Friday, December 28, 2007

Marzluff & Angell, "In the Company of Crows and Ravens"

John M. Marzluff is Denman Professor of Sustainable Resource Sciences and professor of wildlife science, College of Forest Resources, University of Washington. Tony Angell is a freelance artist and writer in Lopez Island, Washington.

Marzluff applied the "Page 99 Test" to their book In the Company of Crows and Ravens, and reported the following:
Certainly asking any author if their book could be adequately experienced from a single page will elicit my initial response: “of course not!” But taking the challenge I opened In the Company of Crows and Ravens to page 99. To my delight there was not a single word on page 99, simply a beautiful image of crows feasting on trash spilling from an overflowing urban garbage dumpster. This is just one of Tony Angell’s amazing images in our book. Does this image convey the whole of our book? Many readers may think that garbage guzzling accurately conveys all that there is to know about crows — they are often reviled as pests, vermin, or worse yet, omens of evil. But, while this is certainly part of our story, it is only a small part of the story about crows and people. Yes, crows take advantage of our waste and in so doing they have changed their fundamental behavior to increase their diet and live in a wide range of environments. Their dietary habits, however, have also affected our basic value system and language, spawning phrases such as “to eat crow.” It is this back and forth influence of nature on people and people on nature that is the crux of our book. We argue that our agriculture, wars, wasteful habits, and urban life have molded much of crow life — their diet, voice, defense of nest, and such — AND that the ability of crows to live with us has inspired our religion, literature, art, language, and various edicts and policies. More simply put, our culture has affected crow culture and vice versa. Our cultures continue to intertwine, mutually shaping both species. Page 99 of our book shows one modern aspect of this co-evolution. But the rich history of interaction, beginning as long ago as the caves of modern-day France, that helped shape Scandinavian, Asian, European, and American cultures, cannot be inferred from page 99. Neither can the fact that some of our actions have endangered and even extinguished a few crow species, notably those on Hawaii and other small islands. So you see, an important nugget of our story can be inferred from page 99, but much, much more is contained in the other 407 pages.
Read an excerpt from In the Company of Crows and Ravens and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue