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Summary

The story of how we have always been stirred by seabirds, the patterns of their lives, their habitats, the threats they face, the folklore and the inspiration they've brought to poets, writers, musicians and painters in their extraordinarily long lives.

We have lived with seabirds for at least 300,000 years. From the beginning our view of them has been double, as creatures that are both deeply distant and yet strangely connected to us, both oceanic in what they represent and a mirror of what we are. They stand in for our relationship with nature as a whole. We use them and love them, nurture them and destroy them, revere them and make toys and hats and dinner out of them.

It is a pattern that has evolved over history, and our relationship with seabirds has moved through these phases like steps in a game of hopscotch. At each moment one part recognizes the otherness of the birds; one sees them as an aspect of who we are. But the four phases are all one: eat them, revere them; sell them, admire them; disrupt their world, try to protect them; destroy the ocean, grasp their genius.

Through much of human time, and at a foundation level, the model has been one of predation and reverence. We both took the birds and saw something magical in them. They were food and poetry, metaphors for what we are or might be and sustenance for often poor and marginal island and coastal communities. In a beautiful evocation of the natural world that we both abuse and treasure, The Seabird's Cry tells long story of seabirds as a barometer of human life on earth.

©2017 Adam Nicolson (P)2017 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic reviews

"Exceptionally well done, beautifully written, personal yet panoramic." ( Observer)
"An extraordinarily outward-looking book...a truly passionate attention to detail.... A love-letter no one else could hope to write so well." ( Sunday Telegraph)
"A passionate evocation, a compression of observation and anecdote which catches you up in its intelligence as well as its enthusiasm, and fill you with homesickness for a place you've never been to." ( Daily Telegraph)

What members say

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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Like a huge wave crashing on me head!

I was so looking forward to this book. I have a passion for sea birds and remote places and the idea of being transported to somewhere wild, and learning while I was at it, sounded perfect. I did find the parts of the book I managed to endure informative, and mostly interesting. It's just that I could only bear to listen to a couple of chapters before I gave up.

I seem to be in the minority here, but I found this unbearable to listen to and couldn't finish it. There were two problems.

One was the overwrought prose, so crammed with similes and metaphors. It sounded like a mediocre writer had put far too much effort into sounding like his idea of good one. It was grandiose and self conscious and quite horrible. I started to yearn for simple, elegant sentences about half a chapter in.

The second was the reader's voice, which had a dry, squeaky quality that had the same effect on me as nails down a blackboard. I'm sure other people won't hear him as I did, but I couldn't be doing with it.

So all in all, I only listened to a fraction of the thing. It might look better on the page but I somehow doubt it.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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As rare and precious as Great Orc's egg

Would you consider the audio edition of The Seabird's Cry to be better than the print version?

I am not sure if the print version contained any pictures? I did find myself having to google some of the birds to see what they looked like. I didn't mind that in the slightest though and preferred having this amazing book to listen to while I was out and about running from various places in London at the weekend.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Oh goodness it is so hard to choose! I will say the Great Orc, I hadn't known anything about Great Orcs before this let alone the fact they are now extinct. I do also have a bit of a soft spot for puffins too and was very fun finding out more about them.

Have you listened to any of Dugald Bruce-Lockhart’s other performances? How does this one compare?

At first I felt the narrator sounded a bit like someone giving a sermon but after a little while I didn't mind it so much. Nice clear narration throughout and I felt his voice fitted very well with the text too.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The Nazca boobies, that part was horrible - I don't think I ever realised animals could be so cruel to each other.

Any additional comments?

Nicolson takes 10 different seabirds and writes a chapter on each. This has the potential to be incredibly boring, seagulls aren’t exactly sexy. However, Nicolson makes his book incredibly fascinating. It is part zoology, part mythology, part sociology with a little bit of philosophy and personal memories thrown in for good measure. What this creates is a fascinating profile into each specific bird and leaves the reader with a deep appreciation for the seabirds. We meet the Fulmars, Razorbills, Puffins, and the now extinct Great Orc among many other, animals that inhabit a part of our world but also live in their own unique spheres of existence. There are some fascinating things in this book, the way that birds navigate the ocean through smell was fascinating to me. I winced at the explanation of what Nazca boobies do to their babies, and also the horrendous cruelty humans have inflicted on seabirds to make a nice hat among other things. It has left me with fresh eyes and I will never again see a seabird as just as seabird, they are so much more! This book is an absolute delight, I am certain anyone reading it won't be disappointed, it is so rich and engaging. I loved it!

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Beautiful!

A fantastic book that is a must read for anyone who loves the sea or its wildlife. The breadth and depth in which the subject has been covered is match by the beauty of the prose. An outstanding and very enjoyable book well read.

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wonderfully written overview of 10 seabird species

loved it, especially how the science is done. A little less interested in the tales of cloth brutality

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informative and poignant

Would you consider the audio edition of The Seabird's Cry to be better than the print version?

In some ways I'd have preferred to read it in print so I could enjoy the illustrations and because I found Bruce -Lockart's voice too uniform. However, I think I will now buy a copy of the book.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Puffins! but as puffins are so easy to like I also was amazed by shearwaters.

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

Varied his voice more and not kept going up and down in tone in the same way so he voice almost disappeared repeatedly

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

It would be a nature documentary with Chris Packham or the author I guess, not sure about tag lines

Any additional comments?

Heartbreaking in places, amazing facts and beautifully written. But also horrifying in places to hear about the ways researchers have found out what they know about the birds in the past (techniques are not so cruel these days). It's a siren call for the protection of our oceans.