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by Stephen Martin

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A natural and cultural history of the penguin, surely one of the most popular and best-known of all birds.


A natural and cultural history of the penguin, surely one of the most popular and best-known of all birds.

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Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

More than any other bird, penguins appear to behave anthropomorphically, waddling about on two legs and continuously chattering, "like so many children in white aprons" (according to one 18th century naturalist). Martin, an Australian historian of the Antarctic, guides readers through the history of human-penguin history, describing their discovery by people, human-penguin interactions, and the flightless bird's widespread cultural cachet. Martin covers some three centuries, revealing how indigenous inhabitants of the southern hemisphere used penguins as a resource (the Maori may have used penguins for food), how European voyages of discovery began the systematic exploitation of penguins (Magellan and Vasco de Gama's crews used the birds for target practice), and how the documentary work of naturalists led to the first conservation efforts. Martin also assesses their infiltration of popular culture; by the end of the 19th century, penguins featured prominently in stories, especially morality lessons, a tradition that continues most notably in such films such as March of the Penguins, Surf's Up, and Happy Feet. Featuring essential natural history, a list of penguin species, ample notes, a useful index, and elegant, readable text, Martin's overview is not just informative, but manages to match its subject in charm.

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Reaktion Books, Limited
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Meet the Author

Stephen Martin is currently a senior project officer at the State Library of New South Wales. He is also the author of A History of Antarctica and The Whales’ Journey: A Year in the Life of a Humpback Whale and a Century in the History of Whaling.

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