The Secret Life of the Owl by John Lewis-Stempel
Published by Transworld Publishers Limited on October 19th 2017
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After his superb Meadowland, The Running Hare and Where Poppies Blow, I was looking forward immensely to John Lewis-Stempel’s latest book – The Secret Life of Owls. Unfortunately I found it rather an anticlimax.
It’s a very short book. It runs to only 90 pages (and therefore it’s a tad expensive). It could be easily read in one sitting, and its brevity left me feeling somewhat short-changed.
“Owly” three chapters!
There is a prologue, and then an introduction, and then the book commences, but there are only three chapters. These are What is an Owl, the Owls of Britain, and Humans and Owls. At the end there’s an epilogue.
I certainly learned some incredible facts about these birds that I didn’t know. “The long-eared owl can see a mouse in a light level equivalent to one candle in a football stadium.” And “owls were believed, if touched or consumed, to be able to cure drunkenness.” The book describes various legends and introduces us to some lovely poetry. However, overall it is a fairly light read that left me wondering at the end what this “secret life” as suggested in the title might be.
Where’s the Lister-Stempel we know and love?
Consequently, fans of John Lister-Stempel, who like me are in awe of his patient fieldwork, insightful observations, creative descriptions of the natural world, and his cutting remarks about the state of the countryside, are likely to be left disappointed. I was expecting, and would have loved, some more and detailed descriptions of the owls on his Herefordshire farmland. After all, both Meadowland and The Running Hare mentioned his local owls.
Who will like it?
But all is not lost. I do think that the book is an excellent introduction to owls for schoolchildren. I know I would have highly valued it when birdwatching in my youth. It would have been a great help to me when spotting my local tawny owls and barn owls, and during my school biology project on owl pellets.