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Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  934 ratings  ·  179 reviews
In the tradition of Robert Sullivan’s best-selling Rats comes a whimsical and intimate look into the fascinating world of pigeons and the people they collect. Pigeons have been worshipped as fertility goddesses and used as crucial communicators in war by every major historical superpower from ancient Egypt to the United States, saving thousands of lives. Yet, without just ...more
Hardcover, 239 pages
Published October 6th 2006 by Grove Press (first published 2006)
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Average rating 3.81  · 
Rating details
 ·  934 ratings  ·  179 reviews

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Aug 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes learning about random, new things.
Shelves: favorites
How do I love this book? Let me count the ways. It is 1) refreshingly unexpected, 2) utterly interesting, and 3) appealing to the sentimental/romantic/cries-over-animal stories facet of me. When I lived in London I always viewed the pigeons of Trafalgar Square with total indifference. Following this book, I will never look at a "rock dove" the same way again.

I actually became aware of this book following an interview with the author that i heard on NPR. The interview was so incredible, that I a
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
K, like, I've taken my time with writing this review because this book was TOO MUCH, MAN. Since reading it, I can't shut up about pigeons; when I walk by a cluster of them bobbing their little heads as they peck at gutter garbage I pause and give them a tiny, adoring smile. LIKE WHO AM I, EVEN?

My friend, Jill, found this book at what turned out to be the best used book/CD store in Toronto. Just that morning I had been talking about how weird slash cute pigeons look when they bob their little hea
Mar 21, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book had potential. Pigeons and the people who love them. Sold... I'm all yours, Andrew Blechman. What a disappointment. The information was at times interesting, but there was no sense of connection to the people in the book. Also, Blechman at one point writes that he was looking for Mike Tyson at a "titty bar," at another point that he has to "take a piss," and he actually describes a pigeon butchering scene by saying that the woman slices the pigeon's "bunghole." Seriously? Titty bar? Bu ...more
Jan 29, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm wary of nonfiction studies that are written in the first person. It's like, uh, I want to read a book about pigeons, not some douchebag's memoir. But Blechman's narration doesn't get as "wow, what wacky pigeon-related event will I, Andrew Blechman, go visit next?!" as I was worried it would. In fact, by the end of the book--particularly with the sections on the New York City top secret pigeon monitors, Mike Tyson, and the squab-killing factory--I was totally absorbed. They is indeed a lot mo ...more
Aug 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: lily brown
Maybe you're not the kind of person who thinks much about whether a pigeon should eat spanish peanuts or corn, and how that might effect the bird's overall travel time. You might even be sort of neutral on the whole idea of animal control specifically as involves pigeons, because, after all, pigeons are feral; they are not protected the way other "wild" species of birds are. Ultimately you might find little that humanizes the pigeons in ways that invite sympathy on your behalf. That's fine. Set ...more
Dec 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: leigh
Recommended to stephanie by: nili
Shelves: 2008, non-fiction
i feel SO GUILTY for chasing pigeons with the boys now. seriously.

a) i didn't know that it is STILL LEGAL TO SHOOT LIVE PIGEONS IN PA. the description of it just makes me sick - it's not like hunting, they are used for target practice. ugh.

b) i am a happy carnivore, but dude, i will never eat squab. (this is not totally stupid, as i don't eat veal either.) but seriously. ugh.

c) these poor pigeons! did you know that passenger pigeons are extinct? and they know exactly the moment when that happ
May 01, 2020 added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
Nothing wrong with the book.. I tried to pick it up because I hate the pigeons on my roof and I wanted to find some redeeming qualities.. yes they are intelligent, strong.. and what else.. it doesn't matter, it doesn't help, I still hate treir poops! And I'm bored so DNF at 25%
Kristen Bongard
May 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like birds, or have ever wondered about those birds on the sidewalk of every major city.
Shelves: best-ever
This was a fantastic read. I first heard about it on Science Friday on NPR. I've always thought that pigeons really got a bad rap, but didn't really know much about them beyond that. This book tells the story of the pigeon by telling the story of, well, pigeons. Many pigeons. The author takes you through glimpses of the lives of pigeon fanciers, racers, hunters, slaughterers, rescuers and advocates, interspersing it all with stories of how pigeons' storied past, and some fascinating things we're ...more
Jul 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't read that much nonfiction, but this is a lovely and whimsical book written by a very talented journalist and storyteller. It is full of interesting human profiles concerning pigeon love or pigeon dislike, as the case may be.

Pigeons are also much more interesting than I would have thought. They delivered messages in every war -- when the U.S. knocked out Saddam Hussein's communications system, he used pigeons to send word to others.

Shot-up pigeons have persevered in delivering messages
Not really what I was expecting, I guess--the title and picture on the cover lead me to believe it would be about pigeons, but I felt like it was MUCH more about the people who are involved with them in some way. At times this focus was interesting, but it got really old towards the end of the book--especially, as others have mentioned, the Mike Tyson chapter, which was really pretty worthless. Others have also stated that Blechman seems to be in the pigeon reviler camp himself, and I would tend ...more
Mar 24, 2008 rated it it was ok
Apparently pigeons are only good for hunting, breeding and racing. I was disappointed in the content of the book and some parts of it were really disturbing. Especially the parts about pigeon shooting clubs, some people truly are horrible.
Susan (aka Just My Op)
I have to admit to a fondness for pigeons. While I don't feed them, I do keep a birdbath that the pigeons, the pigeons called doves, and lots of other birds use frequently. Pigeons are actually quite fun to watch and quite beautiful, so I wanted to learn more.

Be careful of what you wish for. It took me quite a long time to read this book because I couldn't handle more than a little at a time. It's incomprehensible what we've done to this maligned bird. Even those who profess to love them, but br
Jun 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very interesting and enjoyable to read! I'll never look at pigeons the same way again.
Feb 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
too much pigeon death
This is a wonderful book about the most humble of city dwellers, the pigeon. Hated by many, and loved by few, the pigeon has an illustrious past that is quickly being forgotten - although some still try to champion it and bring it into the forefront of public consciousness. Pigeons have served alongside us in the military, been hunted for sport, been loving companions, and have carried our male for millennia. Without pigeons The Origin of Species may not have been published, and these loyal bea ...more
Mar 08, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read this like many would gawk at a car wreck. I can't stand the brain pain while reading it, but I have to see what tragedy occurs next.

My gripes are mainly focused on 3 areas:
1. How many F-bombs and other crude words does take to write about pigeons? None. Blechy thinks curse words are necessary on this subject. This isn't a book about sex. It's not a humorous diagram of the sewer system. This is a book trying to relate (and failing) that pigeons are a wonderful animal, just the type of book
Deanna Necula
Apr 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
I love pigeons, and I even keep a couple of homing pigeons in a loft I made myself in my backyard, so when I saw this book at the bookstore I just had to have it. This book really enlightens people about pigeons, written in an easygoing, readable style and packed with facts, "wow" moments as well as moments where I had to set the book down because of the gory truth of some of the daily uses of pigeons, and quirky people. A really wonderful read, and I'm glad that this book is out, because otherw ...more
Sep 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Pigeons! My review will be really biased because I am a pigeon lover already, and quite frankly, I'm not sure who else would pick up this book. This book touched on so many aspects of the love/hate relationship with pigeons, even going to the slaughterhouses that prepare squabs and the hunting clubs that use them as live targets, to obsessed pigeon racers and fancy breeders and royalty. I almost wish there was more on their role in wars, though they did briefly touch on that near the end. The ch ...more
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: animals
I love pigeons, so I was excited to discover this book. Alas, the author chooses to focus more on the human communities who spring up around pigeons than the birds themselves. There is plenty of fascinating research on pigeons which would interest me a lot more than pigeon shooting culture, or the entirely anticlimactic chapter about Mike Tyson. The first chapter about the history of pigeons and humans was great, but after that if you actually want to learn about pigeons you'll have to look else ...more
Aug 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very informative and well written book about one of America's most reviled birds. Will change how you look at them when they congregate in parks and fly by.

Plus who knew there so many different types?
Dec 06, 2010 rated it liked it
I'd give this book 3.5 stars. I liked it and found it an interesting read. It ended up being half about pigeons and half about the people that love (or hate) them. I did come away with a new respect for pigeons. And extra revulsion for the people that hate them.
Jul 05, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dave Collins
Sep 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
The title of this book should be "Pigeons: But Not Really"
The title phrase "Fascinating Saga" takes place entirely in the introduction to this book.
There is more anatomical information about the individuals the author encounters than single bird encountered. These "characters'" descriptions would be more appropriate in children's fiction and feel greatly embellished to relieve the tedium of the author's determination to avoid the subject.
The content regarding pigeons could be condensed to 40 p
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
It seems as though the author tries to be objective, sympathetic, and judgmental all at once. As if he wanted to tell a story that is guided by, something, but instead ends up in that awkward area where his privilege just glares at me as he writes judgmental snippets, to be followed at the end by a statement that he hopes he has done everybody well in his writing.

I would have enjoyed more focus to be on pigeons, and what is going on with them (and the people that love/hate them), but it seems t
Aug 26, 2020 rated it it was ok
I generally enjoy micro-histories as the authors are enthusiastic about their topic and, therefore, usually infect the reader with a similar enthusiasm. But, that was not the case with this book. I LOVE pigeons. Pigeons, crows, and grackles are my favorite birds. So I was excited to read all about them. But, this disappointing book was more about the people who love and hate pigeons than about the birds themselves. And, by his own admission, the author is "on the fence" about them the whole time ...more
Nov 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nature
Overall an interesting and accessible look at pigeons, and the culture and people around them that did better when it focused on the birds and less on the people.
In the end, I did learn a lot about pigeons, and the parts that actually deal with pigeons were really interesting. I had no idea the part they played in so much of history and culture. What I found less interesting was the odd assortment of characters the author spent so much time focusing on, and the racing. I got really tired of the
Nini Ayach
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed how this book looked at pigeons from lots of different angles— racing pigeons, pigeon breeding, urban pigeons... and it was interesting to get to know all these people who are passionate about pigeons— all in different ways. I think the writer did a great job of investigating the world of pigeons.

However I didn’t find the writing style to be particularly engaging — (even though the narrator is very likable) —

Overall I enjoyed it though especially as there are few books like th
Dec 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Well, this was a lot like Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird--perfectly serviceable and entertaining, if nothing special. It has an edge in that it's about history and culture rather than science, which I feel gives it more leeway as to organization and prose; and in that the supporting characters are fun. ...more
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
This may have amused me more than it would a normal person as I've been feverish with a double ear infection for a couple of days. Having said that I thought this was a lot of fun, and very interesting. It's short but doesn't feel lacking for an introduction/popular science type of book. I learned quite a bit I didn't know, and I feel like I came away with more than I had. If you're someone who loves animal books I'd definitely give this one a try.
Nov 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: animals, non-fiction
I wish there was more information about the birds' nature, such as their keen abilities, intelligence and habits. This book was based on an article the author wrote about pigeon racing and is largely focused on that.

Also, I could have done without the recipe for cooking baby pigeons or the entire chapter on the fruitless attempt to contact Mike Tyson. Three stars because there are so few books on this fascinating bird.
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