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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, 7.75 x 5

Formats: Trade Paper

Trade Paper, $14.95 (US $14.95) (CA $19.95)

Publication Date: February 2019

ISBN 9781783963775

Rights: US & CA

Elliott & Thompson (Feb 2019)

Price: $14.95


A cultural history of the enduring love of birdsong

In this fascinating account, Richard Smyth asks what it is about birdsong that we so love. Exploring the myriad ways in which it has influenced literature, music, science, and our very ideas of what it means to be human, 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 our birdsong is growing quieter, with fewer voices, more thinly spread, A Sweet, Wild Note is a celebration of the complex relationships between birds, people, and the land; it is also a passionate call to arms lest our trees and hedgerows 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 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.