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John James Audubon

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  507 ratings  ·  74 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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4.13  · 
Rating details
 ·  507 ratings  ·  74 reviews


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Jonathan Ashleigh
Jun 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: recent
I get caught up in the belief that I am going to enjoy true-adventure stories, but they usually let me down. I get that John James Audubon was an amazing individual who did something that set him apart from other explorers; I just don’t need a five-hundred-page account of where he was when he painted every bird he ever found. The story is lacking something and needs to be sexier.
Marty
Jul 18, 2007 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
...more
Charles Matthews
Dec 07, 2009 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
...more
Katie
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've decided reading biographies is quite strange. How weird it is to experience a person's entire life, from birth to death, griefs and hopes, failures and victories, empathy and apathy. Autobiographies, I think, are much more biased, as people want to present themselves in a certain light. But a biography...a biography doesn't turn away when bankruptcies come, children die, sickness ravishes, and friends turn away. Good biographies flip your emotional state like a child playing with a lightswi ...more
Sara Snarr
Nov 10, 2013 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.
Andrew
Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Rhodes delves deep into Audubon's correspondences and reveals a man's struggles to attain his ambitions and sustain his family's fortunes. Much of the book reads like an epistolary novel, with Audubon and his wife Lucy expressing their love and doubt as Audubon tries to make it as a naturalist and artist in the elite circles (comprised of those willing to buy Audubon's engravings) of Europe and America's coastal cities. Rhodes does a good job illustrating how Audubon responds to historical winds ...more
Charles
Jan 18, 2008 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.
Julia
Aug 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rhodes has penned an engaging and inspiring biography of the astonishing life of John James Audubon, naturalist, artist and author of Birds of America, the enormous and staggeringly gorgeous book of which first editions today sell at auction for upwards of $10 million. Audubon's passionate and single-minded obsession with painting North American birds, frequently forsaking financial stability, relationships with family and friends, and even hygiene in pursuit of his life's work, is reminiscent o ...more
Pamela Mikita
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An amazing and engrossing biography of Audubon. Really enjoyed learning about the artist and naturalist that was such a lively and admirable character.
Grady McCallie
Dec 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
This excellent and very detailed biography of John James Audubon left me with three main insights:

* Unlike many of the gentlemen naturalists of the Royal Society (as described in The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science), or such Victorian era scientists as Charles Darwin, John James Audubon was not monied, and both he and his devoted wife Lucy worked hard most of their lives.

* Rhodes makes a strong case that Audubon was a good businessman and a
...more
Cheryl
Aug 31, 2009 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
...more
Elizabeth
Sep 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I sometimes have trouble with nonfiction, but this book is well-written and thoroughly entertaining. It is a story not only of an extraordinary man and his extraordinary wife, Lucy, but a real tale of early America. The reader gets an intimate view as to the trials and tribulations of a person living in the early 1800s, beset by risks physical and financial. The effects of disease and lack of medical advancement are quite different. The state of dentistry was rather appalling.

It's also interesti
...more
Zeb
Aug 04, 2008 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
...more
Dennis
Apr 15, 2011 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
...more
D
Jan 12, 2008 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.
Shelli
Sep 24, 2013 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!
Jennifer
Jun 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: bird-lovers everywhere, naturalists, biologists, ornithologists, art historians, science historians
"Wherever there are birds there is Audubon: rara avis."

I very much enjoyed this biography of John James Audubon. Richard Rhodes quotes at length from Audubon's journal and many letters, so I came away with a much better idea of who Audubon was and how he saw the world, especially his beloved birds.

"The Birds of America" is Audubon's most famous and important work, and his efforts collecting specimens, preparing drawings, and marketing the book provided an excellent framework for tying the whole
...more
Suzy
Dec 05, 2018 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading this book, but I think some people might be bored with the minutiae the author includes, due to the fact that his source material is mostly letters and Audubon's own extensive journal. Nonetheless, Audubon himself is quite an interesting character--affable, by all accounts, but driven to complete his project of completing life-size paintings of all the birds in the US! He thus lived an unusual life, much of it tromping around the woods and frontier, away from his family, and mu ...more
Molly
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was ok
This was a slog. More than 400 pages of small print, but what made it difficult is that there are hundreds of names and dates that turn out to be insignificant to the layperson, but the (conscientious) reader doesn’t know what’s going to matter so has to read them all, and it’s slow going. I think the book is meant to be a scholarly, comprehensive biography of Audubon (1785-1851), but its audience is likely not scholars. I learned some things, like for how much of a marriage couples might live a ...more
Stephen
Sep 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Exceptionally well written biography of an American who made significant contributions to the world of art and science. It's a wonderful way to learn about Audubon and the history of our nation simultaneously. Passionate people do remarkable things, and without question, Audubon was one of the most passionate of Americans during his time.
Isobel
Jul 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
Audubon was clearly a really interesting and driven person so it was interesting to read about him, and the book also painted an interesting picture about life and society in the US during that time period which was really eye-opening. I just feel like the narrative was overburdened with too much detail from journals and letters, so it felt like a bit of a slog to read at times.
Bill
Sep 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Glad to have learned more about this man. Book was something of a schlog at times.
Rivers
Aug 10, 2018 rated it liked it
great writer....semi-boring subject?
Oliver
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Somewhat of a slog but nonetheless an interesting biography. Underscores that Audobon was not just a bird illustrator but an artist with a passion and vision for his all-encompassing work.
Kelly
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Enjoying this book. First-hand accounts of passenger pigeons in the BILLIONS and the New Madrid earthquake...awesome!
David
Feb 26, 2014 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
...more
Chris Alexander
Jul 12, 2011 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
Kathleen (itpdx)
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 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
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

...more
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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