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Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World (Hardcover)
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Central Park birder Christian Cooper takes us beyond the viral video that shocked a nation and into a world of avian adventures, global excursions, and the unexpected lessons you can learn from a life spent looking up.
"Wondrous . . . captivating.”—Ed Yong, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of An Immense World
Christian Cooper is a self-described “Blerd” (Black nerd), an avid comics fan and expert birder who devotes every spring to gazing upon the migratory birds that stop to rest in Central Park, just a subway ride away from where he lives in New York City. While in the park one morning in May 2020, Cooper was engaged in the birdwatching ritual that had been a part of his life since he was ten years old when what might have been a routine encounter with a dog walker exploded age-oldracial tensions. Cooper’s viral video of the incident would send shock waves through the nation.
In Better Living Through Birding, Cooper tells the story of his extraordinary life leading up to the now-infamous incident in Central Park and shows how a life spent looking up at the birds prepared him, in the most uncanny of ways, to be a gay, Black man in America today. From sharpened senses that work just as well at a protest as in a park to what a bird like the Common Grackle can teach us about self-acceptance, Better Living Through Birding exults in the pleasures of a life lived in pursuit of the natural world and invites you to discover them yourself.
Equal parts memoir, travelogue, and primer on the art of birding, this is Cooper’s story of learning to claim and defend space for himself and others like him, from his days at Marvel Comics introducing the first gay storylines to vivid and life-changing birding expeditions through Africa, Australia, the Americas, and the Himalayas. Better Living Through Birding recounts Cooper’s journey through the wonderful world of birds and what they can teach us about life, if only we would look and listen.
About the Author
Christian Cooper is a science and comics writer and editor and the host and consulting producer of Extraordinary Birder on National Geographic. One of Marvel’s first openly gay writers and editors, Cooper introduced the first gay male character in Star Trek, in the Starfleet Academy series, which was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award. He also introduced the first openly lesbian character for Marvel and created and authored Queer Nation: The Online Gay Comic. Based in New York City, he is on the board of directors for NYC Audubon.
“Christian Cooper’s book is every bit as wondrous and captivating as the birds he so adores—a joyous tour across subcultures and continents, and a masterful account of a life full of song, full of heart, and fully lived.”—Ed Yong, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of An Immense World
“An uplifting and inspiring read. Christian Cooper is a national treasure.”—Van Jones, New York Times bestselling author and host of The Van Jones Show
“Utterly captivating, a marvel of storytelling . . . Christian Cooper’s memoir is tender, honest, funny, wise, poignant, piercing, and infused with brilliant observations on the nature of birds, humans, and his own extraordinary personal journey.”—Jennifer Ackerman, New York Times bestselling author of The Genius of Birds
“I cannot think of a better guide to teach us all to slow down, look, listen, and grab our binoculars than Cooper, a self-described Black queer nerd, who delivers the best nature bath ever, in lyrical, lush, relatable prose.”—Brittney Cooper, PhD, New York Times bestselling author of Eloquent Rage
“Funny, brave, kind, and eagle-eyed, Cooper brings into focus not only the spectacular winged creatures he loves, but also the glorious messiness, prejudice, courage, and passion of our own species—and how birding can show us all how to lead better lives.”—Sy Montgomery, author of How to Be a Good Creature
“Read this book if you want to discover the joys, struggles, and magic of birding, but even more because it’s a book about the joys, struggles, and magic of life. Christian Cooper is a brilliant storyteller who manages to pack history, science, and sociology—with just the right amount of laugh-out-loud sass—into his powerful memoir. This book soars!”—Juli Berwald, author of Spineless
“Christian Cooper writes with passion and honesty—even about that Central Park run-in and media storm, which he handled with aplomb. Birders are fortunate to have Mr. Cooper as a spokesperson for the modern age.”—Noah Strycker, author of Birding Without Borders
“In addressing the Central Park incident, [Cooper] elegantly frames it within both his own bird-focused narrative and a broader conversation about racism and police brutality. . . . This rewarding memoir adds heft and heart to the headlines.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)