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Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness
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Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness

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4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,411 ratings  ·  194 reviews
It all started with Nathanael Johnson’s decision to teach his daughter the name of every tree they passed on their walk to day care in San Francisco. This project turned into a quest to discover the secrets of the neighborhood’s flora and fauna, and yielded more than names and trivia: Johnson developed a relationship with his nonhuman neighbors.

Johnson argues that learning
...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published April 5th 2016 by Rodale Books
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Average rating 4.03  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,411 ratings  ·  194 reviews


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Start your review of Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness
Jan
The publisher's blurb serves as a nice intro, but this book is so much more. Included here are some fascinating tidbits: pigeons were once a symbol of affluence; in places abandoned by humans(like the Scottish isle of St. Kilda) the pigeons have gone extinct; racing pigeons (which can travel up to 110 mph) have sold for more than $300,000 PER BIRD. The author eases us into becoming more aware of individual aspects of our local flora (think Euell Gibbons) whether "weeds" or trees, and fauna ( fro ...more
Story
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nature
Meh. There were a few interesting tidbits here but the author's endless droning on about his kid and his seeming fear of natural things made it a boring read. A much better book for those interested in learning more about the nature in our backyards and parks is The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. ...more
Tom Schulte
Feb 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
In San Francisco and Berkeley, the author seeks to light a fire of science in his daughter's visions for the future. Along the way both of them full in love with magnifying, observing, and learning about urban flora and fauna. Who knew there were so much mystifying and impressive about pigeons, including they are here because of 18th Century hobbyists? Weeds you can eat, the activities of squirrels including drey architecture. Insights into the languages of birds from some of the scientific cont ...more
Olga Kowalska (WielkiBuk)
Nature is trendy. Everyone wants to write about discovering it all over again, about animals, plants, natural magic hidden all around us. Yet, these publications don't bring nothing new on the table - same old news, same curiosities written all over again, in different words, with different covers. Nathanael Johnson's book is nice, sweet and easy to read, however one must remember that Nathanael Johnson is just like everyone else - he is not a specialist, he's an amatour, with binoculars, Wikipe ...more
Migdalia Jimenez
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-faves, nature
What a delightful book! I loved how Johnson gives us a lens to see the beautiful wildlife around us, even in urban settings.

Johnson starts off on a quest to pay more attention to the flora and fauna around him when he realizes that his daughter is asking about the world around them and he doesn't know the answers. From this simple beginning, he gains knowledge along with wisdom and a genuine awe for the world we inhabit. Luckily he wrote a book about it with neatly delineated chapters focusing o
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Barbara
Mar 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is the most fascinating, delightful book that I have read this year. Most people do not pay attention to all the living beings around them in their suburban, city world. Sure, we notice other humans, but what about all the birds, bugs, weeds, squirrels, etc? The author takes you into this world and gives you incredible information that you would have never guessed. Such an interesting read, that would be even better if you share it with your children. This book was very timely for me, as I ...more
Stacey
Apr 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Oh man I loved this book so much. Especially pertinent to me because he's talking about things I see every day in the Bay Area. He answers those curiosities you didn't even know you had, but had probably registered below the surface. I did want to know why pigeon's feet are all messed up! I did want to know why there are so many crows around my neighborhood! It's refreshing to be a bit curious about the things I see every day and see them in a new light. ...more
Emily Crow
I stopped reading this book after a couple of chapters because I was getting annoyed by the organization and writing style. I think I'm just the wrong audience, but I wanted more actual information and fewer "cute" stories about his preschool daughter and comments about how he used to think pigeons were sooooo gross before he started to observe them. And yet, I would definitely recommend this book to other people, because I can see how it could inspire them to take a closer look at their own nei ...more
uosɯɐS
This was a pure pleasure read for me!

The author is a writer (usually about food and cooking), who lives in California with a young daughter whom he wants to teach an appreciation of nature. Except... he lives in the city, and what he's really after is teaching her to notice details.

It was really interesting to pick this one up on the heels of The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently... and Why, which mentions the different ways the Westerners and Easteners raise thei
...more
Ryan
May 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book is about all of the animals that you see but never really notice...The snail, the crow, the squirrel, all the things that you pass on your way to work and don't really give any thought to. This book made me think about these animals in great detail and the role they play in daily life. This was a informative book full of keen observations and an appreciation of nature. ...more
Jessica
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely charming. Chapter-by-chapter, the author breaks down several commonly seen creatures and features in urban nature - pigeons, weeds, squirrels, bird language, gingkos, turkey vultures, ants, crows, and snails. I learned more about creatures I already enjoy (pigeons!), and learned about some I don't know much about (gingkos), and learned to grudgingly respect some I don't particularly like (dang snails eating all my veggie leaves). I bet at this point, my partner is sick of me starting ...more
Mike
Dec 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
I love(d) the premise of this book and each page taught me something new about the world around me that I wanted to share and see for myself. It’s obvious if you look at how long it took me to read this book, it was dry in parts and was at times a bit hard to get through.
The author offered lots of sections, subsections, and quick chapters seemingly to counteract and while it helped, my reading experience would’ve been improved by hearing this in audiobook form as I learned and was excited by th
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Amy Prosser
Jul 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Anyone who loves nature, or did at one time, should read this book. It focuses on the nature all around us in cities. Each chapter focuses on one unlikely hero that you will come to appreciate in new ways: pigeons, ginkgo trees, snails, crows, ants, weeds, squirrels, and more. I seriously found myself saying, “Whaaaaaaaaat?” Out loud, pretty regularly. I’d excitedly tell my husband about the amazing things I’d learned. I adore this book, and perhaps more importantly, loved the experience of read ...more
Elle Maruska
Jan 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book so much. I really love how the author employed his daughter's wonder as a framing device for exploring the usually "invisible" aspects of urban nature. It was an effective way to emphasize how much life surrounds us if we take the time to explore it. Now I think I'm going to go outside and see if I can find a snail....I'd like to see if I can hear it chewing ...more
Ocean
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
i'm already fairly observant but this book made me even more aware of my surroundings, which is only a good thing. I learned some facts about ants and crows that made me laugh out loud. wish there was less pigeon-bashing, but I'm used to that :/ ...more
Claire
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science
I feel like I quite possibly wished this book into existence. Interesting nerdy details about the wildlife around the average city dweller - including ginkgoes and crows? Yes please!
Dosia
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow I loved this! Inspiring and well researched it threw fascinating facts at me. I want to read more on urban nature! I want to explore! Is there a local birdwatching group near me? I need to join.
God I'm so unbelievably PUMPED
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Abe Schmidt
May 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I've read in a long time. Encourages Self-awareness and enjoying the world around you. I'm now obsessed with identifying edible plants in my Seattle neighborhood , have a new found appreciation for squirrels , ants and snails, love bird ID'ing and practically worship the magnificent specimen that we call the Crow.

To the author: Thank you for making my world more amazing.
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Paul
Apr 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science
I am usually very suspicious of the sort of popular writing where the author's process writing the story is a big part of the book — I understand that it makes for a more engaging story, but fairly often it feels like a way to create narrative where none exists to try and trick our socializing-monkey brains into believing whatever it's saying — but in this case I found it reasonable and enjoyable. It is quite likely that I've simply fallen for these rhetorical tricks — I'm fairly sure I have a w ...more
Leah
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
From learning that squirrels have some serious intelligence in their small brains to learning that snails and some trees are hermaphrodites, Nathanael Johnson did an incredible job of creating intrigue and excitement among species in nature that I never before found enticing. His relationship with his daughter Josephine and the adventures they go on together were also extremely endearing.

His entire goal in writing this book was to help open his own eyes and the eyes of others to recognize that t
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Sarah
Mar 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gr-reads
What a fun, informative (without being dry or tedious) read! I learned a lot of neat trivia about animals and plants that I don't normally think about even though they are all around me. I had no idea crows had such a great sense of humor. I never realized how smart and hardy pigeons are. I didn't realize ants functioned as nearly one mind. This is a short read, really just a glimpse, of some everyday animals, plants and trees that we see without seeing nearly everyday. ...more
Elena Merelo
Dec 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Loved it! Even the sections regarding animals or the ones on weed, in which i wasn't so interested, were amazing! Such an easy read, the tone was relaxed, the parts mentioning the daughter or philosophysing about things made it even more worth it. Wish this author had more things, his way of writing had me really engaged throughout the whole book, and i learned to appreciate our surroundings even more. It's the little things, indeed! 100% would recommend. ...more
Mell
3.5 stars
Interesting look at the the often-ignored wildlife living under our feet and over our heads in cityscapes. I enjoyed the balance between the author's personal interest and observations and his references to interviews with scientists and experts. (Summer Reading Challenge for theme of outdoor activities.)
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Evelyn
May 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I picked this book up on a whim, and really enjoyed reading it. It starts with a father teaching his daughter about the natural world around their neighborhood, and he becomes so passionate about this that he begins a bigger study in earnest. I started thinking differently about the other living things around me.
Karie Schulenburg
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: environment
"If we come to love nature not only when it is rare and beautiful, but also when it is commonplace and even annoying, I believe it will heal the great wound of our species: our self-imposed isolation from the rest of life...We might remember that we are no different from our surroundings, that the trees and birds are as much our neighbors as other humans. We might remember that before the land belonged to us, we belonged to it." ...more
Heidrun
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
I live in a big city. Nature is still there. The author reminds me to look for it.
Tony Cheng
Mar 13, 2018 rated it liked it
very short and easy read. I especially liked the chapter about crows. my 9 year old daughter liked it too!
Gary Nicholl
Feb 27, 2020 rated it it was ok
Interesting. However it relied far to much on personal story and not enough on facts for my taste.
Charlotte Tucker
Dec 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Pretty interesting. Not usually the type of book that I read but learned interesting information about local species.
Jen Vaughn
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Little snippets of exploring your world and learning to grow with synanthropes, the flora and fauna that thrive best in our urban world. This was an instant buy after hearing the author on RadioLab!
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  If you listen to NPR regularly, you’ve likely heard the voice of Shankar Vedantam, the longtime science correspondent and host of the radio...
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“None of the ginkgo's aesthetic qualities are all that different from those of other trees. I could just as easily wax poetic about the beauty of beech trees, or the majesty of ancient sugar pines. But I think that ginkgos are just unusual enough for the occasional human to take notice of them. It's not that any particular tree or breed of dog or varietal or rose is objectively superior to its peers, they just happen to be the creatures that momentarily capture our flickering attention. As soon as humans take open-hearted notice of anything in the natural world, we find reason to love it.” 2 likes
“The more closely we looked the more the world opened itself to us, as if to reward our attention.” 2 likes
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