Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and the Making of the Birds of America

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In the century and a half since John James 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--as told in this "superb introduction to the artist and the man" (New York Times).

Before Audubon, ornithological illustrations depicted scaled-down birds perched in static poses. Wheeling beneath storm-racked 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 their maker--a self-taught painter and self-anointed aristocrat, who, with his buckskins and long hair, was both a hardened frontiersman and a cultured man of science.

Tormented by ambiguities surrounding his birth, Audubon reinvented himself ceaselessly. But when he came east at thirty-eight--broke and desperate to find a publisher--he ran into a scientific establishment still wedded to convention and suspicious of the newcomer. It took Audubon fifteen years to prevail in both his project and his vision. How he triumphed and what drove him are the subjects of William Souder's gripping narrative, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.


Souder renders a fascinating portrait not only of Audubon but of the America he knew, a place so lush and fertile it seems almost mythical. But those drawings -- foundational American documents -- prove it was so, and this book makes new and compelling sense of them and their creator. -- Bill McKibben

Table of Contents:
Part I. Audubon and Wilson -- 1. Philadelphia -- 2. Coming Across -- 3. A Name of Every Living Thing -- 4. Lessons -- 5. A Beautiful Plantation -- 6. The Forester -- 7. The Exquisite River -- 8. Mr. Wilson's Decade -- Part II. The Birds of America -- 9. Ar the Red Banks -- 10. Kentucky Home -- 11. Legions of the Air -- 12. Ever Since a Boy -- 13. Edinburgh -- 14. Dearest Friend -- 15. My Great Work -- 16. After -- Acknowledgments -- Notes -- Bibliography -- Index.

William Souder is the author of three books, including "Under a Wild Sky" and "On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson." He lives in Grant, MN.

Milkweed Editions

Pub Date: July 22, 2014

0.97" H x 8.94" L x 6.11" W

384 pages