Book Review


  From Utah Birds 19: 30-31, 2006   ©2006 Utah Ornithological Society

To See Every Bird on Earth

To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, a Son, and a Lifetime Obsession. 2005. Dan Koeppel. Hudson Street Press. 288 pp. ISBN-10: 1594630011 (hard cover ed.)

     To See Every Bird on Earth is outdoor writer Dan Koeppel's attempt to understand the family dynamics behind his father's list of more than 7,000 species. I enjoyed parts of this book a great deal, but when I was done, I wished it had been written by Koeppel father rather than Koeppel son. The problem is partly in the birding material. The author is an outdoorsman and a sometimes birder, but I always sensed he was seeing events primarily from outside the birding community—nothing egregious, just an odd phrase here or something small misunderstood somewhere else. I don't mean this harshly; Koeppel is a good writer and clearly did his research, but learning from a book is not the same as learning from field experience.

     Still, I did enjoy the birding material; it's as close to a really good book on world birding as I've read. I learned from Koeppel's description of the notebooks his father prepared in advance of each trip; and I was fascinated by the "low" cost of his father's endeavors – something of the order of $300,000 for 7,000 birds.

     What troubled me most in the book was the time Koeppel spent dissecting his parents' lives trying to understand his father's obsession—and an obsession it surely was—with birds. Honesty about your parents' shortcomings may have some merit, but the discussion of their marital conflicts and infidelities didn't illuminate much. Having read the book I don't understand any more about what motivates a top world lister than I did before. As I have written elsewhere, "too often for my taste [Koeppel] squandered pages dusting skeletons in the family closet." In the end, I don't think the book will be fully satisfying to either those interested in psychology or those interested in birding.

Tom Williams


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