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220 × 145 × 25 mm
232 pages
100 illustrations, 80 in colour
15 Jul 2019

Pelican Barbara Allen

With its distinctive, comical walk, large bill and association with the conservation movement, the pelican has attained iconic status. But the pelican has a chequered history. Classed as ‘unclean’ in the King James Bible, the legend of the compassionate pelican was later appropriated by Christianity to symbolize Christ’s sacrifice. This majestic bird, gifted to British royalty in 1664, has been celebrated in art and literature, from Shakespeare’s King Lear to the writing of Edward Lear, and is the recipient of three Guinness World Records. The pelicans’ anatomy has been copied for paper plane construction, aircraft design and in 3D imaging, while it has fought back from the threats of extinction, habitat destruction and environmental disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Its resilience is as remarkable as its anatomy.

In this must-read book for all bird enthusiasts, Barbara Allen skillfully weaves together wildlife trivia, historical tales and the latest research to provide an engaging account of the cultural and natural history of this emblematic bird.

‘Allen provides an eclectic overview of an iconic bird, revered by naturalists and the laity, important in Christian iconography, and of interest for understanding popular culture and history in general. Accompanied by 100 illustrations, 78 in color, and well-researched throughout, Allen’s engaging text is enhanced by authoritative chapter notes, a good bibliography, a pelican "timeline," and other apparatus. Devoting justified attention to the importance of the pelican as a symbol of "charity and the virtue of self-sacrifice," especially as personified by Jesus Christ, Allen also gives appropriate attention to environmental challenges faced by pelicans, such as the effects of oil spills and untoward persecution by fisherman . . . With its perhaps unprecedented focus on a topic of such wide appeal, this volume will be valued by students of various histories: natural, art, religious, literary, geographical, and cultural. Highly recommended.’ — Choice

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Barbara Allen is a minister in the Uniting Church in Australia. Her previous publications include Pigeon (2009) and Animals in Religion (2016), both published by Reaktion.


1 Biological Marvels
2 From Christ’s Sacrifice to Concrete Behemoth
3 Gracing the Page and Screen
4 The End of the Golden Age

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Photo Acknowledgements