peregrine Falcon as the University of California Santa Cruz has a big Peregrine project to save the bird. The use of DDT had brought a number of local birds almost to extinction such as the Peregrine Falcone, the California Condor and the Brown Pelican. The project has been successful and there are a number of breeding pairs making nests in Bay Area buildings. Some of these building have installed webcam so the public can watch the hatching of the eggs and then watch the baby b ...more
Joshua Buhs
Sep 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, ecology
A daydream of a book.

Baker decides, for no really discernible reason, to spend a season following some peregrines on the English Coast. That's it--that's the idea behind the book. There's not really any propulsive force to the story itself, it's kind of one damn thing after another, but is bewitching just the same. Because over the course of some six months Baker comes to slough of some of his humanity, approach the beast on its own terms--which is not to say nature red in tooth and claw or some
20th book for 2020.

Baker uses language beautifully, but the vast bulk of this short book is composed of a series of highly repetitive diary entries. There is no narrative arc—difficult to achieve when Baker stubbornly refuses to enter the narrative—with just a series of "imaginary" daily entries where Baker observes peregrines flying and killing. "Imaginary" because Baker collapsed ten years observations into a single fictional year and then subsequently destroyed his original notes so there was
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John A. Baker lives with his wife in Essex. He has had assorted jobs, including chopping down trees and pushing book trolleys in the British Museum. In 1965 he gave up work and lived on the money he had saved, devoting all his time to his obsession - the peregrine. He re-wrote his account of this bird five times before submitting it for publication. Although he had no ornithological training and h ...more

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