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The Goshawk

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  1,334 ratings  ·  183 reviews
What is it that binds human beings to other animals? T.H. 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 reverted to a feral state" — seized his imagination, and, White later wrote, "A longing came to my mind that I should be able t ...more
Paperback, NYRB Classics, 215 pages
Published October 2nd 2007 by NYRB (first published 1951)
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Tarryn I read H is for Hawk first and enjoyed reading The Goshawk afterwards because Macdonald writes about the historical context of White's life and method…moreI read H is for Hawk first and enjoyed reading The Goshawk afterwards because Macdonald writes about the historical context of White's life and methods.(less)

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Mar 12, 2016 rated it liked it
In my reading life, I can go from being a shad fisherman one week ( The Founding Fish) to being a falconer the next. Without being drowned or clawed. To say nothing of my fiction choices, with all the myriad chambers of the human heart exposed. Once again without being drowned or clawed.

One obstacle to learning about a new topic, though not insurmountable, is the beautiful strangeness of language. I speak here not of a country's or people's verbs, nouns and adjectives, but rather of the peculiar
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. ...more
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
Lance Greenfield
Nov 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: animal lovers
I read The Sword in the Stone and The Once and Future King when I was much younger. This illuminates the things he writes in those books about raptors, and reveals the deep fascination he has for these magnificent birds. As he writes about his efforts to train a goshawk, it's not so much a matter, for him, of subjugating the bird as understanding the way it thinks and feels. The other thing I appreciated here was the bits of erudition scattered here and there in his allusions to history and lite ...more
Sep 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
I had read Helen Macdonald’s “H is for Hawk”, and was fascinated by her discussion of T.H.White and of his book “The Goshawk”. I think that my response to The Goshawk was greatly influenced by Macdonald’s book.

As one reads The Goshawk, one becomes aware of the struggles within White, even as he struggled for mastery of the hawk Gos.

I suspect that White fled from the life of a schoolmaster because of the terrible temptations it offered, as when he speaks of the use of punishment in the management
J.M. Hushour
Jan 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those incredible books that you pick up for no real, logical reason--more than a blind-buy, even--and become completely enamored with it. I can count these sorts of encounters with non-fiction on two hands.
The premise is simple: T.H. White, the guy who wrote "The Once and Future King", bought a goshawk and tried to train it to hunt himself, using books from the 17th century. He then wrote a book about it.
I'd be hard-pressed to elucidate what it exactly is about this book that ende
Professor Weasel
Oct 12, 2020 rated it liked it
I read this book because I found Macdonald's discussion of it in "H is For Hawk" so interesting. I would definitely have never bothered reading it if that wasn't the case. Her discussion of this book provided a LOT of useful context that I would have NEVER gotten from reading it blind - his homosexuality, his alcoholism, the rise of WWII. It also helped put into context how cruel White was to the poor hawk.

What was interesting to me about this book is how OBSESSED it is with the goshawk. It prov
Jan 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyone is familiar with Mr. Whites' superb Arthurian fantasy epics and here we have the great wordsmith applying his talents to his experiences of falconry, with no other than a book of the subject from the sixteen hundreds.
This was an absorbing read that left me eager to learn more. If it was not for the deft skill of Mr. White and his mighty pen this would be an absolute faillier.

A collection of well rounded stories of a factual nature from an excellent writer who has beyond doubt mastered b
Nov 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
What a bursting heart of gratitude and triumph as the ravening monster slowly paced down the arm with gripping steps and pounced upon his breakfast! The rest of the day was a glow of pleasure, a kind of still life in which the sun shone on the flowers with more than natural brilliance, giving them the high lights of porcelain.

It's always hard to rate a classic, and The Goshawk, to me, proves even more difficult to review. Originally published in 1951, T.H. White's book is a compelling accoun
Sep 10, 2017 rated it liked it
If you've ever been to a Renaissance Faire you might have witnessed the fascinating hobby of Falconry, if you found it as interesting as I did and maybe even dreamed of owning a raptor of your own this book shows how one famous writer set about learning how to do it all on his own with just three books one written in the 1600's as his guide.
Roger Brunyate
May 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Brilliant, but a little boring

I would not have known about T. H. White's memoir of trying to train a goshawk were it not for Helen Macdonald's wonderful analysis in H is for Hawk, her recent account of training her own hawk. White, as he himself admits, does a lot of things wrong: feeding the bird far too much, for example. This horrifies Macdonald, and I expected it to horrify me too. But, because he is unaware of his mistakes at the time, what comes over has no cruelty in it whatsoever; frustr
May 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
I love discovering new books that live outside the world of literary prizes and literary fashion, and a good way to do this is by following the opinion of writers one admires. One of the writers I appreciate strongly is Robert MacFarlane who in the mini-pocket The Gifts of Reading describes the joy of giving away books one admires to enable others to get to know them. And so, since a while, I try to read what he admires and discovered some great authors and books. One of these, H is for Hawk by ...more
Daniel Simmons
Feb 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 19, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, nyrb
I think this would have worked better for me if it had been a little more Disney.
Iron Mike
May 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature
Great book. Who'd'a thunk it, the author of The Sword in the Stone writing about raising raptors. So sad. So well written. I loved it. ...more
Karen Howell
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Thanks to the staff recommendations section at the London Review Bookshop for this gem.
May 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, britain, 2020
The Goshawk is a superb piece of jaunty nature writing in White’s very particular and often didactic voice that illuminates the interior struggles present in any close relationship via his misadventures training Gos. In many ways, The Goshawk was ahead of its time in the blending of nature, memoir, and learning an important lesson. Some moments made me laugh out loud, others made my heart skip a beat -- it's an immersive tale, for certain, filled with humanity and compassion. Also, at one point, ...more
Feb 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature
3.5 stars. White's descriptions of the birds and training process are beautiful and evocative. On the flipside, he doesn't seem to be all that good at his newfound hobby, to the detriment of the animals, and the occasional casual sexism was annoying and a bit baffling in a book that is literally not even supposed to be about people. ...more
Sep 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Peter Staadecker
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have no particular affinity for the sport of hawking and falconry, but being a fan of T.H. White's "Once and Future King" I was curious. And of course, once I started reading, T.H.'s language drew me in. Here's how he describes receiving his young, wild goshawk:

"When I first saw him he was a round thing like a clothes basket covered with sacking. But he was tumultuous and frightening, repulsive in the same way as snakes are frightening to people who do not know them, or dangerous as the sudden
May 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jill Bowman
Jun 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wasn’t prepared to love The Goshawk. Having just (re)read Helen Macdonald’s 10 star H is for Hawk, I knew to expect White’s torture of Gos, his unwitting abuse of his tiercel, the horrid treatment of the pigeons and the owls.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the beautiful language, the Shakespeare, the precursor to The Once and Future King. His self-aware chastisement of his own ‘training’ methods. I loved (and cringed at) this book.
Beware, however. I finished it in the café of my local library
Mar 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Such beautiful, poetic language. I enjoyed the wider-ranging thoughts and the humorous characterising. I gave this five stars as it was such a dense and rich and surprising book, of its time but with musings that bear revisiting.
Rob Adey
Jul 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wasn't expecting the hawk to turn out to be a glove puppet. ...more
Robert Cox
Jan 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"Bloodlust is a word which has got shop soiled. They have rubbed the nap off it. But split it into its parts, and think of Lust. Real bloodlust is like that."

T.H. White has that rarest of gifts. He can write in soaring literary prose, quoting Shakespeare and Latin, convey the monumental nature of an inherently personal event, and then make a fart joke or a genuinely funny comment about two poachers meeting in a wood (one being himself). He is eminently quotable and to put it plainly, uses the En
Rohan Arthur
Feb 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A book of powerful romance, a Shakespearean tale of a cruel courtship, obsessive love and desperate loss. White is unflinchingly honest in his ineptitude as he struggles to win over Gos, and his diary draws you into his fevered madness as he sets himself up for inevitable disaster. The narrative is raw and beautiful and intimate, and it is small wonder he resisted it being published for several decades. Anyone familiar with White's chronicles of Arthur will see here his love for a lost Medieval ...more
Josh Friedlander
Sep 10, 2020 rated it did not like it
Read this after H is for Hawk (like many others, I'm sure). It's nicely written and moving in parts, but I think after Macdonald's book and The Peregrine I've reached my quota of "misanthropic English oddball mooning after bird of prey" books. ...more
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NYRB Classics: The Goshawk, by T.H. White 3 36 Nov 08, 2019 05:56PM  

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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.

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