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Many people consider the ubiquitous rock dove, better known as the pigeon, a "rat with wings." But as Blechman demonstrates in his enjoyable and informative book, this much maligned bird has served humans well for thousands of years, carrying messages informing the ancient Egyptians about flood levels along the Nile, bearing news of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo and saving thousands of soldiers' lives during the two world wars. Today pigeons are found everywhere, from the queen of England's luxurious racing pigeon lofts to the garbage-strewn streets of every large city. Pigeons-gregarious, easily domesticated and capable of flying for hours at speeds of more than 100 mph-are interesting in their own right, but Blechman writes not so much about the birds themselves as about the people who either love or hate them. These include members of a Newe York City homing pigeon club who dedicate themselves to raising and racing pigeons; Queen Elizabeth's royal pigeon handler; breeders who spend years perfecting champion birds for show; gun enthusiasts who participate in brutal live pigeon shoots. Many of these people are eccentric, and while Blechman's book won't convert pigeon haters to pigeon lovers, it does make for entertaining reading. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Adult/High School-Domesticated, docile pets or dirty, disease-ridden hangers-on? Pigeons are not a neutral subject. They have lived in unison with humans since ancient Egyptian times, a relationship that historically was productive but sadly has deteriorated into a fine mess. Pigeons routinely went to war as messengers; their dung was used as fertilizer for farmers or manufactured into saltpeter, an ingredient in gunpowder. Since the Industrial Revolution, these birds have clustered in urban areas. With an easy food supply and ample shelter, their populations have soared, as has the desire to trap and shoot, poison, and relocate them. Blechman introduces readers to their many advocates and adversaries. His whimsical style and the colorful cast of experts on either side of the debate make this exhaustive study enjoyable reading. Teens don't have to be particularly passionate about pigeons to pick up this book for social-science, scientific, or literary inquiry.-Brigeen Radoicich, Fresno County Office of Education, CA Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Pigeons grew out of Blechman's 2002 Smithsonian article about Brooklyn pigeon racer Orlando Martinez and his preparation for the Main Event, the Kentucky Derby of U.S. pigeon racing. Readers here encounter the oddballs and knuckleheads who make up the obsessive human subcultures of this bird's universe: those who would save the bird, and those who would destroy it. In content and structure, the book reflects this split cultural profile of the species on the one hand, the pigeon's rich history of service to humankind and sublime emblematic status, and on the other, its more contemporary, urban reputation as "winged shit." The tale is by turns hilarious and sickening. Hovering over it all is the ghost of the passenger pigeon, blasted into extinction in the early 1900s. Blechman's light, self-deprecating style belies the book's serious content (the species' history and its biology, presented in easily digested snippets throughout). Photos are sorely lacking, and there is no list of the author's print sources. Still, an enjoyable read for most public natural history collections. Robert Eagan, Windsor P.L., Ont. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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