Vesper Flights

Grove. Aug. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9780802128812. $27. SCI
British writer historian Macdonald follows her best seller H Is for Hawk with a collection of nature essays, some new and some previously published. Though this collection looks at many kinds of natural phenomena—from swifts, Eurasion cranes, and hawfinches to deer, boar, fens, and the possibility of life on Mars—each essay reveals how animals and nature have broadened and altered the author’s way of looking at the world. Some of her most compelling stories explore “the strange collisions and collusions” between natural history and British national history: swan upping, the swan census conducted annually on the Thames River, is a centuries-old ceremony deeply connected to monarchy and pageantry. In addition, the phenomenon of British spies being bird enthusiasts is examined in the intriguing profile of Maxwell Knight, a long-time MI5 spy handler. Written in Macdonald’s trademark piercing prose, these essays probe the author’s fascination with the complexity, mystery, and magic of nature, including how we observe the world around us and make sense of our place within it.
VERDICT Macdonald’s unique voice is highly recommended for fans of her first book and science enthusiasts who enjoy natural history with a British flavor.

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