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A Sweet, Wild Note
A Sweet, Wild Note

A Sweet, Wild Note

What We Hear When the Birds Sing


208 Pages, 5.25 x 8.5

Formats: EPUB, Mobipocket, Cloth

Cloth, $19.95 (US $19.95) (CA $26.95)

Publication Date: January 2018

ISBN 9781783963140

Rights: US & CA

Elliott & Thompson (Jan 2018)


eBook Editions Available

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Price: $19.95


A cultural history of the enduring love of birdsong

Birdsong is woven into culture, emotions, and landscape. It is the soundtrack to our world, shaping experiences of place and belonging. We have tried to capture this fleeting, ephemeral beauty, and the feelings it inspires, for millennia. In this rich and insightful account, Richard Smyth asks what it is about birdsong that we so love, exploring the myriad ways in which it has influenced literature, music, and art, our feelings about the natural world, and our very ideas of what it means to be human. Does the song-thrush mean to sing "a full-hearted evensong/Of joy illimited," as he does in Hardy's poem "The Darkling Thrush?" Examining his own conflicted love of birdsong, Smyth's nuanced investigation shows that what we hear says as much about us, our dreams and desires, as it does about the birds and their songs. At a time when birdsong is growing quieter, with fewer voices, more thinly spread, this beautiful book is a celebration of the complex relationships between birds, people, and landscape; it is also a passionate call to arms and an invitation to act lest our trees and hedges fall silent.


"A lively sense of the absurd, a wryly precise prose style and an appropriately magpie-like curiosity for his subject. There's a wonderful democracy of reference to a book that draws on Radiohead and The Simpsons as well as Messiaen and Duchamp; that considers East End bird-catching alongside the Romantics and current bioacoustics research. . . . Smyth has taught himself to hear, and it's impossible to read his vivid account and not listen just a little closer yourself." —Spectator

"Between the fibrillating throats of birds and the human mind lies an extraordinary landscape, a place created by the intersection of culture, biology, and literature. Richard Smyth is a brilliant, insightful, and witty guide in this fascinating terrain." —David George Haskell, author, Pulitzer finalist The Forest Unseen

"This is a delightful book that does exactly what it says on the cover: it plays a sweet wild note. If you are already tuned in to bird song you will learn a lot more and if you aren't you will want to be. Reading it honestly seems to have improved my (ornithological) listening and hearing as well as cheering my heart." —Sara Maitland, author, A Book of Silence

"Intriguing thoughts on birdsong." —Sunday Times Magazine

"Entertaining and idiosyncratic … witty and engaging. He has a penchant for thinking of curious and apt descriptions … A Sweet, Wild Note is often engrossing … and, at times, really quite enlightening." —National 

"Smyth's fascinating study is full of expert knowledge and witty observations and will have you listening to the dawn chorus with fresh ears and a glad heart." —Simple Things Magazine

"A fascinating book, beautifully evocative, a pleasure to read, and as uplifting as listening to a blackbird or robin in full voice. Every page of this book offers endless interesting facts." —York Press

"Well worth a read . . . hits many sweet notes." —Mark Avery, author, Remarkable Birds

Author Biography

Richard Smyth is a writer, researcher, and editor. He is a regular contributor to Bird Watching magazine, and he writes and reviews for the Times, Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, Literary Review, New Statesman, and BBC Wildlife. He is the author of English History: Strange But True.