H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

81%

56 Critic Reviews

H is for Hawk defies easy description and categorization; every reader will take something different from it and few will remain untouched. It is also a book which is impossible to recommend highly enough.
-Toronto Star

Synopsis

One of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year

ON MORE THAN 25 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR LISTS: including TIME (#1 Nonfiction Book), NPR, O, The Oprah Magazine (10 Favorite Books), Vogue (Top 10), Vanity Fair, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle (Top 10), Miami Herald, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Minneapolis Star Tribune (Top 10), Library Journal (Top 10), Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Slate, Shelf Awareness, Book Riot, Amazon (Top 20)

The instant New York Times bestseller and award-winning sensation, Helen Macdonald's story of adopting and raising one of nature's most vicious predators has soared into the hearts of millions of readers worldwide. Fierce and feral, her goshawk Mabel's temperament mirrors Helen's own state of grief after her father's death, and together raptor and human "discover the pain and beauty of being alive" (People). H Is for Hawk is a genre-defying debut from one of our most unique and transcendent voices.
 

About Helen Macdonald

See more books from this Author
Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, illustrator, historian, and naturalist, and an affiliated research scholar at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses. She also worked as a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge. As a professional falconer, she assisted with the management of raptor research and conservation projects across Eurasia. Twitter: @HelenJMacdonald
 
Published March 3, 2015 by Grove Press. 322 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Nature & Wildlife, Sports & Outdoors, Science & Math, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Self Help, Literature & Fiction, Parenting & Relationships. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Mar 22 2015
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Weeks as Bestseller
Bookmark Counts:
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Critic reviews for H is for Hawk
All: 56 | Positive: 53 | Negative: 3

Kirkus

Excellent
on Nov 04 2014

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk...Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

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Publishers Weekly

Above average
on Mar 14 2015

The author plunges into the archaic terminology of falconry and examines its alleged gendered biases; she finds comfort in the "invisibility" of being the trainer...Macdonald describes in beautiful, thoughtful prose how she comes to terms with death in new and startling ways as a result of her experiences with the goshawk.

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NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Vicki Constantine Croke on Feb 19 2015

...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 astonishing engineering.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Dwight Garner on Feb 17 2015

“H Is for Hawk” seems to me a small, instant classic of nature writing, expansive in ways that recall Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” (1974), and as in touch with cruelty. It has, as well, some of the winding emotional reverb of Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” (2012).

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Rachel Cooke on Aug 03 2014

She has written her taming of Mabel like a thriller, slowly and carefully cranking the tension so that your stomach and heart leap queasily towards each other...A sated bird. A grieving woman. Loss. Reward. Remembering. Forgetting. Life has a pattern, it goes on, and though relentless, this is also a balm.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Mark Cocker on Jul 23 2014

H is for Hawk is at once a misery memoir, as the author grapples with the grieving process, and a falconer's diary about the hard-won trust between hawk and human...when all this comes together, especially when she goes into the countryside to fly Mabel after rabbits, that the book and its prose really soar.

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NY Journal of Books

Excellent
Reviewed by Beth Kephart on Mar 24 2015

Transference. Transcendence. Hawk is a true story riven with magic. It is poetry and it is wisdom. Strange, ethereal, pulsing, alive. Fierce and feral, too.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes on Mar 07 2015

“H Is for Hawk” has enchanted British readers and critics and was the worthy winner of the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize. Like its subject matter, this is a book that truly soars.

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LA Times

Good
Reviewed by Susan Straight on Feb 26 2015

Her absolute eloquence with descriptions of the birds and landscapes and the thrill of the natural world makes the memoir compelling...Macdonald tells us so eloquently in her fine memoir — that transformation of our docile or resigned lives can be had if we only look up into the world.

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Globe and Mail

Good
Reviewed by Jr Mcconvey on Mar 13 2015

The book itself is the great metaphorical alchemy of her reassembly: disparate literary and historical parts, brought together into a pulsing song of life. It’s a book to give as a gift, to anyone you know well enough to send sifting through old bones, shattered hearts and mutilated pheasants, in search of grace.

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The Economist

Good
on Jul 26 2014

This memoir is lit with flashes of that grace, a grace that sweeps down to the reader to hold her wrist tight with beautiful, terrible claws.

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Toronto Star

Excellent
Reviewed by Robert Wiersema on Mar 13 2015

H is for Hawk defies easy description and categorization; every reader will take something different from it and few will remain untouched. It is also a book which is impossible to recommend highly enough.

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Madison Vain on Mar 13 2015

If you’ve never loved an animal, this understandly might seem out of reach. But if you’ve ever been broken by grief, then you’ll know that healing comes from a remarably odd set of unexpected angles.

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Jason Sheeler on Feb 26 2015

...when Macdonald helps, we realize that Helen’s not the Hawk Woman, she’s the Hawk Mother. You’ll never see a bird overhead the same way again.

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Jason Sheeler on Feb 26 2015

Reading Macdonald’s short chapters and stunted sentences—little synapses from her now-SSRI-clouded brain—you get a little high. When the bird makes her first kill, the scene is indeed as graphic and pulsing as any Grafton thriller. And when Macdonald helps, we realize that Helen’s not the Hawk Woman, she’s the Hawk Mother.

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The Independent

Above average
Reviewed by James Attlee on Jul 31 2014

While 'H is for Hawk' is primarily a vivid and fascinating account of the taming and training of a young female goshawk, anyone seeking a straightforward piece of nature writing should look elsewhere...Full of sentiment it may be, but Macdonald's book avoids sentimentality.

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The Telegraph

Excellent
Reviewed by Christian House on Jan 27 2015

This book is a soaring triumph. It is a joy to follow Mabel and Macdonald’s flight out of such disconsolate scenes as one settles into a new roost and the other gradually comes to realise that “hands are for other human hands to hold. They should not be reserved exclusively as perches for hawks.”

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Christian Science Monitor

Good
Reviewed by Tess Taylor on Apr 03 2015

Macdonald leaves the mystery of this encounter open. After all, Macdonald discovers that in ways she has been wild like her goshawk...Impressive stuff indeed. We might say the same about Macdonald’s own rich journey.

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The Bookbag

Excellent
Reviewed by Rebecca Foster on Jul 04 2014

The particular mixture of elements that goes into H is for Hawk strikes me as providing an entirely new model for contemporary nature writing...If this was only a nature book, it would be a classic. Yet it is also a profound meditation on grief and recovery...

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The Boston Globe

Good
Reviewed by Daneet Steffens on Mar 03 2015

Assured, honest and raw — she manages to keep her grief at bay until she doesn’t — Macdonald’s book is full of poetry, ranging from unfettered elemental grief, frustration, and rage, to pinnacles of liberating exhilaration. Much like Macdonald’s description of Mabel, “H Is for Hawk” is a soaring wonder of a book...

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Express

Excellent
Reviewed by Stuart Winter on Aug 03 2014

The English language and the goshawk alike are untamable monsters in the wrong hands but Macdonald’s writing performs with the awesome power of one of nature’s sublime predators...She knows the countryside and her mastery of language allows her to not only see landscapes but also deliver them in our mind’s eye in context and beauty.

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Express

Good
Reviewed by By Gerard Henderson on Aug 01 2014

Macdonald’s poetic prose soars like her bird in full flight. Short, intense sentences swoop across the pages...The author ends the book thanking her father “who taught me how to love the moving world” and her beautiful hawk “who taught me to fly in it after he was gone”.

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Oregon Live

Above average
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on Mar 17 2015

Nonetheless, a smidge of disjointedness is a small price to pay for what's otherwise a real stunner. Expectedly, Macdonald rejoins her life in the end, patched up and mostly unbroken.

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Tampa Bay Times

Above average
Reviewed by Colette Bancroft on Mar 25 2015

How Macdonald makes that escape to the wild, and returns from it, is an engrossing story filled with surprises.

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The Sydney Morning Herald

Above average
Reviewed by Gregory Day on Sep 05 2014

With H is for Hawk she weaves the details of training a goshawk into the traumatic wake of her father's sudden death...Despite the imperfections of its form, the book sparks with historical intelligence and lays the ground for a more self-reflexive approach to the notion of the "wild"...

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Slate

Good
Reviewed by Katy Waldman on Mar 21 2015

H Is for Hawk is a ghost story not just because of the mesmerizing ghost-tangle it convenes. It also borrows the logic of the genre, presenting its phantoms as tragic, but dangerous too.

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Slate

Above average
Reviewed by Katy Waldman on Mar 06 2015

That’s OK: Despite the contradictions and shape shifting that allow H Is for Hawk to elude domestication, it still feels wonderfully unified, weaving together biography, history, literary criticism, grief memoir, field guide. And ghost story.

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PopMatters

Excellent
Reviewed by Diane Leach on Apr 23 2015

H Is for Hawk chronicles Macdonald’s bleak grief in an utterly unique manner. While pockets of falconers exist today, much as practitioners of dressage and archery do, they are perhaps less commonly occurring in modern culture than, say, skateboarders.

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Newsday

Above average
Reviewed by Joanna Scutts on Mar 03 2015

Macdonald's grief also threatens to detach her from solid ground, but not forever...her writing -- about soil and weather, myth and history, pain and its slow easing -- retains the qualities of Mabel's wild heart, and the commanding scope and piercing accuracy of her hawk's eye.

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Deseret News

Good
Reviewed by Brigham Wilson on Apr 03 2016

By the end of the book, the threads come together and inspire the reader to try falconry, or at least to go bird-watching.

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Independent.ie

Excellent
Reviewed by Christian House on Feb 08 2015

This book is a soaring triumph. It is a joy to follow Mabel and Macdonald's flight out of such disconsolate scenes as one settles into a new roost and the other gradually comes to realise that "hands are for other human hands to hold. They should not be reserved exclusively as perches for hawks".

Read Full Review of H is for Hawk

We Love This Book

Good
Reviewed by Nigel Roby on Aug 04 2014

H is for Hawk is complex. It is searingly honest. It is also funny...It is deeply affecting, at times like watching someone too close to the edge and feeling powerless to stop them. But ultimately, as Helen Macdonald passes from half-madness to a kind of peace, it is uplifting, triumphant, revitalising.

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Lincoln Journal Star

Good
Reviewed by JIM DANIELSON on Jun 01 2015

Although a best-seller in England, it is not a book for everyone. It is far more sad than happy. If you have recently lost a loved one, it is a good read. It does provide an action story that falconers will enjoy.

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Journal Sentinel

Good
Reviewed by Jim Higgins on Apr 01 2016

In both the quality of its sentences and the distinctiveness of its contents, "Hawk" deserves the accolades.

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Post and Courier

Good
Reviewed by Catherine Holmes on Apr 05 2015

Helen Macdonald’s “H is for Hawk” is a gorgeous book in every way, in the energy and subtlety of its prose, the precision and scope of its subject matter, and in its large heart and quick intelligence.

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Post and Courier

Excellent
Reviewed by Catherine Holmes on Apr 05 2015

Helen Macdonald’s “H is for Hawk” is a gorgeous book in every way, in the energy and subtlety of its prose, the precision and scope of its subject matter, and in its large heart and quick intelligence.

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Irish Times

Below average
Reviewed by EILEEN BATTERSBY on Sep 06 2014

A dramatic young goshawk glares out from the eye-catching jacket of Helen Macdonald’s infuriating account of manning, or acclimatising to humans, a bird of prey. It all seems so promising. But no: this is yet another of those trendy personal memoirs masquerading as nature writing...

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Bookin With Sunny.

Above average
Reviewed by Neal Ferguson on May 22 2015

As implied by its title, H is for Hawk is a primer, but a complex one hardly meant for elementary learning. The memoir is about Macdonald’s learning as much as it is about Mabel’s training. In this lyrical book, Macdonald is learning to be left, abandoned.

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Women's Voices for Change

Good
Reviewed by Eleanor Foa Dienstag on Jun 09 2015

H Is For Hawk has already won awards and encomiums galore. It’s a beautifully produced hardback book that will no doubt live on as a classic.

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Santa Fe New Mexican

Good
Reviewed by Priyanka Kumar on Apr 10 2015

H Is for Hawk is such an original book that it resists classification...When the memoir works, it soars.

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Taipei Times

Above average
Reviewed by Bradley Winterton on Jan 29 2015

The death of her father, an admired London photojournalist, happens early on in H is for Hawk and it remains central...her search for an explanation, and perhaps then a justification, never really reaches a conclusion. But her research into White is fascinating indeed.

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Fresh Fiction

Good
Reviewed by Clare O'Beara on Feb 20 2015

Her paragraphs are lengthy and descriptive, with vivid imagery and powerful use of the senses. The telling however is intensely personal, as the author's reflects on her father, a news photographer, and their strong relationship...H IS FOR HAWK is a rewarding read for anyone who enjoys memoirs, nature or countryside history.

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Reading Reality

Good
Reviewed by Marlene Harris on Mar 10 2015

This is the story of one woman’s journey through the dark and dangerous places of her own heart – and her emergence into the beauty and wonder that surrounds her. And Mabel is absolutely awesome.

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Book Thingo

Below average
Reviewed by Wandergurl on Feb 15 2016

...you have to be able to put up with the hard slog. The thesis bits and the sad bits and the self-destructive bits where you’re like, Girl, do you even know you’re doing that? If you can put up with that, or if you want to just read the nature bits, it is, in essence, a beautiful story of a girl and her hawk.

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Beth Kephart's Books

Excellent
Reviewed by Beth Kephart on Mar 24 2015

The other day one of my students asked me to name my favorite memoir—an impossible question, of course. But now, whenever I'm asked that question, I'll be whispering Helen Macdonald's name. This is a book. Oh. This is a book.

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https://savidgereads.wordpress.com

Good
on Dec 18 2015

H is for Hawk is an incredibly special kind of read, which all the above culminates towards, simply put it is a generously open, honest and brutal yet beautiful book.

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Rick Librarian

Good
Reviewed by ricklibrarian on May 11 2015

To this formula, Macdonald adds a dose of natural history, letting readers know much about hawks and falconry. The result is a great book that keeps the reader engaged.

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The Skinny

Good
Reviewed by Galen O'Hanlon on Sep 04 2014

Already hailed as a classic of the genre, H is for Hawk is a rich blend of memoir, biography and natural history...The prose is energetic, fast-moving, and dappled with metaphors drawn from the natural world.

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The Internet Review of Books

Good
Reviewed by Marty Carlock on Aug 06 2015

Nature, sport, murder (albeit of birds and rabbits), psychology, history, literature, wit and good writing – this book has it all.

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http://pankmagazine.com

Above average
Reviewed by Cate Hennessey on Jul 09 2015

...when she writes, Macdonald goes full force and gives all of her obsessions the passion and time they deserve – because she must.

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https://vulpeslibris.wordpress.com

Good
Reviewed by Hilary on Sep 12 2014

I cannot remember the last time I read a book that was so deeply felt, and deeply thought, nor one I read with so many reverses of emotion – sympathy, empathy, delight, wonder, revulsion, rejection...Helen Macdonald is a poet, and her prose is imbued with poetic sensibility, and a particular sense of being airborne.

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http://www.jonosbookreviews.com

Above average
Reviewed by Jono on Feb 18 2016

It is part nature book, part memoir, part history book and such a literary tour de force that the snooty New Yorker Magazine gave it a downright rhapsodic rave. I’m not as highbrow as that illustrious pub and can therefore only give Macdonald’s best-selling and award-winning book 3 stars out of 5.

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BooksPlease

Good
Reviewed by Margaret on Jun 16 2015

This a book unlike any other that I’ve read, about wildness, grief and mourning, and obsession, which made it heavy reading for me.

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Narrative Blog

Good
on May 13 2015

Braided structure, immersive experience, fine prose—these are why so many readers adore H is for Hawk.

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Jaya's Blog

Good
Reviewed by Jaya on Apr 07 2015

H is for Hawk is a beautiful meditation on nature, loneliness and mourning. The exquisite manner in which it is written, making extraordinary use of the English language is breathtaking.

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Desperate Reader

Above average
Reviewed by Desperate Reader on Aug 17 2014

I think White is what gives this book it's balance, he's where emotion and technique meet, he makes it a less intensely personal read but also a more human one, and he's a great bridge for exploring the symbolism and history of the hawk.

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