Monday, June 25, 2012

Non-Fiction: Gifts of the Crow by John Marzluff and Tony Angell

Think about it: few creatures are as misunderstood as the crow. Their black plumage and watchful demeanor can evoke fear and even shadows of future evil. But in reality, contend authors John Marzluff and Tony Angell, in many ways crows are much more like us than most people would care to admit. “The gifts of the crow are physical, metaphorical, and far-reaching,” they write in Gifts of the Crow (FreePress), setting us up for a journey of stories that demonstrate the almost magical intellect of the crow. From the book:
Most people consider birds to be instinctual automatons acting out behaviors long ago scripted in their genes, but Giifts of the Crow celebrates the fact that some birds -- particularly those in the corvid family, which we generally call “crows” -- are anything but mindless or robotic. These animals are exceptionally smart. Not only do they make tools, but they understand cause and effect. They use their wisdom to infer, discriminate, test, learn, remember, foresee, mourn, warn of impending doom, recognize people, seek revenge, lure or warn of impending doom, recogznie people, seek revenge, lure or stampede other birds to their death, quaff coffee and beer, turn on lights to stay warm or expose danger, speak, steal, deceive, gift, windsurf, play with cats…
In short, say the authors, crows are more like humans than most of us have ever suspected. The creatures depicted here could not be further from the classic birdbrain we think about when imagining our feathered friends.

This isn’t this authorial duo’s first visit in the corvid world. In the Company of Crows and Ravens (2007) gives a first intimate look at the birds. Gifts of the Crow extends the lessons shared in that work but does not depend on readers having read the first one. Apparently in a corvid world, everything must stand alone.

Gifts of the Crow (FreePress) is a deeply astonishing book. At the same time, it is also oddly satisfying. Somehow seeing the similarities between humans and crows makes us feel less alone. ◊

Jones Atwater is a contributing editor to January Magazine.

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