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198 × 129 × 19 mm
224 pages
97 illustrations
01 Sep 2016

Falcon Helen Macdonald

The fastest animal alive, the falcon deserves attention not just for the combination of speed, power, beauty and ferocity that have made it an object of fascination for thousands of years, but for the light it sheds on the cultures through which it has flown. This book, bridging science and cultural history, surveys the practical and symbolic uses of falcons in human culture in new and exciting ways.

Bestselling natural history writer Helen Macdonald follows the movements of the falcon, her personal experience and knowledge of falconry enriching the history and lore of this bird of prey. She ranges across the globe and over many millennia, taking in natural history, myth and legend, falconry, science and conservation, and falcons in the military, in urban settings and the corporate world. Along the way we discover how falcons were mobilized in secret military projects, their links with espionage, the Third Reich and the space programme, and even how they have featured in erotic stories.

Originally published in 2006, this new format edition features a new introduction. Combining in-depth practical, personal and scientific knowledge, Macdonald offers a fascinating account of the place of these birds in human history. Falcon is for lovers of the countryside, birdwatchers or anyone fascinated by these captivating birds.

‘this wonderful book explores how the fastest animals in history have carried the dreams of mankind on their wing . . . although Macdonald is passionate about birds of prey, and especially falcons, what makes this book so remarkable is not just that it is beautifully written, but that it never loses sight of the big picture: the way these exquisite aerial predators the fastest animals that have ever lived have been used as constantly changing repositories for human meanings . . . She weaves a memorable account of this most beguiling of creatures, from its earliest shamanistic uses to Marvel Comics first black superhero, the Falcon. A master class on how to write cultural history.’ — The Guardian

‘While presenting the falcon as a creature superbly adapted to its environment, Macdonalds scientific but lyrical study also celebrates its mythical, cultural and iconic significance’ — The Times

‘[a] marvellous book’ — The Spectator

‘Theres an amazing passage about the eye of the falcon. How can these creatures see tiny things on the ground when they are in the sky? Well, while human beings have around 30,000 cones in the fovea of each eye, raptors have around one million. And thats just the start. Sharp and captivating.’ — Evening Standard

‘In the light of her new literary reputation many will read, and should read, this book who did not read it before . . . Macdonald sets out key characteristics with clinical clarity.’ — Times Literary Supplement

‘This beautifully designed book offers a natural history of this fastest of all the animals as well as the story of how these birds lives have long intertwined with those of humans.’ — Washington Post

‘Helen Macdonald gives us not just the natural history but the cultural history as well . . . Even for the non-ornithologist this book provides fascinating insights. Essential reading for the enthusiast.’ — The Tablet

‘This is a wonderful book. It is not a falconry text, nor is it a falcon biology or a conservation one. Macdonald's slim volume is far more ambitious: it is an attempt to capture and indeed explain the essence of the falcon. This is simply a most beautifully considered social history of the genus Falco . . . it informs and provokes in equal measure . . . Macdonald writes beautifully and with a refreshing clarity.’ — The Falconer

‘What Macdonald does with Falcon is bring all of herself to the subject. She breathes life into the work pulls the lives of falcons and people together into a rare three-dimensional portrait. The effect is beautiful and lasting.’ — North American Falconers Association

‘a pleasure to read . . . a trained historian of science and a passionate falconer, Macdonalds personal experience and knowledge bear fruitfully on this elegant account. The book is a must for anyone interested in animals.’ — British Journal of the History of Science

‘The books author the historian of science, avid falconer, and gifted writer Helen Macdonald succeeds brilliantly . . . a smart, engaging and multidisciplinary account that vividly brings her subject to life.’ — Journal of the History of Biology

‘Macdonald dives through centuries and around the globe to tell the tale of the falcon through history, myth, and legend, exploring the long history of the sport of falconry across cultures.’ — Choice

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Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, illustrator, historian and affiliate at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. Her books include Shaler’s Fish (2001) and the bestselling H is for Hawk (2014) which won the Samuel Johnson prize and the Costa Book of the Year 2014.

Preface to the 2016 Edition


1 Natural History

2 Mythical Falcons

3 Trained Falcons

4 Threatened Falcons

5 Military Falcons

6 Urban Falcons




Associations and Websites


Photo Acknowledgements