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The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds by Thom van Dooren (2019) 288 pp., Columbia University Press, New York, USA. ISBN: 978-0-231182829 (hbk), GBP 30.00/USD 35.00.

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 September 2020

Kaeli Swift*
Affiliation:
University of Washington, Seattle, USA. E-mail kaeli.swift@gmail.com

Abstract

Type
Publications
Information
Oryx , Volume 54 , Issue 5 , September 2020 , pp. 748 - 749
Copyright
Copyright © Fauna & Flora International 2020

Crows are among our most familiar and charismatic animals and as such there is a wealth of literature dedicated to them with which few other wildlife species compare. Although each contributor takes a distinct perspective and harnesses different stories or features of their biology, there is perhaps nothing as unique in the body of work dedicated to crows as The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds. It is neither a classic natural history book, nor a memoir of being connected to the natural world through crows. Instead, van Dooren has used crows as a loom on which to weave science and humanities together, producing a thesis of what it means to exist in our contemporary world. Central to this thesis is the question of ‘What else is possible?’ For the traditional science and natural history reader his exploration of this seemingly familiar question will be anything but familiar. Although by now, for example, we may be used to being asked to reconsider the image of the crow as pest or bad omen, here we are asked to reconsider them systemically, and in ways that ultimately inform the reader's ethic.

The book is organized into five chapters, each of which reflects on a unique theme and takes place in a different part of the world. At the end of each chapter is a complementary vignette that enhances the reader's connection to crows. Among the chapters, the five themes include community, inheritance, hospitality, recognition and hope. In exploring community, we are taken to Brisbane, Australia where van Dooren reflects on the people that are either making space for urban crows or removing it. He talks with civilians and scientists to provide a holistic picture of what it means to influence—and be influenced by—the presence of crows in our urban and suburban spaces. In addition, he explores what it means, and who gets to define, living in ‘balance’ with nature.

In Chapter 2 we travel to the Big Island of Hawaii, where we explore the restoration efforts of the endemic ‘Alalā, or Hawaiian crow. Like many Western conservation efforts, the reintroduction of the extinct ‘Alalā coincides with an inheritance of colonialism. Van Dooren's interviews with conservationists, both white and Indigenous, offer insight into our cultural and ecological inheritance, and what it means to attempt to restore something for which there is no template of wholeness.

Next we travel to Rotten, Netherlands, where a small band of introduced house crows experience the wrath of being othered. Juxtaposed against the backdrop of one of the most influential centres of globalization in the world, the city's effort to eradicate these introduced victors feels insulting, though van Dooren is careful not to say so explicitly. For many ecologists like myself, who fear biological homogenization and embrace the necessity to eliminate invasive species, this chapter may invite the most difficult questions of introspection.

Chapter 4 centres around the expansion of common ravens in the Mojave Desert, and their subsequent impacts on the increasingly rare desert tortoise. We explore what it means to consider the ravens' intelligence not as an obstacle to managing them, but as a gift for non-lethal collaboration. Instead of killing ravens, perhaps we can train them out of consuming the food source that has sustained their growing population. As with all of his queries, however, van Dooren does not leave us here to sit contentedly with a clever solution to a difficult problem. The is far more to unpack in this story, and mostly there is no easy answer.

By Chapter 5, which explores the restoration of the Aga, or Mariana crow, on the island of Rota in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the echoes of each previous chapter can be heard. Far from becoming repetitive, the tapestry van Dooren has been weaving comes together in hope, the chapter's theme, but not without a deep exploration of nuance.

What is most unique about this volume is that van Dooren's exploration of each topic goes far beyond simple reporting, and instead reaches deep into the humanities to provide a sharp academic backdrop of complexity. Ideas many ecologists might take as fact are questioned, deconstructed, and left for the reader to reassemble anew. It is a unique and powerful look at what it means to live in a shared world, and asks that we reconsider our ethics in doing so. It is far from a light read, but it is one that grants the experience of expansion that curious people crave.

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The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds by Thom van Dooren (2019) 288 pp., Columbia University Press, New York, USA. ISBN: 978-0-231182829 (hbk), GBP 30.00/USD 35.00.
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The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds by Thom van Dooren (2019) 288 pp., Columbia University Press, New York, USA. ISBN: 978-0-231182829 (hbk), GBP 30.00/USD 35.00.
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The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds by Thom van Dooren (2019) 288 pp., Columbia University Press, New York, USA. ISBN: 978-0-231182829 (hbk), GBP 30.00/USD 35.00.
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