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H Is for Hawk

(13 customer reviews)


by Helen Macdonald


One of the New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year

One of Slate’s 50 Best Nonfiction Books of the Last 25 Years

ON MORE THAN 25 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR LISTS: including TIME (#1 Nonfiction Book), NPR, O, The Oprah Magazine (10 Favorite Books), Vogue (Top 10), Vanity Fair, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle (Top 10), Miami Herald, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Minneapolis Star Tribune (Top 10), Library Journal (Top 10), Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Slate, Shelf Awareness, Book Riot, Amazon (Top 20)**

The instant New York Times bestseller and award-winning sensation, Helen Macdonald’s story of adopting and raising one of nature’s most vicious predators has soared into the hearts of millions of readers worldwide. Fierce and feral, her goshawk Mabel’s temperament mirrors Helen’s own state of grief after her father’s death, and together raptor and human “discover the pain and beauty of being alive” (People). H Is for Hawk is a genre-defying debut from one of our most unique and transcendent voices.


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About this book

361 Pages
7 - 8 Hours to read
98k Total words


One of the New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year

One of Slate’s 50 Best Nonfiction Books of the Last 25 Years

ON MORE THAN 25 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR LISTS: including TIME (#1 Nonfiction Book), NPR, O, The Oprah Magazine (10 Favorite Books), Vogue (Top 10), Vanity Fair, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle (Top 10), Miami Herald, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Minneapolis Star Tribune (Top 10), Library Journal (Top 10), Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Slate, Shelf Awareness, Book Riot, Amazon (Top 20)

The instant New York Times bestseller and award-winning sensation, Helen Macdonald’s story of adopting and raising one of nature’s most vicious predators has soared into the hearts of millions of readers worldwide. Fierce and feral, her goshawk Mabel’s temperament mirrors Helen’s own state of grief after her father’s death, and together raptor and human “discover the pain and beauty of being alive” (People). H Is for Hawk is a genre-defying debut from one of our most unique and transcendent voices.

Grove Atlantic; March 2015
ISBN: 9780802191670
Title: H Is for Hawk
Author: Helen Macdonald
Imprint: Grove Press
Language: English

In The Press

* Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
* Shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize in Nonfiction
* Finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Award in Nonfiction
* The Costa Book of the Year
* Winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize

“Breathtaking . . . Helen Macdonald renders an indelible impression of a raptor’s fierce essenceand her ownwith words that mimic feathers, so impossibly pretty we don’t notice their astonishing engineering.” Vicki Constantine Croke, New York Times Book Review (cover review)

“Helen Macdonald’s beautiful and nearly feral book, H Is for Hawk, reminds us that excellent nature writing can lay bare some of the intimacies of the wild world as well. Her book is so good that, at times, it hurt me to read it. It draws blood, in ways that seem curative. . . . [An] instant classic.” Dwight Garner, New York Times

“Extraordinary . . . indelible . . . [it contains] one of the most memorable passages I’ve read this year, or for that matter this decade . . . Mabel is described so vividly she becomes almost physically present on the page.” Lev Grossman, TIME

“Captivating and beautifully written, it’s a meditation on the bond between beasts and humans and the pain and beauty of being alive.” People (Book of the Week)

“One of the loveliest things you’ll read this year . . . You’ll never see a bird overhead the same way again.” Jason Sheeler, Entertainment Weekly

“[A] singular book that combines memoir and landscape, history and falconry . . . it is not like anything I’ve ever read . . . what Macdonald tells us so eloquently in her fine memoir [is] that transformation of our docile or resigned lives can be had if we only look up into the world.” Susan Straight, Los Angeles Times

“Had there been an award for the best new book that defies every genre, I imagine it would have won that too. . . . Coherent, complete, and riveting, perhaps the finest nonfiction I read in the past year.” Kathryn Schulz, New Yorker

“The art of Macdonald’s book is in the way that she weaves together various kinds of falling apartthe way she loops one unraveling thread of meaning into another. . . . What’s lovely about [it] is the clarity with which she sees both the inner and outer worlds that she lives in.” Caleb Crain, New York Review of Books

“One of the most riveting encounters between a human being and an animal ever written.” Simon Worrall, National Geographic

“Assured, honest and raw . . . a soaring wonder of a book.” Daneet Steffens, Boston Globe

“An elegantly written amalgam of nature writing, personal memoir, literary portrait and an examination of bereavement. . . . It illuminates unexpected things in unexpected ways.” Guy Gavriel Kay, Washington Post

“To categorize this work as merely memoir, nature writing or spiritual writing would understate [Macdonald’s] achievement . . . her prose glows and burns.” Karin Altenberg, Wall Street Journal

“Dazzling.” Kate Guadagnino, Vogue

“Unsparing, fierce . . . a superior accomplishment. There’s not a line here that rings false; every insight is hard won . . . Macdonald has found the ideal balance between art and truth.” David Laskin, Seattle Times

“One of the best books about nature that I’ve ever read. Macdonald’s wonderful gift for language and her keen observations bring pleasure to every page.” Karen Sandstrom, Cleveland Plain Dealer

“[With] sumptuously poetic prose . . . there is deft interplay between agony and ecstasy, elegy and rebirth, wildness and domesticity, alongside subtle reminders about the cruelty of nature and our necessary faith in humanity.” Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“One of a kind . . . Macdonald is a poet, her language rich and taut. . . . As she descends into a wild, nearly mad connection with her hawk, her words keep powerful track. . . . [She] brings her observer’s eye and poet’s voice to the universal experience of sorrow and loss.” Barbara Brotman, Chicago Tribune

“A heart-poundingly good read.” Helen W. Mallon, Philadelphia Inquirer

“Incandescent . . . glorious, passionate, and heartbreaking.” Sy Montgomery, Orion

“A triumph.” Nick Willoughby, Salon

“The hawk-book’s form is perfect. It prickles your skin the way nature can when you are surprised by an animal in your path. Some books are not books but visitations, and this one has crossed its share of thresholds before arriving here, to an impossible middle perch between wilderness and culture, past and present, life and death.” Katy Waldman, Slate

“A genre-busting dazzler of a book, worthy of the near-universal accolades that it’s received so far.” Elisabeth Donnelly, Flavorwire

“Extraordinary . . . Macdonald elegantly weaves multitudinous and extremely complex issues into a single work of seamless prose.” Lucy Scholes, The Daily Beast

“The echoes of myth in Macdonald’s writing, however subtle and unobtrusive, lend her book an emotional weight usually reserved only for literature, and a grace only for poetry. But this is one of the book’s great achievements: to belong to several genres at once, and to succeed at all of them.” Madeleine Larue, The Millions

“[Macdonald’s] writingabout soil and weather, myth and history, pain and its slow easingretains the qualities of [her hawk] Mabel’s wild heart, and the commanding scope and piercing accuracy of her hawk’s eye.” Joanna Scutts, Newsday

“Brutal yet redemptive . . . a real stunner.” Alexis Burling, The Oregonian

“Gorgeous.” Diane Rehm, The Diane Rehm Show

“A wonder both of nature and of meditative writing.” Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air with Terry Gross

“To read Helen Macdonald’s new memoir is to have every cell of your body awake and alive.” Robin Young, Here and Now

“In this profoundly inquiring and wholly enrapturing memoir, Macdonald exquisitely and unforgettably entwines misery and astonishment, elegy and natural history, human and hawk.” Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling griefwith a goshawk. . . . Writing with breathless urgency . . . Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment. Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and movingand likely to become a classic in either genre.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A unique and beautiful book with a searing emotional honesty, and descriptive language that is unparalleled in modern literature.” Costa Book Award citation

H is for Hawk is a work of great spirit and wonder, illuminated equally by terror and desire. Each beautiful sentence is capable of taking a reader’s breath. The book is built of feather and bone, intelligence and blood, and a vulnerability so profound as to conjure that vulnerability’s shadow, which is the great power of honesty. It is not just a definitive work on falconry; it is a definitive work on humanity, and all that can and cannot be possessed.” Rick Bass

“A lovely touching book about a young woman grieving over the death of her father becoming rejuvenated by training one of the roughest, most difficult creatures in the heavens, the goshawk.” Jim Harrison

“In addition to being an excellent memoir of loss and grief, H is for Hawk is a wonderful exploration of how birds of prey can function as metaphor to produce art and a roadmap for human lives. Read it and enrich your life.” Dan O’Brien

“Rich with the poetry of ideation, the narrative flows through the author’s deeply textured story of personal loss like a mountain wind, swirling seamlessly through fields of literature, biology, natural history, and the art of hunting with hawks. Readers might do well to absorb this book a bite at a timebut be prepared for a full meal.” Lynn Schooler

“A beautiful book on so many levels. Macdonald fearlessly probes each facet of grief and traverses its wilderness to reach redemption. But most beautiful of all is the complex, layered bond that builds between her and Mabel, her hawk. Who would have guessed that human and bird could share so much?” Jan DeBlieu

“In this elegant synthesis of memoir and literary sleuthing . . . Macdonald describes in beautiful, thoughtful prose how she comes to terms with death in new and startling ways.” Publishers Weekly

“A dazzling piece of work: deeply affecting, utterly fascinating and blazing with love . . . a deeply human work shot through, like cloth of gold, with intelligence and compassionan exemplar of the mysterious alchemy by which suffering can be transmuted into beauty. I will be surprised if a better book than H is for Hawk is published this year.” Melissa Harrison, Financial Times

“More than any other writer I know, including her beloved [T.H.] White, Macdonald is able to summon the mental world of a bird of prey . . . she extends the boundaries of nature writing. As a naturalist she has somehow acquired her bird’s laser-like visual acuity. As a writer she combines a lexicographer’s pleasure in words as carefully curated objects with an inventive passion for new words or for ways of releasing fresh effects from the old stock. . . . Macdonald looks set to revive the genre.” Mark Cocker, Guardian

“A talon-sharp memoir that will thrill and chill you to the bone . . . Macdonald has just the right blend of the scientist and the poet, of observing on the one hand and feeling on the other.” Craig Brown, Daily Mail

“What [Macdonald] has achieved is a very rare thing in literaturea completely realistic account of a human relationship with animal consciousness. . . . Her training of Mabel has the suspense and tension of the here and now. You are gripped by the slightest movement, by the turn of every feather. It is a soaring performance and Mabel is the star.” John Carey, Sunday Times

“A well-wrought book, one part memoir, one part gorgeous evocation of the natural world and one part literary meditation . . . lit with flashes of grace, a grace that sweeps down to the reader to hold her wrist tight with beautiful, terrible claws. The discovery of the season.” Erica Wagner, Economist

“The magnificent H is for Hawk [has] grabbed me by its talons . . . [it’s] nature writing, but not as you know it. Astounding.” Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller

“It sings. I couldn’t stop reading.” Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and A Spot of Bother

“This beautiful book is at once heartfelt and clever in the way it mixes elegy with celebration: elegy for a father lost, celebration of a hawk found – and in the finding also a celebration of countryside, forbears of one kind and another, life-in-death. At a time of very distinguished writing about the relationship between human kind and the environment, it is immediately pre-eminent.” Andrew Motion, author of In the Blood

“A deep, dark work of terrible beauty that will open fissures in the stoniest heart. . . . Macdonald is a survivor . . . she has produced one of the most eloquent accounts of bereavement you could hope to read . . . A grief memoir with wings.” The Bookseller

“A book made from the heart that goes to the heart . . . It combines old and new nature and human nature with great originality. No one who has looked up to see a bird of prey cross the sky could read it and not have their life shifted.” Tim Dee, author of The Running Sky

“The most magical book I have ever read.” Olivia Laing, author of The Trip to Echo Springs

Additional information


Hardcover, Paperback

13 reviews for H Is for Hawk

  1. roz morris

    Some of my favourite books have been memoirs of a challenging relationship with an animal – Jane Shilling’s Fox in the Cupboard, Gavin Maxwell’s otter oeuvre. H is for Hawk belongs alongside them.If that description ‘relationship with an animal’ sounds fluffy or cosy to you, think again. These animals aren’t pets. They are forces to be negotiated with, embodiments of the wild that pitch you into a different way of life and living. You don’t invite an otter, a horse or a goshawk to be your friend. You go to their world. You tune into their mind, their instincts, their priorities, their joys, their fears – and in so doing, you find the places where you are wild yourself. And that wildness doesn’t mean uncomplicated freedom. Its values have little in common with human concerns. It is a stripped-away state of being, a universe of survival and struggle, where trust might be life or death.In H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald’s journey has added significance. She acquired her goshawk when in the depths of mourning after her father died suddenly. So the hawk is a voyage into a land of death, for not only is her hawk – who she names Mabel – red in tooth and claw, she is a mysterious, highly tuned instrument of death. The only fluffiness in this book is the down on the new-born chicks that are Mabel’s staple food.Macdonald does not shy away from this. A lifelong falconer, she defines her world early in the book, banishing any romantic notions of the falconry sport when she writes of a hawk ‘murdering a pigeon’. In the same spirit, this book is raw in emotional tone too. As we see what hawks do, we see what grief does. It strips the world to a race of life and death, to basic needs, to negotiations with a creature that does not understand words or language but operates in a key of hunger, speed and instinct. Mabel has to be kept on a careful edge of hunger and satiation in order to hunt and fly. If Helen feeds her too much she won’t have the appetite or prowess to perform. Too little, and she becomes desperate and aggressive.And despite her falconry experience, Macdonald finds the training a harrowing process. Establishing a relationship with this creature is an ordeal of patience, nerves, and a challenge to everything she finds certain in her life – which, in her bereaved state, is very little.As well as a passage through the valley of mourning, this book is also an exploration of a talismanic work from Macdonald’s own past, The Goshawk by TH White. She first read it as a child, and was appalled by White’s apparent ignorance, clumsiness and cruelty as his time with his hawk did not go well. Nevertheless, she has read it to shreds over the years, first because there were few books for a falcon-mad girl to read, but latterly because she saw something else. It wasn’t about hawks, it was about a man, a homosexual, emotionally scarred man who was struggling to tame his own nature. Parts of her narrative examine White’s life, decoding this figure whose book had been such a presence from her childhood days. And just as White was destabilised by his experience taming hawks, Macdonald finds herself pushed to desperation. Taming the bird becomes the centre of her life, and not just for its own sake. It is a rite of reckoning, of approaching a more inaccessible, unavoidable inner process.I haven’t yet mentioned Macdonald’s prose – and I must. It is sublime, haunting, transforming, written with the heart of a poet. I could quote the entire book if I started picking choice passages, so I’ll make do with just this, her description of walking the fields with Mabel flying behind her ‘like a personal angel’.And so this book will stay with you, as a challenging, mesmerising messenger.

  2. JAK

    I pity the fool who read this book on the basis of the favorable reviews that assured you , this is a great book, you don’t need to be interested in hawks.I read it because I am interested in hawks . If I hadn’t been there is no way I could have finished it.McDonald has lost her father and is deeply depressed. In this context, she decided to train a gos hawk. Goshawks are apparently harder to train than falcons and much of the material dealing with her hawk is interesting. Unfortunately she is obsessed with a book by T. H. White on his experience training a goshawk. Now it makes perfect sense that she would mention this book ..What is astonishing is that a large part of the book is taken up discussing T.H. White and his book.It’s not one section of the book, every few pages she starts up on White. This is very boring and comes across as padding.White is best known as the author of the Once and Future King a book I hated because it struck me as an extended exercise in tweeness.Bottom line- there is slim interesting book on hawks here imprisoned in a long book dealing with T. H.White and the authors depression.If you like that kind of thing, you’ll like this.

  3. prisrob

    Falconry has always been a fuzzy business for me. The more I read about it, the more I realized that falconers reside in an unusual life and journey. I had heard of this book, ‘H Is For Hawk’, and finally succumbed. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be so drawn into the world of Hawks.Helen Macdonald begins her journey by describing the phone call she receives from her mother. Her beloved father, a Fleet Street photojournalist, had died from a heart attack. She and her father had a wonderful relationship, and she accompanied him on many of his assignments. Photographing the wilds, the woods, the daily life, the unusual,how would she ever recover from this wonderful man’s death? In the past, she and her father had followed Hawks, and in particular the goshawk. After his death, MacDonald finds herself, traveling with a friend, in Scotland, waiting for the arrival of her own goshawk to raise and train. She names it Mabel, and we begin with MacDonald the long, love affair of the training of Mabel.What a fascinating, exhilarating ride we take. Hawks are bigger and more feral than falcons and training one is Difficult. As MacDonal tells us, “Hawks don’t wipe their beaks, they feak. When they defecate they mute,” Her days are soon taken up with jesses (leather straps) and sails (wings). Meat is the decoy to the training, patience, long periods of time with your arm extended as Mabel sits, and MacDonald tries to become no one, silent and not there. She succeeds, and the stories of MacDonald and Mabel are remarkable. I became so enamored with this book, it was difficult to put down.As MacDonald began to recover she brought more people into her life. Mabel was the meeting ground, and the fascination of this hawk broke the ground for allowing friends into her life, I cannot exclaim enough the superb writing and the teaching and learning we undergo in this book. Who would have thought?Highly Recommended. prisrob 03-27-15

  4. Mom2BoysWF

    OMG this book was the worst I have read in a very long time. I tried to like it, as I also lost my father and wanted to relate to Helen Macdonald. But her obsession with hawks and TH White was truly over the top. I wanted to follow how she worked through her grief, but every time I read a truly beautiful passage, she would wisk me back to something in TH White’s history that made me want to scream. If I wanted to read about TH White, I’d get a biography on TH White! There are some lovely moments in this book if you can find them…but it might take more than a hawk to maintain an interest.

  5. PhyllisJL

    I didn’t finish this book, which is rare for me. It’s a thinly veiled biography of the write T.H. White. I wonder why the author just didn’t write a straightforward bio. The part that’s not about White is a non-stop whine of the pitifulness of her life; her feelings of isolation from others. Her only meaningful relationship apparently was with her father. I finally gave up two-thirds through. I’m not sure why the reviews were so over the top. Maybe because it fits in with current culture that some else is always to blame for our personal misery. I bought both the audible and kindle versions. The narration of the audible is excellent; it’s the story that’s bad. I also should admit that while I’m love animals and share my home with two rescue cats and a rescue dog, I do not believe that birds should be caged and used for our purposes. I was surprised by how that part of the book repulsed me.

  6. Bonnie Brody

    Helen Macdonald’s ‘H is for Hawk’ is an introspective and profound memoir. Shortly after her father’s death, Ms. Macdonald decides to acquire and train a goshawk. Since she was a child, she’s been fascinated with falconry and falconers. Now, in the midst of the grief and anger she is feeling, she decides that what she needs in order to move on is connecting to a bird, a falcon known for its independence and fierceness.Ms. Macdonald travels from England to Scotland in order to get her hawk which she names Mabel. Initially, the goal of the trainer is to be invisible to the hawk, a non-entity. As the training progresses, the presence of the trainer is more important and this process of training is explored in depth.Ms. Macdonald’s depression and grief are so profound that there are days where she feels immobile and filled with despair. Her friends worry about her and when they come by to check up on her they are met with either a disconnected person or someone filled with anger. This inability to modulate her emotions is brought to the test as she trains Mabel for there is no room for diminished or excess emotion. Training a goshawk is an art, one of will and tenacity.As Ms. MacDonald tells her story of perseverance and ultimately love for Mabel, she intersperses the chapters with the life and story of T.H.White, a great falconer in his own right but a tortured and viscerally unhappy man. The author brings in some of the works of Freud, Winnicott, Phillip Pullman, Bresson, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Melanie Klein, William Blake and other greats as she struggles to find the right way to express her most exquisitely rich feelings.This is a book to be savored and read slowly, both for its richness and the pain it evokes. I needed time to process what I read and give myself time to feel the undercurrents of this multi-layered and painful memoir. Ultimately, while Ms. Macdonald initially survives, she shares with us the process by which she comes to thrive. For this I thank her.

  7. Roger Brunyate

    I almost never read non-fiction; I am not sure I know how to appraise it. But I can recognize good writing. Try this: second page of the book, Macdonald saying that few people will have seen a hawk making a kill… “But maybe you have: maybe you’ve glanced out of the window and seen there, on the lawn, a bloody great hawk murdering a pigeon, or a blackbird, or a magpie, and it looks the hugest, most impressive piece of wildness you have ever seen, like someone’s tipped a snow leopard into your kitchen and you find it eating the cat.” Or again, on the next page: “Have you ever watched a deer walking out from cover? They step, stop, and stay, motionless, nose to the air, looking and smelling. A nervous twitch might run down their flanks. And then, reassured that all is safe, they ankle their way out of the brush to graze.” Such a simple direct style, almost conversational. And then, out of nowhere, she slips in the extraordinary image of the snow leopard, or the unexpectedly perfect verb, “ankle.” Helen Macdonald, naturalist, historian, research fellow at Cambridge, writes in the great tradition of British nature writing, with a keen eye and fine-point pen. I doubt I will see writing this good again this year, whether in fiction or non-fiction.On one level, Macdonald’s book is the record of a season spent training a goshawk that she names Mabel. She is no stranger to falconry, having been fascinated by birds since she was a child. As a historian, she has read all the literature on this aristocratic sport. She has trained sparrowhawks and falcons from her late teens. But the goshawk is larger and rarer, with a reputation for being both more dangerous and more temperamental. She orders one from Northern Ireland and meets the seller off the boat on the bleak Scottish coast. “I grabbed the hood from the box and turned to the hawk. Her beak was open, her hackles raised; her wild eyes were the colour of sun on white paper, and they stared because the whole world had fallen into them at once.” The saga of her attempt to enter into some kind of relationship with this bird — patient waiting, sleepless nights, small triumphs, and devastating setbacks — reads as an emotional roller-coaster described with the precision of a scientist. Yet what she is describing is herself as much as the bird; at times, she virtually becomes the goshawk, seeing the world through her eyes, losing the ability to communicate with other human beings.The book is also a halting dialogue with the souls of two men, both dead. One is her father, a news photographer whose sudden death sends her into a tailspin; the book might almost be called “The Year of Magical Hawking.” I found it just as powerful as Joan Didion’s memoir and, for me at least, much closer to home. It is clear that this father-daughter relationship must have been an extraordinary one; the boy who would attempt to bring some order to the destruction of WW2 by obsessively listing the planes returning to Biggin Hill now teaching his daughter the patience required to observe the other kinds of aerial fighters, but also the wonder and variety of the earthbound world all around her.The other man is the English writer T. H. White, who would become famous for his recreations of the Arthurian legend in THE SWORD IN THE STONE and THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING. In between quitting his job as a prep-school master and achieving fame as an author, White moved to a cottage in the country and bought a goshawk which he attempted to train, writing about it many years later in his book THE GOSHAWK. It is, however, a book about a falconer who does everything wrong, treating the bird with an unintentional cruelty that leads only to failure. But Macdonald looks beyond the failure to the psychopathy behind it, the tragedy of a lonely boy treated cruelly by his colonial parents and cane-wielding schoolmasters to the point where he abhors violence yet lacks examples of love with which to replace it. Her portrait of White is extraordinarily perceptive, but it is her own life she must deal with. And here at least, she begins to succeed, as in this final quotation, from late in the book:”I put White’s book on the shelves, make myself a cup of tea. I’m in a contemplative mood. I’d brought the hawk into my world and then I pretended I lived in hers. Now it feels different: we share our lives happily in all their separation. I look down on my hands. There are scars on them now. Thin white lines. One is from her talons when she was fractious with hunger; it feels like a warning made flesh. Another is a blackthorn rip from the time I’d pushed through a hedge to find the hawk I thought I’d lost. And there were other scars, too, but they were not visible. They were the ones she’d helped mend, not make.”

  8. A Rochester

    Macdonald has written an interesting book. She has a story to tell and she has done a good job. The fact that the subject is not suspenseful, thrilling or moving is explained by the subject matter. The writer is a troubled person, she is going through a difficult time, grieving the loss of her father. I felt she was insightful to follow her dream at this time. It was a unique way of handling her grief, she didn’t just curl onto a ball and sob. I admire her decision to get the bird, yet I don’t think it served her well. Mentally she escaped into a more troubling lifestyle. The time, pressure and solitude it took to train her goshawk was not the best medicine. Yet she realized she was depressed and went for medication and treatment. Many people fail to take this necessary step. Macdonald’s writing brought the hawk Mabel to life. I was with her every step as she trained, related, worried and loved her bird. I was only mildly interested in the parelle story of T H White and his failure as a goshawk owner. The story was slow to start and had too much data and history at the beginning. I nearly quit reading but finally got to the heart of the story. This subject is rare, therefore it held my interest and I learned a lot I have respect for the people who choose this way of life, it is not a hobby, it is much more . MacDonald regretted that she had no way to balance her one sided life with Mabel.

  9. Sonpoppie

    ‘Looking for goshawks is like looking for grace: it comes, but not often, and you don’t get to say when or how,’ — reading this book is like reading for grace — and it does come often through the text.A deeply moving and profound experience of grief, healing, observation of nature and self. MacDonald soars with her goshawk. I walk daily in a different landscape, in a different country, but this story was so with me, that when I heard and felt the rush of wings past my shoulder, as my eye caught the swift movement into the branches of a pine tree, I knew it was a goshawk; this time an African goshawk in a Cape Town forest.What she writes is profoundly truth, the shared human experience. ‘I’d turned myself into a hawk – taken all the traits of goshawks in the books and made them my own’ — she turned me into a hawk; I found myself thinking, seeing, imagining hawk all day long.MacDonald challenges our notions of how we kill, how we treat the environment — ‘Hunting makes you animal, but the death of an animal makes you human’ and ‘Hawk populations were in freefall from agricultural pesticides. Skeletal elm trees were chopped down and burned. The otters were gone, rivers were poisoned, there were guillemots drowning in oiled seas. Everything was sick. And we’d be next. I knew it.’But it’s the archaeology of grief she explores so beautifully — ‘It is not ordered. It is more like earth under a spade, turning up things you had forgotten. Surprising things come to light: not simply memories, but states of mind, emotions, older ways of seeing the world.’She reminds me — ‘What happened over the years of my expeditions as a child was a slow transformation of my landscape over time into what naturalists call a local patch, glowing with memory and meaning’ — how the landscape that I imbue with meaning has a complicated history. That the stories I have are different to the stories, myths of others and that these myths often hurt. Her thoughts are relevant to my landscape too — ‘I think of all the complicated histories that landscapes have, and how easy it is to wipe them away, put easier, safer histories in their place.’And I am guilty too. ‘I’d wanted to escape history by running to the hawk. Forget the darkness, forget Göring’s hawks, forget death, forget all the things that had been before. But my flight was wrong. Worse than wrong. It was dangerous. I must fight, always, against forgetting …’Finally how relevant this is now especially as we wrestle with competing ideas of history and monuments. How we long for a good man — ‘A good man’s example always does instruct the ignorant and lessens their rage, little by little through the ages, until the spirit of the waters is content …’This book helps me reach towards, inwards and outwards to the good woman and man.

  10. Connie Carrboro

    Few books I have read are as hyper-focused as this story of one woman’s long rise from grief by means of raising and training and dedicating her life to a goshawk. The narcissism is only partly compensated for by beautiful and impeccable (I needed a dictionary several times) descriptions of nature and snippets from time to time about medieval hawking and the history of hawking. McDonald attempts to connect her own fascination with her goshawk to the life of T H White. White is a fascinating character and I found those sections interesting, but I did not find them well-integrated into the main narrative. The author’s descriptions of her father were the only concessions to warm loving feelings for any human being. He was the most important (perhaps the only important ) in her life, and she seems to be much like him. I found that the book ended rather abruptly.

  11. Vicki Constantine Croke, New York Times Book Review (cover review)

    “Breathtaking . . . Helen Macdonald renders an indelible impression of a raptor’s fierce essenceand her ownwith words that mimic feathers, so impossibly pretty we don’t notice their astonishing engineering.”

  12. Dwight Garner, New York Times

    “Helen Macdonald’s beautiful and nearly feral book, H Is for Hawk, reminds us that excellent nature writing can lay bare some of the intimacies of the wild world as well. Her book is so good that, at times, it hurt me to read it. It draws blood, in ways that seem curative. . . . [An] instant classic.”

  13. Lev Grossman, TIME

    “Extraordinary . . . indelible . . . [it contains] one of the most memorable passages I’ve read this year, or for that matter this decade . . . Mabel is described so vividly she becomes almost physically present on the page.”

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