Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Book Club: Mind of the Raven

Mind of the Raven
Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds
Bernd Heinrich
Harper Perennial
New York

I picked up this book from a discount bin at a local bookstore; I like ravens (Corvus corax) and I wanted to learn more about them. This book provides lovely information about raven life-history and behaviour, so I succeeded there. Book Club entries here are not supposed to be book reviews, I will say I enjoyed this book and I would recommend it.

The author is a professor emeritus of biology at the University of Vermont; he is an ecologist by training, with some specialization in ornithology though I don't think he would describe himself as an ornithologist; his interests are too broad for one vertebrate class. At several points in this book I was struck by the evidence of his career as a scientist, such as when he talks about his model of raven behaviour being congruent with the observational data, and his frequent references to the trouble he's had getting some papers published. I have been criticised in the past for not providing a summary of my project or proposal that was written for an "interested non-scientist" or having too much jargon in my attempt at such a piece. It's very difficult to write about science for a non-specialist audience without coming across as condescending or dumbing it down too much. I don't know if Dr. Heinrich succeeds, because I have enough training in ecology to skip right past the words and phrases that presumably lead non-scientists to pause and scratch their heads (or roll their eyes). 

I enjoyed this book, so I think I'll try again to find some more science writing that I can read and evaluate for a different audience (i.e., different from me).

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