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190 × 135 mm
184 pages
95 illustrations, 27 in colour
01 Oct 2003

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 book 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 all people who have 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

‘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.’ – British Trust for Ornithology

‘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

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Boria Sax is lecturer in literature at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York, and is the founder of the organization Nature in Legend and Story (NILAS). He has published many books on images of animals in human culture including Animals in the Third Reich (2000) and The Mythical Zoo (2001).