Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

All Things Reconsidered

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Like most birders, I never met Roger Tory Peterson, although I do own several editions of his definitive field guides for identifying the birds of North America. However, thanks to Bill Thompson, who collected and edited 42 of RTP’s best essays from his regular “Bird Watcher’s Digest” column into one volume, All Things Reconsidered: My Birding Adventures by Roger Tory Peterson (NYC: Houghton Mifflin; 2006) you will feel as though you have spent several days in RTP’s company. Even better; this chatty and engaging book was just re-released as a paperback.


Even though most people are familiar with RTP’s paintings, this book proves that he is a wonderful writer, too. These essays are interesting stories about Peterson’s many travels around the world to photograph and watch birds. In this book, we learn that Peterson saw some legendary birds that are sadly no longer with us today; the ivory-billed woodpecker, eskimo curlew, and dusky seaside sparrow. In this book, you will find seemingly unbelievable observations, such as the brooding female bald eagle sharing her nest with a brooding female great horned owl, along with the ordinary, such as his delightful essay, “Memories of Manhattan.”

Not only does he tell stories about birds, but he also regales us with brief glimpses into the lives of the many birders and ornithologists who accompanied him in the field. He tells us about their pranks, such as stuffed birds and hand-painted decoys that were strategically placed in the field to fool zealous birders (including RTP), being capsized into the surf off the coast of Maine when he was in his 80s and filming a documentary, and his experiences in a rickety but delightful bar filled with wild birds in Botswana.

This 354-page paperback is illustrated with black-and-white reproductions of RTP’s paintings, most taken from his field guides, and with black-and-white photographs taken by a number of people, including RTP and his wife, Virginia. It also has an extensive index that makes it easy to find topics that you wish to read about again, and the essays are short enough that one can easily finish one or more while traveling on the subway or bus. Not only is this charming book entertaining but it is educational as well, and it makes me wish that I had been lucky enough to have met and spoken with RTP in real life.

Roger Tory Peterson was born in 1908 in Jamestown, New York. He became interested in birds as a young boy, went to art school, and, at the age of twenty-six, published his first book, A Field Guide to the Birds. It became the cornerstone of the best-selling Peterson Field Guide series, which now includes hundreds of titles. Peterson was revising his field guides when he died in 1996. In addition to his field guides, he also wrote numerous essays that were published in a variety of magazines, and had his own column, “All Things Reconsidered”, during the last twelve years of his life, published in Bird Watcher’s Digest. This book is a collection of the best of those essays.

Bill Thompson, III is the editor of the magazine, Bird Watcher’s Digest, as well as numerous books on birds and birding.

Comments

  1. #1 biosparite
    November 12, 2007

    I had the privilege of meeting and dining with RTP in Houston in 1984. I even got to drive him from the downtown Four Seasons Hotel to dinner in the Montrose section of Houston. How did I pull off this hat trick? Well, my girlfriend was with Gulf Oil Public Affairs, and Gulf sponsored the birds in Art Exhibit at the Museum of Natural Science that year. I was willingly pressed into service to help take RTP to dinner. What did I learn from RTP that night? one thing was how to escape from a polar bear. You take off one item of clothing at a time and toss it over your shoulder when the bear gets close. The bear, unable to resist sniffing and batting around your hat, scarf, etc., will be diverted each time. You continue till you reach shelter or run out of easily-removed clothing.

  2. #2 Wakish
    December 2, 2007

    Nice article, you have been given a backlink from my blog!

    Cheers!
    - Wakish -

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