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Hope is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  354 ratings  ·  40 reviews
In the bestselling tradition of The Orchid Thief, comes the quirky and dramatic story of the last days of six North American bird species.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published April 1st 2001 by Warner Books (NY) (first published 2000)
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Average rating 4.22  · 
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Darlene Luckins
Jun 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the first half of the book, though it was depressing to read story after story about how people worked hard to help the heath hen, passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet and ivory billed woodpecker only to be met with ultimate doom. But, I found the second half more tedious to read. There are two detailed chapters on the "afterlife" of two stuffed passenger pigeons (Martha and Buttons, the last in existence and the last in the wild). I don't really think we needed to know every ...more
Aug 27, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
As I read more and more nature/travel kinds of non-fiction, I see more overlap. Overlap in locations, histories, species, passions. Cokinos is a man who reveals a robust passion for birds (and fact-seeking) in Hope is the Thing with Feathers. He annotates his personal quests to learn as much about six recently extinct birds, which entails trips around the country and beyond, visiting various locations, museums and speaking with distantly related people. His travels were of interest, and I ...more
Jan 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The world is diminished with each passing of a species into extinction. That is the clear point of Christopher Cokinos book in which he traces the history of vanished birds, the Carolina Parakeet, the Heath Hen, the Passenger Pigeon, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, the Labrador duck and the Great Auk. It is a personal odyssey for this author who writes very movingly of his research and what he discovers as he visits some of the places where these vanished birds once existed. The story of Martha, ...more
Nov 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a book that can be appreciated on a number of levels. Of course, it is instructive about the life cycle of the extinct species. But, it is even more revealing of human nature and its strange attraction to the rare. It seems that no matter how beautiful something is, if it is common, we regard it as less valuable (indeed, "common" can sometimes be used as a pejorative term). When that which was common becomes rare, we often come to regard it as valuable and struggle mightily to save it. ...more
Sep 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a well-written, amazing, heartbreaking, beautiful book that everyone, not just bird lovers, who lives on earth should read.
Tim Martin
Aug 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In _Hope is the Thing with Feathers_ (the title is taken from a line in an Emily Dickinson poem), author Christopher Cokinos sought to relay some of the natural and human history of six vanished birds of North America.

The first bird he examined is the Carolina Parakeet, once a relatively common bird that ranged in noisy flocks across the eastern U.S., north to Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and New York, south to the Gulf Coast states, west to Kansas, Nebraska, and eastern Colorado. This
Tom Schulte
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
This work compiles the stories of the extinction of six North American bird species. The demises seems to cluster between the last half of the Nineteenth Century and the fist half of the Twentieth. There is an uncomfortable sameness to the final years: too little too late organized action and almost frenzied destruction triggered by the nearness of extinction. Much of the writing is poetic and evocative as this is obviously a heartfelt subject to the author. Some of the stories are really cruel ...more
Jun 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I was recently reminded of this book while discussing the demise of the dodo bird with my sons. The dodo is ancient history from some nowhere in the Indian Ocean. Christopher Cokinos brings the story of bird extinction to our very doorstep, with parts of the history occurring within 1 generation of the present.

It is an eye opening reminder of how careless man can be with the natural resources around him. In some cases 11th hour revelation by a few early conservationist are not enough to stem the
Jan 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
“Time is the deepest wilderness in which we wander,” writes author Cokinos.

This book was something of a watershed moment for me. Cokinos introduced me to the detailed story of six lost species of birds that once lived in North America. But now they are gone. His personal peregrinations and resultant chronicle are highly moving.

“I have learned much from this history and have realized, finally, that sadness at loss is our best first response. It should not be our only response. We know the world
Jan 24, 2016 rated it liked it
This book is heavy with information, and sometimes (I'll admit) I wasn't in the mindset to sit down and digest all of it. It was very well written, and I found myself wanting to find other birds that I could help. I only wish that the end of the book was a little more optimistic, although I realize that the topic is sad, I think there's always room for optimism.

Betsy Curlin
Mar 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is a beautiful testament to the amazing bird species that we have lost through our own greed and insensitivity. The writing is thoughtful and poetic, and one can genuinely feel the writers' regret at the loss of these national treasures.
Jul 10, 2017 rated it liked it
This was a nice book, but think I feel too strongly about this issue to appreciate this book.
Oct 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
In Hope is the Thing With Feathers, Christopher Cokinos takes his readers through the history and legacy of several now-extinct or otherwise "vanished" avian species, including the Passenger Pigeon and the Carolina Parakeet. His doorway to these otherwise intensively researched and scholarly essays is his own personal experience, including his boots-on-the-ground attempts to track down actual and physical records of their final appearances in the wild and captivity, and to encounter the birds ...more
Stalled on page 61 after I flipped through the very end of the book (not something I usually do) and read the author's conclusion that "we are frightened enough of the future and certain enough of the toll 6 billion humans are taking on the planet that we have decided not to have children." That plus the author's admitted profound depression during portions of the times he describes of his own life make for a far less optimistic tone than I expect from a book whose title starts with "Hope." Even ...more
Jul 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thought-provoking and interesting history of the extinctions of six North American bird species or subspecies. Cokinos covers the Carolina Parakeet, the Heath Hen (eastern subspecies of the Greater Prairie Chicken), the Passenger Pigeon, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, the Labrador Duck and the Great Auk, all extinct within the last 100 to 150 years.

A comprehensive meditation on loss and the evolution of our thinking about the exploitation of wildlife, particularly birds, Cokinos lays out the
Sherrida Woodley
Sep 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book was the defining resource for my writing Quick Fall of Light. Without it, I would've had far less to go on (re: the passenger pigeon), not to mention getting a much clearer understanding of the earth's most notable bird extinctions. It will make you cry and wish and hurt for what we've lost.
Elizabeth Humphries
Mar 27, 2014 rated it liked it
It took me years to finish this book. Not because it's bad - it's well-written and includes interesting anecdotes about the extinct North American birds. It's just so depressing when you see the impact of humans on nature laid out in chapter after chapter after chapter. Normally I'll reread books in a heartbeat, but I don't think I can for this one.
Jun 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
I just loved this book. A beautifully written requiem for lost species. I especially enjoyed the section on the Carolina parakeet, you can tell it was the spark that started the whole book. I think the heath hen chapter got a little bogged down in the politics, but apart from that it was a very engaging read.
Frederick Bingham
Jan 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of some species of extinct birds, the Heath Hen, Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, Ivory-Billed woodpecker and Labrador Duck. How did they become extinct? What were the stories of the last members of their race?
Mar 11, 2009 rated it it was ok
So many passenger pigeons, and we slaughtered millions.
The passenger pigeon section was fascinating. The section on the woodpeckers was something I had already read about, and I found the details tiresome. I didn't quite get his interest in the parakeets.
Oct 30, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A very dry and disappointing book. I picked it up when I read a positive review about it. The author is a poet and I thought it would be a good read about a less than exciting subject. Wrong. It was a boring read about a subject that could have been very interesting.
Jun 01, 2010 rated it liked it
An interesting natural history and personal reflections on the lives and extinctions of six birds: the Carolina Parakeet, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Passenger Pigeon, Heath Hen, Labrador Duck, and Great Auk.
David R.
Oct 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Cokinos does not engage in the kind of in-your-face writing that is all too common in this genre nor does he overplay the emotion hand. His chapters on the Heath Hen and Passenger Pigeon are especially haunting.
Jul 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
great account of some extinct species. A must read for budding biologists.
Steven Bennett
Jan 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
An old favorite I now have several copies of that inspired me in so many ways. It was wonderful to have so many forgotten lives & worlds revealed.
Sep 27, 2009 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading this, but I found that it sometimes went on for longer than I'd have preferred about the people surrounding the birds rather than the birds themselves.
hala osman
Jun 16, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book wonderfully connects the reader to some of the world's most delicate creatures. Some books are flags of awareness, this is one of them.
Jan 12, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's sad to think these birds are gone forever mostly due to humans and yet we don't learn from the past. :(
Apr 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: biologists, bird lovers, nature lovers
Recommended to Trina by: Charlie
Good book. I've read lots about extinctions, etc. but this one really went into depth about the last of some species. Before the "rediscovery" of the Ivory-billed. Interesting perspectives.
Apr 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: birds
What's not to like here--the author loves birds, poetry, and lives in Kansas. Fascinating stories of extinct North American birds, and why they matter to us today.
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Christopher Cokinos is the author of Hope Is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds and The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars, both from Tarcher/Penguin. The winner of a Whiting Award, Cokinos has traveled across the world, from Greenland to Antarctica, in search of the stories of science and history that inform his writing. Committed to weaving memoir into ...more
“Contemplation that does not foster action is no better than a broken wing.” 0 likes
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