Almost a year ago to the day I began a week-long series of posts on the peregrine falcon. I was inspired to do that by reading The Peregrine, an account by John A. Baker of a year he spent watching peregrines hunt in Essex. I said at the time that it was among the best nature books I ever read. Let me revise that judgment: it is the best nature book I’ve ever read. And you’ll want to read it, too, if you have any interest in nature, or birds, or simply in beautiful prose. I gave a sample of Baker’s prose in each of the posts I made during Peregrine Week. Do have a look; I know of no naturalist or scientist who writes better
The book has been hard to find: it was long out of print but was republished in 2004 as a New York Review of Books Classic. Baker had one other book, The Hill of Summer, which is out of print (it’s not even in my university library), and which I’m almost afraid to read for fear it could never come close to the quality of The Peregrine. The Hill of Summer appears to be a more general treatment of Essex and natural history. Baker also had one published essay, “On the Essex Coast,” which appeared in RSPB Birds in 1971. I haven’t read that one, either.
I’m really pleased, then, to see that all of Baker’s published and unpublished writings—including his diary—plus some biographical information (I could never find out much about him) has been compiled and will be issued by HarperCollins in one volume on September 1: The Hill of Summer & Diaries: The Complete Works of J. A. Baker.
Trust me, you can’t make a better investment for $13.57. It’s also a perfect gift for nature lovers; I’ve given out several copies of The Peregrine myself, and, without exception, the recipients have loved it.