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Social Science Cultural

Flight from Grace

A Cultural History of Humans and Birds

by (author) Richard Pope

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
Mar 2021
Cultural, Birds
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2021
    List Price

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Human animals are despoiling nature and causing a sixth extinction on Earth. Our natural environment is being compromised, and birds and other animals are disappearing at an alarming rate. Flight from Grace does not so much reveal the extent of the damage as ask and answer the perplexing question: why?

This book traces human reverence for birds from the Stone Age and the New Stone Age, through the cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Peru, and Greece and through biblical traditions, up to its vestiges in the present. Richard Pope takes a hard look at Judaeo-Christian and ancient Greek thought to demonstrate how the emergence of anthropocentrism and belittling of nature led to our present-day ecological dilemma. Striking images of cultural artifacts -- many little-known -- together with extensive discussion of art, music, literature, and religion illustrate the paradox in our contemporary relationship to the natural world. Humanity, in moving from its paleolithic origins to modern times, has simultaneously distanced itself from and disenchanted nature.

Suggesting that the replacement of an animistic worldview with a mechanistic one has led humans to deny their animality, Flight from Grace calls on readers to appreciate how our past relationship with birds might help transform our current relationship with nature.

About the author

Richard Pope, author of Me n Len: Life in the Haliburton Bush, 1900-1940 and the voyageur epic Superior Illusions, is a recently retired professor of Russian literature and culture at York University and a long-standing member of the Ontario Ornithological Club and the Ontario Field Ornithologists. He and his wife, Felicity, live in Cobourg, Ontario.

Richard Pope's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Most of Pope's impressive historical survey illustrates the human assumption that nature should be exploited, in contrast to the view here that birds should be celebrated, conserved, and protected. The book includes a helpful 297-item bibliography, and would be an asset for all academic libraries ... . Highly recommended." Choice

“This is a hard book not to love.” University of Toronto Quarterly

“This is a finely produced and beautiful book about birds in history. The author is a lifelong birder and the ornithological background knowledge to the book is strong. A well-written, stimulating read.” Mark Avery, author of Remarkable Birds

"This delightfully detailed and diverse book takes the reader on a journey that explores the deep history of our emotional and religious ties to birds and ponders our modern-day betrayal that has left a shocking one in ten bird species threatened with extinction." Bridget Stutchbury, author of Silence of the Songbirds: How We Are Losing the World's Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them

"From bird worship to poetic reveries and imitations of flight and birdsong, Richard Pope offers a learned survey of our age-long fascination with all things winged and feathered. Flight from Grace promises to become a first-stop resource for anyone interested in avian cultural history and its relation to our current ecological crisis." Bruce Boehrer, co-editor of Animals, Animality, and Literature