Audubon's Elephant: The Story of John James Audubon's Epic Struggle To Publish 'The Birds of America' by Duff Hart-Davis - review by Isabella Tree

Isabella Tree

A Double Elephant

Audubon's Elephant: The Story of John James Audubon's Epic Struggle To Publish 'The Birds of America'

By

Weidenfeld & Nicolson 287pp £18.99 order from our bookshop
 

I have just been wandering around the house with my tape measure trying to find something of similar dimensions to John James Audubon's legendary Birds of America. 'Elephant' is the perfect metaphor, for it is the largest and most spectacular ornithological work ever published. Outlandish, unwieldy, triumphant, it migrated extraordinary distances in search of sustenance and had an inordinately long gestation. Duff Hart-Davis's account covers that critical incubation period hm conception in Louisiana in 1819 to final delivery in London some twenty years later.

'Elephant' is also, more specifically, the name of the size of paper The Birds ofAmerica was printed on. Actually not even quite that - because 'elephant' is 23 X 28 inches and ~udubonw ent one bigger, to 'double elephant': 26 X 40 inches. It is difficult to get an impression

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter