Thursday, December 11, 2008

In the Company of Crows and Ravens

by John M. Marzluff and Tony Angell

This book should be so much better than it is. But it's not. The writing is pretty terrible, bad enough that I didn't actually finish the book. Which is a shame, because I'd recommended it to people. It's dangerous to recommend books one hasn't read yet, but one can't possibly read every book, so sometimes one must. C'est la vie.

I'd heard about how smart corvids are, what with their puzzle-solving and tool use, so I was excited when I saw a copy of this book when it was new. Others already had reserved it, so I had to put my name down on the list and wait my turn. When I eventually got around to reading it, I found the book to contain a wealth of fascinating information that, sadly, is not well-presented. Chapters discuss corvids in human culture and their interrelationships with humans both culturally and ecologically, as well as corvids' own "culture" and social lives. Some of this is rather too esoteric; I think what I had been expecting was a book about how smart and cool and amazing and kinda creepy crows are, with information about experiments that have tested the limits of their intelligence — which is in there, but not straightforwardly.

Another book that seems to be in the same vein came out the same year: Crows: Encounters with the Wise Guys of the Avian World, by Candace Sherk Savage. Maybe it's a little better? But it also seems to stress the angle of "Human-animal relationships" (in LCSH parlance), with personal stories and recollections.

Yet a third book, Crows, by Boria Sax, was published in 2003. It has the subject heading "Animals in civilization" and also seems not as science-y as I'd like. Points for the author's name, though. Boria, according to the Italian Wiktionary at least, means conceit or arrogance, and the OED defines sax as, among other things, a small dagger.

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