A Sweet, Wild Note: What We Hear When the Birds Sing
Birdsong is woven into our culture, our emotions, our landscape; it is the soundtrack to our world. We have tried to capture this fleeting, ephemeral beauty, and the feelings it inspires, for millennia.
In this fascinating account, Richard Smyth asks what it is about birdsong that we so love. Exploring the myriad ways in which it has influenced literature, music, science and our very ideas of what it means to be British, Smyth’s nuanced investigation shows that what we hear says as much about us, our dreams and desires, as it does about the birds and their songs.
At a time when our birdsong is growing quieter, with fewer voices, more thinly spread, A Sweet, Wild Note is a celebration of the complex relationships between birds, people and the land; it is also a passionate call to arms lest our trees and hedgerows fall silent.
“A lively sense of the absurd, a wryly precise prose style and an appropriately magpie-like curiosity for his subject. There’s a wonderful democracy of reference to a book that draws on Radiohead and The Simpsons as well as Messiaen and Duchamp; that considers East End bird-catching alongside the Romantics and current bioacoustics research … Smyth has taught himself to hear, and it’s impossible to read his vivid account and not listen just a little closer yourself” – The Spectator
“Entertaining and idiosyncratic … witty and engaging. He has a penchant for thinking of curious and apt descriptions … A Sweet, Wild Note is often engrossing … and, at times, really quite enlightening” -- Nick Major, The National
“The effortless writing in here makes for easy reading and he keeps your interest in the subject all the way through by mixing together history, science and personal anecdotes … well worth reading, and it has a stunning cover too” – Half Man, Half Book
“Intriguing thoughts on birdsong” – Simon Barnes, Sunday Times Magazine
“Comic, insightful and lyrical” – Sam Read Bookseller
“I would highly recommend it as a thoughtful, accessible and witty introduction to the world of birdsong and defy anybody who reads this book not to resolve to pay more attention themselves” -- Chris Foster, Considering Birds blog
“Fascinating … about the effect of birdsong on our lives and its cultural impact throughout history” -- LeedsBigBookend.co.uk
“[A] gem of a book … I could not put it down” – Femke Montagne, Waterstones Aberystwyth
“Smyth’s fascinating study is full of expert knowledge and witty observations and will have you listening to the dawn chorus with fresh ears and a glad heart” -- The Simple Things Magazine
“Will make you listen differently … consider this book a bit like the ‘tasting notes’ on a fine wine” – Richard Littledale, The Preacher’s Blog
“Perfectly paced … bubbles along, itself like birdsong; the occasional unexpected wry note adding a layer of wit” – Matt Gaw, journalist and columnist
‘Well worth a read . . . hits many sweet notes’ – Mark Avery, author of Remarkable Birds and Inglorious: Conflict in the Uplands
‘A delightful meditation on the wonders of nature's best free show – birdsong – and how it has seeped into our culture through the ages’ – Stephen Moss, author of Wild Hares and Hummingbirds and Wild Kingdom
‘Between the fibrillating throats of birds and the human mind lies an extraordinary landscape, a place created by the intersection of culture, biology, and literature. Richard Smyth is a brilliant, insightful, and witty guide in this fascinating terrain’ – David George Haskell, author of The Songs of Trees and the Pulitzer finalist, The Forest Unseen. Professor of Biology, University of the South
‘This is a delightful book that does exactly what it says on the cover: it plays a sweet wild note. If you are already tuned in to bird song you will learn a lot more and if you aren’t you will want to be. Reading it honestly seems to have improved my (ornithological) listening and hearing as well as cheering my heart’ – Sara Maitland, author of Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales
“A lovely book ... lovingly written” – Georgey Spanswick, BBC radio
“Full of zest and at times deliciously wry, this is a well-informed, warm and effortlessly endearing call to arms to listen – perhaps for the first time in years – with our ears and, more importantly, to feel it in our hearts. Smyth is, without doubt, an exciting new nature-writing talent” – Jules Howard, zoologist, writer and broadcaster
“A long time since I found myself this engrossed in a book; simply fabulous!” – James Common, @CommonByNature
“Fantastic … primed with humour and warmth … [the] beautifully eye catching cover really sparks the imagination of the reader and gives an insight into the wonders that are housed inside” – The Quiet Knitter
“Witty, informed, readable… I am really loving A Sweet, Wild Note: so well researched, at times funny and at times touching” – Nick Acheson, @themarshtit