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H is for Hawk

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  55,553 ratings  ·  7,970 reviews
Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

When Helen Macdonald's father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she'd never before been tempted to train one of the most viciou
Hardcover, 300 pages
Published July 31st 2014 by Jonathan Cape
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Dmitry Everybody does.
Christian Cull Absolutely, this is suitable. It is an open and honest account that reflects a challenging attitude and a sense of inquiry. It is unflinching and all …moreAbsolutely, this is suitable. It is an open and honest account that reflects a challenging attitude and a sense of inquiry. It is unflinching and all the better for it. My 13 year old daughter loved it, and I was delighted when she said she wanted to read it. (less)

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Average rating 3.73  · 
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 ·  55,553 ratings  ·  7,970 reviews

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Oct 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
H is for Hawk

This is Mabel.

She is a goshawk.

I didn’t know what a goshawk was before I started to read this book. I wasn’t actually sure I knew what a hawk was either.

“Seriously, Greg? You are forty years old and you don’t know what a hawk is?”

Well, sort of. I knew that it is a bird and that it is a predatory animal. I had no idea what one looked like. If you showed me pictures of some birds and told me to pick out the hawk and you had some falcons and maybe some non-bald eagles I wouldn’t hav
Louise Miller
Feb 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
Didn't rate this at all. I have to be blunt here. H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald is not my cup of tea in the slightest. To say it won the Costa Book of the Year and to be given widespread praise and five-star reviews by many including being labelled as a ‘soaring triumph’ by the Telegraph, I expected something better, something much much better.

To say that I didn’t rate it highly is something of an understatement. Yes, there is some pretty prose on the pages, but even some of this seems rather
Oct 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
A is for Ascendant
Prose to sweep you away

B is for Birds
With a passion for prey

C is for Cambridge
She’s one of their scholars

D is for Dinero
Nice royalty dollars

E is for Elegiac
So sad when her dad died

F is for Flying
Bird and soul, side by side

G is for Grateful
Susan, you pointed the way

H is for Hawk
A great book, I must say

OK, you get the idea. This one is beautifully written, scholarly, a bit sad, and ultimately uplifting. It’s been quite a success, too, both at the bookstores and with critics. Oh,
Will Byrnes
The archaeology of grief is not ordered. It is more like earth under a spade, turning up things you had forgotten. Surprising things come to light: not simply memories, but states of mind, emotions, older ways of seeing the world.
Helen MacDonald had suffered a great loss. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy wrote, Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Perhaps the same might be applied to grieving. I know for myself, during an acute period of grieving I was prac
Julie Christine
Here’s a word. Bereavement. Or Bereaved. Bereft. It’s from the Old English bereafian, meaning ‘to deprive of, take away, seize, rob’.
Here’s another word: raptor, meaning ‘bird of prey’. From the Latin raptor, meaning ‘robber,’ from rapere meaning ‘seize’. Rob. Seize.

Here’s another word: Captivating. H is for Hawk stole me, holding me captive with its madness and love. Part claustrophobic memoir of grief, part luminous tribute to the sport of falconry, Helen Macdonald’s book is brilliant and tens
Before starting in on my review, I took a quick look at what my fellow Goodreaders thought. I don’t always do that, but I was really curious this time. I am thinking I am in the minority in my feelings about this one. Which is all good - I just didn’t care for it.

Usually when reading non-fiction, even if I don’t know the subject matter, I can usually get into it. In fact, I think it is the sign of a great non-fiction book when an author can take a random subject and make any reader care about it
Nov 01, 2015 rated it liked it
I certainly would not want to dissuade anyone from reading H is for Hawk, Cambridge professor Helen Macdonald's moving memoir of coping with the loss of her photojournalist father. Her twin academic disciplines of English and ornithology (specifically, falconry) provide the source of her occasionally gorgeous prose as she recounts her attempt at raising a goshawk. If she'd focused more on herself, her birding, and her subsequent descent into near-madness, this would've been a solid four-star rea ...more
Mar 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is gorgeous nature writing and it is also a graceful memoir about bereavement. Helen Macdonald has managed to blend the two genres beautifully.

When Helen's father died, her grief was so great that she decided to adopt a goshawk. Helen had loved hawks since childhood and had studied falconry, but this was her first time trying to train a goshawk.

In real life, goshawks resemble sparrowhawks the way leopards resemble housecoats. Bigger, yes. But bulkier, bloodier, deadlier, scarier, and
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
This is probably a decent book and several of my smarty-farty friends have read it, but we all know I'm a moron and every time it is spammed recommended to me on my feed by the powers that be here at Goodreads I can only picture this . . . .

^^^^^Now that book I would totally read.
"The archeology of grief is not ordered."

Helen Macdonald’s book-length nonfiction is so many things at once: a eulogy, an elegy, a biography, a memoir, a training manual, a journey. It is a conversation about death, and community. It is so filled with passion and pain that one reads, breath bated, to see which will crush the other. This book is only partly about a hawk, despite the title. It records the author’s journey of a few years, starting with the unexpected death of her father, through th
In an original blend of memoir, biography and nature writing, Macdonald reveals how raising Mabel the goshawk helped her heal after her father’s sudden death. Throughout, Macdonald compares her own falconry experience to that of T.H. White, who, in the 1930s, was a lonely schoolteacher at Stowe – and a closeted homosexual with sadistic tendencies. Macdonald recognizes the ways in which, for White, too, flying a hawk was a means of exploring one’s own wild depths and testing the links between sel ...more
"An Eagle for an Emperor, a Gyrfalcon for a King; a Peregrine for a Prince, and a Saker for a Knight; a Merlin for a lady, a Goshawk for a Yeoman, a Sparrowhawk for a Priest, and a Kestrel for a Knave"

Eventually reading Helen MacDonald's memoir I began to slowly recall A Kestrel for a Knave, otherwise known as Kes, which will need no further comment for any survivor of the UK education system, but assuming the presence of survivors of other systems of schooling it is a story about a much put upo
Book Riot Community
I remember seeing this book on the shelves in the bookstore a year or so ago and picked it up because I thought maybe it was a rad new historical fiction about a hawk. I confess that when I initially saw it was a memoir, I put it down, uninterested. I typically am not interested in memoirs unless you are, like, Dr Salk and literally cured polio or something. But I am SO GLAD other Rioters had talked this book up so much because this is seriously one of the most beautiful books I have read in a l ...more
Lynn Matheson
Jan 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: autobiography
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
H is for Hawk could be H is for Hope or Heart or Home as all of these capture in some small way the essence of this beautiful book.

When Helen Macdonald’s father dies, she finds herself inconsolable in her grief. In an effort to heal her soul and regain a connection with her father she sets out to find and train a hawk. Not just any hawk, a Goshawk. And here is just one of the beauties of her story. The descriptions of her Goshawk, Mabel, are so vivid that I can see her in all her regal glory.

Elyse  Walters
Dec 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
"Breeding goshhawks isn't for the faint-hearted."

"Human hands are for holding other hands. They are not for breaking the necks of rabbits, pulling loops of viscera out of necks out onto leaf-litter while the hawk dips her head to drink blood from her quarry's chest cavity" ....

Falconry is not pet keeping. We learn just how time consuming it must be-- --the dedication -the passion it takes to even appreciate the depths of ...'the sport'...'the art'....'the meditation'.

Helen Macdonald is also a
This review first appeared on my blog, Shoulda Coulda Woulda Books.

…And so you run towards those little shots of fate, where the world turns. That is the lure, that is why we lose ourselves, when powerless from hurt and grief, in drugs or gambling or drink; in addictions that collar the broken soul and shake it like a dog. I had found my addiction on that day out with Mabel. It was ruinous, in a way, as if I’d taken a needle and shot myself with heroin. I had taken a flight to a place from which
Dec 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Helen Macdonald is a college English teacher who goes into a tailspin after the death of her father. She works her way out of her grief by taking up the challenging task of mastering and training a goshawk. She had the experience of working with smaller, more common hawks in her youth, but goshawks are big and notoriously unruly. In this process she reads about a beginner’s efforts chronicled in T.H.White’s book from the early 30’s when he was a young teacher at a boarding school. Instead of see ...more
Mar 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I generally don't do memoirs, but not because I'm a snob for everything else. I don't do them because I'm not really interested. A bit more oddly, I'm only mildly interested in hawks and falcons. I certainly never went out of my way to learn more after reading Stephen King's The Gunslinger, so why am I going out of my way now?

Mostly, it's because of the writing. I heard from several sources that it was good and I stayed as a low blip in my radar for quite some time, but then, finally Ilana tippe
Aug 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I do not read enough non-fiction. When I come to a book like this one, it makes me wonder why. Helen Macdonald has written a marvelous chronicle of her journey from grief to acceptance, achieved through the training of a goshawk.

When Helen loses her father, she loses her stability. He has been her friend and mentor, and in many ways she has patterned her life after his. The loss seems insurmountable. Having a background in and love of falconry, she decides to get a goshawk from a breeder in Ire
Matthew Quann
Apr 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers looking for something unique, really good writing
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
I haven’t recently experience a great loss in my life, I’ve never read T.H. White’s The Goshawk, and I knew nothing about hawking, but something about H is for Hawk always appealed to me. When it was first published a few years back it was the book that I met with frequently in the bookshop and had a flirtatious, but never financially binding, relationship. By year’s end the book made an appearance on many best-of lists, but it still remained a book I always intended to read.

Many a reader can r
Mar 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I didn't know what to expect from this book, despite having read the summary and several glowing reviews. It seemed to have an odd premise, added to that I'm not a huge fan of reading non fiction, nor do I have an interest in birds of prey. Nonetheless, I was intrigued and grabbed a copy, and I'm glad I did. The story itself is not so much about hawks, as it is about Macdonald dealing with grief and finding a reason to get up in the morning. This was, for me, not unputdownable, however, I immedi ...more
May 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature-fauna

I normally don't go near a 'Misery Memoir'. And I know exactly how it feels to lose a much loved father. Do I really want to read about someone else's loss?

However, this book is astonishing.

It's hard to describe - in fact whilst I was reading it I tried to explain to a friend and fellow book lover what it was all about, and the words just wouldn't come. I know I won't do it justice.

I'll try again - it's a non fiction book about a woman, a Cambridge academic and falconer, who spirals into grie
Nov 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
I’m definitely in the minority with this one. It has received almost universal acclaim, rave reviews and won the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. But I found it tedious and I just couldn’t engage with it at all. An amalgam of nature writing, memoir and literary history, the impetus for writing it came from Helen Macdonald’s extreme grief at the sudden death of her father, to whom she was very close. In a strange sort of identification, she bought and trained a goshawk, Mabel. Mabel bec ...more
Mar 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Haunting, Poignant Account of Grief and Falconry

Memoirs Are Not Usually My Cup of Tea

I usually avoid memoirs. You know, the Hollywood celebrity tell-alls. I'm just not interested. (I made an exception for Patti Smith and Alan Cumming, but then, those were not celebrity gossip memoirs at all, but much more personal ones. And both of those people feel like kindred spirits.)

A Very Different Kind of Memoir

This book is a memoir, but in a very different vein.

The Death of Helen's Father

It's a very pers
I may be one of the few people who didn't love this book. A more accurate rating for me would be 2.5 stars.

I was very excited to read this memoir by Helen Macdonald as I am a birder and was drawn to the idea that the author turned to raising a goshawk as a way to channel her grief over the sudden death of her father. The book starts off promisingly, and much of the language is lyrical and just beautiful to read. However, I found myself less and less interested while reading -- to the point wher
Mar 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"If birds are made of air, as the nature writer Sy Montgomery says, then writing a great bird book is a little like dusting for the fingerprints of a ghost. It calls for poetry and science, conjuring and evidence. In her breathtaking new book, “H Is for Hawk,” winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Costa Book Award, Helen Macdonald renders an indelible impression of a raptor’s fierce essence — and her own — with words that mimic feathers, so impossibly pretty we don’t notice their astonishin ...more
Britta Böhler
Praised by many but not a book for me. Should have known, though. Celebrating the caging/drilling of animals always makes me cringe; why you would want to 'train' (quite the euphemism, by the way) a wild bird for your own pleasure is simply beyond me. It just seems archaic and cruel. And the writing didn't appeal to me either (why use only one adjective when you can add five more?).
J.K. Grice
I know a lot has already been written about this book, but I really loved it. Read it if you enjoy animals and nature.
May 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
When a friend extolled the virtues of H is for Hawk, nothing about it sounded particularly appealing. Falconry? To me, the subject is a big yawn. T.H. White? Certainly T.H. White is a brilliant author, but Arthurian legend The Once and Future King is not the kind of book I gravitate to. So why, then, am I so sure that H is for Hawk will not only land on my list of the best books I read this year, but also take its place as one of the finest contemporary books I’ve read, period?

For me, the answer
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Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, historian, illustrator and naturalist. She's worked as a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, as a professional falconer, and in raptor research and conservation projects across Eurasia. She is an affiliate of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. She lives in Suffolk, UK.

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