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Book Review: The Peregrine Returns Is a Joy to Read

Courtesy of the Field Museum website. Art by Peggy Macnamara.

I can’t be the only one who has forgotten how to look up. Whether your heart is heavy with worries or your mind occupied with office bullshit, any cloud of frustration can make downcast eyes a natural state of being. You get through to get through, and any sense of wonder evaporates in such a state of mind. The Field Museum’s latest publication, The Peregrine Returns: The Art and Architecture of an Urban Raptor Recovery, reminds us to look up from time to time to see beyond our cages in order to spot something beautiful.

The book begins with the seeming end of the peregrine falcon. Peregrines are the fastest animal in the world. Able to fly faster than 200 mph, they have taken on a mythical lore in fantasy and fiction.

Due to DDT use and a changing ecological landscape, the last peregrine sited in Illinois was in 1951. It wasn’t until 1973 that peregrines were placed on the U.S. Endangered Species list. While restoration efforts occurred across the country, the book focuses on the Chicago Peregrine Program’s efforts that began in 1985.

Each chapter is only a few pages long, and mostly filled with watercolors of falcons and Chicago’s landscape. The few photos of peregrines only emphasize the necessity of artist Peggy Macnamara dreamy illustrations; she transforms fierce predators into majestic birds. Not only does the art make the birds accessible, but so does the story written by Mary Hennen, assistant collections manager for the Bird Collection at the Field Museum. Hennen doesn’t give a purely expository report on peregrines. Her writing is inviting, succinct, and personal. You can almost hear her laughter in some passages, which makes scientific writing all the more engaging.

This book is perfect for anyone interested in Chicago, birds, or art, especially if they are younger. Macnamara and Hennen open up about their methods as artist and scientist in the notes and do a wonderful job in their descriptions of the peregrine. This could be a great coffee table book, but perhaps an even better bedside read to close out a hard day and remember all the astounding things happening in Chicago on a biological level.

Get your copy here, or come to the Field Museum to see the exhibit dedicated to peregrines that runs until June 24, 2018.

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