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Distributed for Reaktion Books


With its distinctive, comical walk, large bill, and association with the conservation movement, the pelican has attained iconic status. But as Barbara Allen reveals, this graceful skimmer of ocean waves has a checkered history. Originally classed as “unclean” in the King James Bible, the legend of the compassionate pelican was later appropriated by Christianity to symbolize Christ’s sacrifice. This majestic bird, gifted to British royalty in 1664, has been celebrated in art and literature, from Shakespeare’s King Lear to the writing of Edward Lear, and is the holder of three Guinness World Records. The pelican’s anatomy has been copied for paper plane construction, aircraft design, and in 3D imaging, and its resilience is as remarkable as its make-up: the pelican has rallied against threats of extinction, habitat destruction, and environmental disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A must-read book for all bird enthusiasts, Barbara Allen’s Pelican weaves together wildlife trivia, historical tales, and the latest research to provide an engaging, many-feathered account of this emblematic bird.

208 pages | 80 color plates, 20 halftones | 5 1/4 x 7 1/2


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"Allen provides an eclectic overview of an iconic bird, revered by naturalists and the laity, important in Christian iconography, and of interest for understanding popular culture and history in general. Accompanied by 100 illustrations, 78 in color, and well-researched throughout, Allen’s engaging text is enhanced by authoritative chapter notes, a good bibliography, a pelican 'timeline,' and other apparatus. Devoting justified attention to the importance of the pelican as a symbol of 'charity and the virtue of self-sacrifice,' especially as personified by Jesus Christ, Allen also gives appropriate attention to environmental challenges faced by pelicans, such as the effects of oil spills and untoward persecution by fisherman. . . . With its perhaps unprecedented focus on a topic of such wide appeal, this volume will be valued by students of various histories: natural, art, religious, literary, geographical, and cultural, both general and European. Highly recommended."


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