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Distributed for Reaktion Books


Our frequent urban companion, cooing in the eaves of train stations or scavenging underfoot for breadcrumbs and discarded French fries, the pigeon has many detractors—and even some fans. Written out of love for and fascination with this humble yet important bird, Barbara Allen’s Pigeon explores its cultural significance, as well as its similarities to and differences from its close counterpart, the dove. While the dove is seen as a symbol of love, peace, and goodwill, the pigeon is commonly perceived as a filthy, ill-mannered flying rodent, a “rat with wings.”

Readers will find in Pigeon an enticing exploration of the historical and contemporary bonds between humans and these two unique and closely related birds. For polluting statues and architecture, the pigeon has earned a bad reputation, but Barbara Allen offers several examples of the bird’s importance—as a source of food and fertilizer, a bearer of messages during times of war, a pollution monitor, and an aid to Charles Darwin in his pivotal research on evolutionary theory. Allen also comments on the literary love and celebration of pigeons and doves in the work of such writers and poets as Shakespeare, Dickens, Beatrix Potter, Proust, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Along the way, Allen corrects the many stereotypes about pigeons in the hope that the rich history of one of the oldest human-animal partnerships will be both admired and celebrated.

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224 pages | 40 color plates, 60 halftones | 5 3/8 x 7 1/2 | © 2009


Biological Sciences: Natural History

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“Joining a pleasingly diverse menagerie that also includes the cockroach and the oyster, this latest addition to Reaktion’s Animal series aims to rehabilitate the much-maligned birds that Woody Allen infamously referred to as ‘rats with wings’ . . . Barbara Allen constructs a detailed portrait of the cultural, spiritual and scientific significance of the pigeon . . . engaging and illuminating.” —Observer


“Allen’s elegantly written book might not convert you to pigeon-fancying, but it could induce a little more sympathy with the flying crapper.” —Guardian

Guardian (UK)

“We also find that our much-maligned avian ‘rats’ have an awful lot going for them, with some scientists rating them as intelligent as three-year old humans . . . So next time you moan about the clutter of urban pigeons . . . spare a thought for the good contributions these animals make to our lives.” —BBC Wildlife Magazine

BBC Wildlife Magazine

“Reaktion’s Animal series is unfailingly fascinating, but rarely this challengingly and powerfully told.” —Times Literary Supplement


Table of Contents


1  Pigeon or Dove?
2  Heaven-sent: Religion and Mythology
3  An Uneasy Relationship: Medicine, Meat and Messengers
4  Loved or Loathed: Portrayals in Literature, Art and Culture
5  Exploitation or Conservation: Our ’Feathered Conscience’

Associations and Websites
Photo Acknowledgements

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