Roger Peterson (1908-1996) catapulted to fame in 1934 with the publication (after four rejections) of A Field Guide to the Birds, which almost immediately sold out its first printing of 2,000 copies. Considered the first modern guide of its kind, Peterson's book featured descriptions of nearly 500 species of birds, including plumages and characteristic behavior, as well as his own meticulous illustrations of each bird-all of which were part of what became known as the Peterson Identification System. In this excellent biography, Carlson, an editor and regular contributor to the Georgia Review, skillfully shows how Peterson used his talents as an artist and educator to make the guide a bridge between academic ornithologists and the general public, an accomplishment that has made it, after five editions, "the most important contribution to bird (and nature) study in the twentieth century," as well as an inspiration for conservation, environmentalism and ecological studies. Carlson also provides the best look so far at the influence on Peterson's work of his youth in Jamestown, N.Y., as well as some of the difficulties, after his death, in building the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, where his legacy continues unabated today. 15 b&w photos. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Roger Tory Peterson: A Biographyby Douglas Carlson
Beginning with his 1934 Field Guide to the Birds, Roger Tory Peterson introduced literally millions of people to the pleasures of observing birds in the wild. His field guide, which has gone through five editions and sold more than four million copies, fostered an appreciation for the natural world that set the stage for the contemporary environmental movement. When… See more details below
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Beginning with his 1934 Field Guide to the Birds, Roger Tory Peterson introduced literally millions of people to the pleasures of observing birds in the wild. His field guide, which has gone through five editions and sold more than four million copies, fostered an appreciation for the natural world that set the stage for the contemporary environmental movement. When Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring sounded a warning about the threat to birds and their habitats in the 1960s, the Peterson field guides had already prepared the public and the scientific community to heed the warning and fight to save habitat and protect endangered species—a result that Peterson wholeheartedly approved. In this authoritative, highly readable biography of Roger Tory Peterson (1908–1996), Douglas Carlson creates a fascinating portrait of the complex, often conflicted man behind the brand name. He describes how Peterson’s obsession with birds began in boyhood and continued throughout a multifaceted career as a painter, writer, educator, environmentalist, and photographer. Carlson traces Peterson’s long struggle to become both an accomplished bird artist and a scientific naturalist—competing goals that drove Peterson to work to the point of exhaustion and that also deprived him of many aspects of a normal personal life. Carlson also records Peterson’s many lasting achievements, from the phenomenal success of the field guides, to the bird paintings that brought him renown as “the twentieth century’s Audubon,” to the establishment of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute to carry on his work in conservation and education.
In 1934, a 26-year-old bird-watcher created the first modern natural history field guide, wildly successful and of high quality. In 1977, John C. Devlin and Grace Naismith celebrated the naturalist with a biography, The World of Roger Tory Peterson. Somewhat shallow, verging on hagiographic in comparison with the present volume, it nevertheless showcased 11 of his thousands of color paintings of birds and plants. Retired writing teacher Carlson's excellent study, while short on illustration, does a much more thorough analysis of Peterson's art styles, writings, influence, and development as an artist, author, lecturer, photographer, and environmental advocate, as well as his lasting legacy. Peterson's complex personal life-three marriages, children, extensive world travel, childhood, temperament, early mentors, army service-also receive due attention, but the book focuses more on his professional life than Devlin and Naismith did, and with a perspective of 30 years later. A product of intense research, this deep study of a brilliant, influential man is highly recommended.
Henry T. Armistead
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