Under a Wild Sky by William Souder
John James Audubon and the Making of The Birds of America

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The life and times of a complex genius and the masterpiece he created

In the century and a half since Audubon's death, his name has become synonymous with wildlife conservation and natural history. But few people know what a complicated figure he was--or the dramatic story behind The Birds of America.

Before Audubon, ornithological illustrations depicted scaled-down birds perched in static poses. Wheeling beneath storm-wracked skies or ripping flesh from freshly killed prey, Audubon's life-size birds looked as if they might fly screeching off the page. The wildness in the images matched the untamed spirit in Audubon--a self-taught painter and self-anointed aristocrat who, with his buckskins and long hair, wanted to be seen as both a hardened frontiersman and a cultured man of science.

In truth, neither his friends nor his detractors ever knew exactly who Audubon was or where he came from. Tormented by a fog of ambiguities surrounding his birth, he reinvented himself ceaselessly, creating a life as dramatic as his fictionalizations of it. But when he came east at thirty-eight--broke and desperate to find a publisher for his Birds--he ran squarely into a scientific establishment still wedded to convention and suspicious of the brash newcomer and his grandiose claims.

It took Audubon fifteen years to prevail in both his project and his vision. How he triumphed and what drove him is the subject of this gripping narrative.

About William Souder

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William Souder is the author of A Plague of Frogs and a frequent science contributor to The Washington Post and other publications. He lives near Minneapolis.
Published June 16, 2004 by North Point Press. 384 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math. Non-fiction

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Publishers Weekly

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Renowned for his knowledge of the American wilderness, John James Audubon (1785–1851) was equally adept at the quintessential American activity of self-invention.

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The New York Review of Books

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