Jacket Image

Enlarge Image

198 × 129 mm
184 pages
127 illustrations
01 Aug 2017

Crow Boria Sax

Though people generally do not think of them in such terms, crows are remarkably graceful: from the tip of a crow’s beak to the end of its tail is a single curve, which changes rhythmically as the crow turns its head or bends toward the ground. Foraging on their long, powerful legs, crows appear to glide over the earth; they take flight almost without effort, flapping their wings easily, ascending into the air like spirits.

Nevertheless, the whiskers around their beaks and an apparent smile make crows, in a scruffy sort of way, endearingly ‘human’. In a vast range of cultures from the Chinese to the Hopi Indians, crows are bearers of prophecy. Because of their courtship dances and monogamous unions, the Greeks invoked crows at weddings as symbols of conjugal love. Crows are among the most ubiquitous of birds, yet, without being in the least exotic, they remain mysterious.

This classic Reaktion title, now available in B-format, is a survey of crows, ravens, magpies and their relatives in myth, literature and life. It ranges from the raven sent out by Noah to the corvid deities of the Eskimo, to Taoist legends, Victorian novels and contemporary films. It will be of interest to anyone who has ever been intrigued, puzzled, annoyed or charmed by these wonderfully intelligent birds.

‘Sax’s book roams divertingly over the scientific and cultural history of the “corvid” family, which includes the carrion crow, the raven, the rook and the jackdaw, tracing ambivalent responses to the mischievous birds.’ — The Guardian

‘Boria Sax looks at how [crows] have been at the centre of myth, culture and religion throughout human history, often as birds of ill omen or at least negative associations. It’s an easy read despite the great wealth of material included, and the author keeps things grounded in accurate observation of the behaviour of real-life birds. Enjoyable and educational for birders of all levels.’ – Birdwatching

‘A fascinating and delightful book . . . examines the crow in myth, literature and life . . . With sections on the crow in ancient civilisations, different parts of the world and through to modern times, this book would be an excellent read for anyone interested in this group of birds.’ – BTO News

‘Boria Sax's Crow takes a broadly chronological approach, with an intriguing digression on scarecrows. There are strong themes in the way different cultures have thought about crows (and ravens).’ – The Independent

‘This authoritative and well-researched volume is an ideal source of reference for anyone who has ever been intrigued, annoyed or charmed by these wonderful birds’ – Cage and Aviary Birds

‘In this vivid and enjoyable meditation on crows in art, literature and history, Sax gives the genus Corvus the enthusiastic treatment it deserves.’ – Publishers Weekly

Crow is the sort of monograph I treasure and seek out, a work that draws together around a ‘totem animal’ centuries of relevant lore, a richness of iconographic treatments (photographs, portraits, masks, natural history plates, cartoons, book plates, marginalia, etc.) and the best natural history and natural science available to a lay researcher and engaged author.’ – H-NILAS Reviews

‘I found the section on the history of the scarecrow especially moving. Sax skillfully conveys the shifting use of these objects, which were first developed to serve a real purpose, scaring corvid crop predators, and slowly devolved into something less applied and more nostalgic. For me, this section, especially, captured the ambiguous relationship between humans and crows that is repeated throughout the
book . . .’ – Anthrozoos

‘Boria Sax has assembled a glorious romp of a book about the Crow family, and our human responses to it . . . I couldn’t put this book down.’ – Sacred Hoop

‘In Crow, Sax elucidates the nuanced and sometimes illogical or contradictory cultural resonances of these birds. Crows are usually black, so have frequently been associated with mystical powers: their darkness. their slouching posture, and their love of carrion, have helped to make crows symbols of death, yet few if any other birds are so lively and playful . . . there are many careful, evocatively observational passages.’ – Parallax

Show all

Boria Sax teaches at Mercy College, New York, as well as at Sing Sing and Taconic Prisons. He has published over a dozen books, which have won awards and been translated into many languages, including Imaginary Animals (Reaktion, 2013).