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190 × 135 mm
184 pages
94 illustrations, 74 in colour
15 Apr 2013

Ostrich Edgar Williams

In many senses the ostrich looms large – the tallest and heaviest of any living bird, a fully grown North African ostrich can reach 2.75 metres (9 feet) in height and weigh almost 160 kgs (350 pounds). It also lays the largest egg of any living bird. From its eggs to its meat, skin and feathers, the ostrich has been exploited by humans since history began.

The demand for its feathers was so great in Victorian times that vast fortunes were made from ostrich farming, particularly in South Africa and the United States. Following the First World War fashions changed, fortunes were lost and new uses for the now domesticated ostrich had to be found. Nowadays, the modern ostrich farmer not only produces plumes and leather for the luxury market but also meat for the supermarket.

In addition to its sheer physical presence, the ostrich has long been an object of curiosity and fascination, becoming a byword for passivity while being feared for its aggression. It has featured in art, literature, film and popular culture, been represented in cave paintings, ancient medieval manuscripts and the Bayeux Tapestry, shown in advertising and drawn as a cartoon character in many modern films.

Edgar Williams has provided a singular, comprehensive insight into this extraordinary, outlandish bird, chronicling its behaviour, history and habitat as well as its effect on our culture. Featuring many striking illustrations drawn from nature and culture, Ostrich will appeal to all those interested in birds and the natural world, as well as anyone who follows fashion, art or ancient history.

‘Another gem from Reaktion – filled with facts, humorous details and illustrations about the largest living bird.’ – BTO News

‘wonderfully rich in words and pictures, Ostrich is an engrossing read.’ – Ibis

‘As we have come to expect from Reaktion, Ostrich, too, is full of exquisite illustrations’ – TLS

‘an excellent introduction to the species, alongside a cultural and historical account you simply won’t find in any other single source . . . In Ostrich, you’ll discover not only how the male birds use their distinctive plumes, and how the trade in those same feathers gave rise to a huge industry – but also the subtleties of plucking vs. clipping, the absurdities of feather fashion and fascinating insights into ostrich symbolism. I’d never stopped to wonder whose feathers those were on the back of a two pence piece, and I’ll bet hardly anyone notices the ostrich on the Bayeux tapestry. Ever wondered how many people you could feed with an ostrich egg omelette? Look no further’ – Zoological Journal of the Linnaean Society

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Edgar Williams is Reader in Physiology at the University of Glamorgan, Wales. He is author of Giraffe (Reaktion, 2011).