Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

A SHADOW ABOVE: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE RAVEN

  • Written by  Jon Wright
  • Published in Books
A SHADOW ABOVE: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE RAVEN
11 Apr
2018
by Joe Shute • Bloomsbury • £16.99 (hardback)

Britain’s ravens are doing very nicely. Numbers have increased by 45 per cent since 1995, Joe Shute informs us, and we can now lay claim to more than 12,000 breeding pairs. As the figures soar, so does the cultural interest, and Shute adds to the literature with the usual blend of fascination and rhapsody. We have always, Shute writes, ‘attempted to explain ourselves through this soulful bird’ (whatever ‘soulful’ is supposed to mean in an avian context), and the raven is the reliable ‘bellwether for the fortunes of our nation’. Shute wonders what this ‘bird of augury’ sees ‘for our own dark times’.

Well, not too much, I shouldn’t have thought. Ravens, like all the corvids, are extremely intelligent – a fact ably explored in Shute’s book – but in the larger scheme of things they remain, well, bird-brained. It seems odd to ask ‘what depth of memory lies in those obsidian eyes?’. This isn’t to say that humanity’s ability to inscribe the raven with meaning should be dismissed: it is a cultural and anthropological topic well worth exploring, and Shute has much of value to say about how the bird has come to embody ‘our best and worst impulses’ and to symbolise ‘our deepest fears’. He also captures our ambivalent attitude towards ravens (a trope that permeates the mythology surrounding the bird): sometimes it is a sign of hope, sometimes the harbinger of death.

The book is at its best, however, when it abandons the epic themes and simply treats ravens as unusually interesting birds. Shute is charmed by the raven’s ‘soaring aerial displays’ and declares that ‘to say they utter mere “kronks” is a fabulously underwhelming description of a raven’s kaleidoscopic range.’ Quite right too.

Click here to purchase A Shadow Above: The Fall and Rise of the Raven from Amazon

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Subscribe to Geographical!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...

Exhibitions

Paris is home to Europe’s largest science museum. Its latest…

Books

by Richard Wrangham • Profile Books  • £25 (hardback/eBook)

Books

by Yasha Levine • Icon Books • £14.99 (paperback)

Books

by Matthew Carr • Hurst • £20 (hardback)

Books

by Seamus O’Brien • Kew Publishing • £40 (hardback)

Books

by Simon Jenkins • Viking • £25 (hardback)

Films

A harrowing and honest portrayal of the working life of…

Films

One man’s recreation of an epic 1930s survival experience deep…

Books

by Tom Harper • The British Library • £30 (hardback)

Books

by Susan Schulten • The British Library • £30 (hardback)

Books

by Ben & Marina Fogle • William Collins • £20 (hardback/eBook)

Books

by Tim Flannery • Allen Lane • £25 (hardback)

Books

by Keith Wilson • £40 (hardback)

Books

by Gaston Dorren • Profile Books • £14.99 (hardback)

Books

by William A. Ewing and Holly Roussell • Thames and…

Books

by Ben Coates • Nicholas Brealey Publishing • £12.99 (paperback)

Books

by Nicholas Crane • Weidenfeld & Nicolson • £12.99 (hardback)

Books

by Mary Robinson • Bloomsbury • £16.99 (hardback)

Books

by Pieter van der Merwe and Jeremy Michell • Bloomsbury • £18.99…