A Book Review of ‘Audubon’s Elephant’ by Duff Hart-Davis – now at your local library
Audubon's Elephant was the name given to John James Audubon's greatest work, The Birds of America - a folio of 435 life-size ornithological prints that would prove the most enduring depiction of birdlife in the United States.
In 1826, still hard at work, his ambition threatened to exhaust the largesse of American aficionados and, seeking funds and fame, Audubon made his first trip to England.
British naturalist Duff Hart-Davis tells how Audubon's exotic woodsman's charm and astonishing artistic gift won him the attention of the aristocracy and an admiring public at a time when Americans in Britain could still cause a stir.
Ultimately, his impassioned presentations to rooms full of smitten bird lovers helped him raise the funds he needed to complete The Birds of America.
Lavishly illustrated with images from Audubon's life and work, Audubon's Elephant is an inspired depiction of the most important chapter in the life of America's most famous naturalist.
This is a very engaging book and introduces the man and his era in a very readable way.
I enjoyed the historical aspects of life in those times, such as how regularly the Atlantic was crossed, and how the opinions of a small group of people in one city could influence the sales of a book in towns half a world away.
It was very interesting to learn so much about the character and personality of Audubon and the struggle he faced to get his book published and sold.
His stubbornness in demanding the quality he desired to display his paintings and the obstacles that he faced in organising the business to follow through with his dream were very well illustrated in this book.
Audubon’s quirks sat easily beside the author’s interpretation of the natural world, aided in large by Audubon’s copious (although apparently badly-spelled) letters and journals.
The author was clearly fascinated with Audubon and excused some of his behavior but in general it was a very interesting and balanced read.
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