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Bird of Life, Bird of Death: A Naturalist's Journey Through a Land of Political Turmoil
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Bird of Life, Bird of Death: A Naturalist's Journey Through a Land of Political Turmoil

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  71 ratings  ·  15 reviews
Maslow does a fine job of presenting his quest for the the magnificent quetzal, legendary bird of the Mayans. The book chronicles not only his search for the bird & aspects of its natural history, but presents encounters with many other birds of Central America as well. Home to some wondrous birds in the almost magical rain forests, Maslow shows tho that the avifauna & ...more
Hardcover, 249 pages
Published February 1st 1986 by Simon & Schuster (NYC)
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4.06  · 
Rating details
 ·  71 ratings  ·  15 reviews

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Erik Graff
Aug 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Guatemala or quetzal fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: sciences
Although I classified this book under the sciences, the author being an ornithologist and the book being about his quest for the quetzal, it is just as much about the history of Central America, Guatemala in particular, and its dismal politics, the disappearing quetzal contrasted to the hegemonics of rapacious capitalism and the meddling of successive governments of the United States of America.
Lars Sanders
Fascinating book. Naturalist Maslow travels trough Guatemala during the reign of dictator Rios Montt, during his search for the bird of paradise Maslow also describes the horrors of modern dicatorship.
Bob Newman
Jan 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Bird watching and civil war

A little anger isn't bad. When you think of the collection of knaves, brutes, and simple ^$%@#s who rule many of the world's countries, you can get pretty steamed up, especially if you happen to see some of the happy results in person. What would be weird is if you didn't get angry. OK, Jonathan Maslow did go to Guatemala to trace the fate of the quetzal, a long-tailed bird that is not only the national symbol of that troubled Central American nation, but also gives th
Robert Hibbard
Although I enjoyed this book, I enjoyed it less than I did when I read it in the early 90's after myself returning from a trip to Guatemala where I too visited El Biotopo looking for quetzals. I even took photos of some colorful birds (probably not quetzals) only to discover later that I had black and white film in my camera; Ilford as I recall.

The book is part travelogue, and a birding field guide interspersed with asides on political history. As I reread the book, I couldn't help but be remin
Steven Mccormick
Sep 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book actually written in my birth year of 1983 depicting a nothing short of epic journey of life and culture shock of an educated ornithologist and his adventures through South America tracking the beautiful and elusive Quetzel that is not only so important to Guatemalas to be the bird featured on the flag but also the namesake of the currency depicted in exchange in a quite humorous trade through a modern day changed land that changed the land of the Quetzel into a lan ...more
John Adams
Feb 07, 2017 rated it liked it
An interesting mix of birdwatching, travelogue, and political commentary, well-written and readable. Given that he traveled with a photographer, however, the absence of pictures is glaring.
Nov 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Travelers, Arm-Chair Travelers, Political/History Junkies, Birders
One of those books I thoroughly enjoyed reading... though using the word "enjoy" for a book with such vivid descriptions of poverty and the impact of a brutal military regime on impoverished Guatemalans seems more than a little wrong. Maslow is a great writer with a gift for original phrasing, sharp observation, keen insight, and able to convey a lot information - birds, politics, Mayan history, agriculture, etc - in a light and easy way. I wish the book were longer. I will certainly re-read it.
Steve Kettmann
Apr 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I need to read this one again - I carried a tattered copy with me on my aimless travels through Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica back in 1986 and 1987 - but it stays with me as a great book, one that was lyrical and informed about Guatemala and also unstinting and raw in the graphic pictures it left in my imagination, especially that of the zopilotes - vultures - feasting on human bodies tossed aside at the city dump, victims of political violence.
Mar 04, 2013 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes birds, nature and ecology
Recommended to Jean by: Saw in a book club offering.
I liked it. But I read it so long ago. The main thing I remember, after all these years, is how the natural environment is not free from the reach of man. In the ensuing years, I have come to believe that the world of man is not outside nature, as much as people would like to believe it is, but that our activities aren't doing us any favors as we are now seeing.
Oct 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
From the NYTimes Review: In his introduction, Mr. Maslow suggests the book is "a kind of essay in political ornithology." While correct in believing this is "a field that does not quite exist, at least yet," he demonstrates why naturalists have had to become politically engaged: increasingly, it seems, everything is in peril.
Nov 05, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're into birds, read this. If you're not particularly into birds, read it anyway. It's not really about birds; more the complexities of conquest and division and what's left behind in Central America. It's also sort of a rogue travel book, full of observations, insights and vivid inmages that remain with the reader.
Jun 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1986
I discovered this non-fiction book in the late 1980s, and spent an atmospheric, rainy vacation day, reading about the adventures of two American ornithologists in Guatamala, a very poor Central American country in the midst of a political upheaval. It is one of my favorite reading experiences.
Mar 03, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this during a trip to Guatemala, so very timely. Interesting organization around the bird, good journalistic style and historical background, pretty well-written I thought.
Jun 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Now a bit dated, but still a fascinating tale of natural beauty amid the storm of political destruction in modern Guatemala.
Jan 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a book about some guy trying to find a quetzal. Read it and learn about quetzals.
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Jonathan Maslow was a journalist and naturalist whose travels took him from the rain forests of Central America to the steppes of Central Asia. (NY Times)