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The Life of Birds (second edition)

By David Attenborough

William Collins, 2023

Hbk, 276pp; 64 pages of colour photographs

ISBN 978-0-008-63895-5; £17.50

I was 11 when The Life of Birds hit television screens and, while many of my peers were under the covers reading comics by torchlight late at night, I was reading – and rereading – the book (BBC Books, 1998) that was released to accompany the series. I was already hooked on birding by then (although I have several friends for whom the series was their spark moment when it came to birding), but the series and the book perhaps made a bigger impression on my early birding life than any other moment. A copy of the first edition of the book – well-thumbed and dog-eared – still sits on the bookshelf in my mum’s living room and, when I’m home, I’ll occasionally pick it up and flick through, evoking feelings of nostalgia.

The first edition of the book was written in Attenborough’s characteristic chatty but authoritative style, with the ten chapters largely following the script of the ten episodes of the series. It made for easy and interesting reading. This second edition is just as good. In fact, it is, as far as I can see, essentially the same. That, of course, is no bad thing; although it doesn’t quite fit with the publisher’s claim that the second edition is ‘fully updated with the latest discoveries’. Most chapters that I checked matched word for word with the first edition. The only update I could find was the addition of two sentences revising the status of the Kākāpō Strigops habroptila.

Like the first edition, the second edition is liberally illustrated with stunning photographs. These, as far as I could see, are completely revised since the first edition, though all photographs now appear together in four sections of glossy paper, which sit amongst a book of otherwise thinner, rougher, ‘paperback-novel-type’ paper. With the price of paper continuing to rise, it’s perhaps understandable that the publishers made the choice to separate the images and the text like this, enabling them to use lower-quality paper for the bulk of the book; but it does take away from the luxury feeling that the first edition had, where each of the larger-format pages was glossy and photographs were evenly distributed throughout.

All in all, it’s great to see The Life of Birds back in print and I hope that the second edition inspires budding birders – young and old – as it did me. I will, however, continue to cherish my first-edition copy.  


Stephen Menzie


Issue 4
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