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190 × 135 × 14 mm
192 pages
106 illustrations, 77 in colour
01 Oct 2011

Sparrow Kim Todd

Innocent. Invader. Lover. Thief. Sparrows are everywhere, in many guises. They are cherished pets, subject of elegies by Catullus and John Skelton, listed as ‘pretty things’ in Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book. They’re grimy, urban vermin with shocking manners, so reviled that during the 1950s Mao placed them on the list of 'Four Pests’ and ordered the Chinese people to kill them all. In many countries they are appallingly successful non-natives, attacking indigenous birds and ravaging ecosystems. Able to live in the Arctic and the desert, from Beijing to San Francisco, the house sparrow is the most widespread wild bird in the world.

In Sparrow, award-winning science and natural history writer Kim Todd explores the complex history, biology and literary tradition of this bird that embodies the word ‘common’. In literature, the New Testament claimed that not a sparrow falls without God noting it; the idea of the precious sparrow developed from Hamlet to twentieth-century gospel hymns; the bold, defiant sparrow appears in many folk and fairy tales.

The author explores Old World sparrows, like the house sparrow, which can nest in a garage or in an airport, and New World sparrows, which often stake their claim to remote islands or meadows in the high Sierra. Todd looks at the nineteenth-century ‘Sparrow War’ in the USA - a battle over the sparrow’s introduction - which set the stage for decades of discussions of invasive species. She examines the ways in which sparrows have taught us about evolution, and the recent decline of house sparrows in cities globally. This disappearance of a bird that seemed hardwired for success remains an ornithological mystery.

With lush illustrations, ranging from early woodcuts and illustrated manuscripts to contemporary wildlife photography, this is the first book-length exploration of the natural and cultural history of this cheeky and ubiquitous bird.

‘Todds aim in this charming celebration is to enrich our appreciation of the bird named from the Old English for flutterer.’ — The Guardian

‘As part of Reaktions wonderfully eccentric modern bestiary, Sparrow hops around that space between popular culture and natural history, poking at attitudes, pinching stories from across the globe, and being cheeky and serious at the same time . . . Chaotic, adulterous, violent - sparrows and humans are disgracefully similar. We deserve each other, which makes their mysterious decline a terrible loss.’ — BBC Wildlife magazine

‘well-written and carefully researched . . . this is an interesting little book. As Ms Todd unravels the story of house sparrows in this engaging narrative, we gain new insights into these cheeky little brown jobs - and ourselves.’ — Grrlscientist, The Guardian

‘If you want to know more about sparrows than scientific ornithological data then this book is ideal. Beautifully illustrated too.’ — BTO News

‘full of interesting and often perceptive information . . . The book is well illustrated with artwork from around the world, ranging from fairy tales and nursery rhymes, through Anglo-Saxon 19th-century control manuals to masterpieces of European and Asian art . . . a good read for any sparrowphile.’ — Ibis

‘Everybody knows sparrows, except for the fact that most people dont know anything about sparrows. Kim Todd sets out to rectify this in a small, elegant book . . . She sorts out the taxonomic tangles for laypeople in some of the most well-turned popular science writing Ive had the pleasure to read . . . All this, she accomplishes in 165 pages, not stinting on lovely illustrations, many in color.’ — 10000birds.com

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Kim Todd is Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. Her book Tinkering with Eden? A Natural History of Exotics in America (2001) was the winner of the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. She is also the author of Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis (2007).


1. Little Brown Jobs
2. Sold for Two Farthings
3. Dead and Dirty Birds
4. The Sparrow War
5. The Fall of a Sparrow in Providence
6. Inheriting the Earth

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