The Genius of Birds

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by Jennifer Ackerman, 2017. Paperback, 352 pages.

A New York Times national bestseller in both hardcover and paperback, The Genius of Birds has been published in twenty-five languages. It was a finalist for the 2017 National Academies Communication Book Award and was long-listed for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. The book was named one of the 10 best nonfiction books of 2016 by the Wall Street Journal, a "best book of the year" by The Spectator, a "nature book of the year" by the London Sunday Times, and a "best science book of 2016" by the National Public Radio program Science Friday.

For decades, people have written off birds as largely witless, driven solely by instinct, and their brains as primitive, capable of only the simplest mental processes. But it is not so. In recent years, science has discovered that birds are much, much more intelligent than we ever supposed. Ravens, crows, jays, even hummingbirds do things that are just plain smart—and funny and sneaky and deceitful. They craft and use tools, sing to one another in regional accents, make complex navigational decisions without asking for directions, remember where they put things using intricate geometrical concepts, understand the mental state of another individual, josh around with windshield wipers, and use rolling car tires to crack walnuts, all sorts of intelligent behavior that we can see in evidence in our own backyards, at our birdfeeders, in parks, city streets, and country skies, and all with a packet of brain so tiny it would fit inside a walnut. This book explores the new view of birds as cunning, playful, clever, artistic, deceptive, and socially and technically adept. It is packed with interesting new science that appeals to a broad range of readers, including sophisticated bird lovers, nature enthusiasts, and anyone interested in the brain or animal behavior.

About the Author

Jennifer Ackerman has been writing about science, nature, and health for more than three decades. Her work aims to explain and interpret science for a lay audience and to explore the riddles of the natural world, blending scientific knowledge with strong storytelling. She has won numerous awards and fellowships, including a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a Silver Medal Award for Nature Writing from the International Regional Magazine Association, and fellowships at the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College (now the Radcliffe Institute), Brown College at the University of Virginia, and the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University.

Jennifer's most recent book, What an Owl Knows: The new science of the world’s most enigmatic birds, was an instant New York Times bestseller. Her previous book, The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think, was a finalist for for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award and was nominated for numerous other awards. Her New York Times bestseller, The Genius of Birds, was named one of the 10 best nonfiction books of 2016 by The Wall Street Journal, a Best Science Book of 2016 by National Public Radio's "Science Friday," a Best Book of the Year by The Spectator and the National Post, and a Nature Book of the Year by the London Sunday Times. It was a finalist for the 2017 National Academies Communication Book Award and for the 2017 Smart Book Award in Poland. Jennifer’s essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, Scientific American, National Geographic, Natural History, Parade, and many other publications.