In the Field, Among the Feathered: A History of Birders & Their Guides, by Thomas Dunlap
Thomas Dunlap's book presents a history of birding through the context of field identification guides. By examining the interests of birders over time, and the symbiotic relationship between birding as recreation and birding as a spur for action on conservation, he shows how guides changed to reflect needs for greater sophistication in identification, better understanding of where and when species can be found, and the importance of ecosystem beyond individual species survival.
Birders familiar with other recent accounts of birding (cf Scott Wiedensaul's "Brief History of American Birding") will find that this book covers much of the same ground. However, I was fascinated by the analysis of field guides. Dunlap presented images of actual pages from field guides over time, examining the characteristics of the guide, the method of identification, and the presentation of information. This well-written study helped me to understand why some birders swear by their Golden Guide, their Peterson, or their Sibley. Each author represents a distinct time period in the history of American birding, and their "system" for identification and level of information reflect that.
Birders and those with an appreciation for the history of the book will enjoy this work. It is scholarly, with footnotes and bibliography, without being academic or tedious.
Reviewed by Scott Curtis