H is for Hawk

By Helen Macdonald,

Book cover of H is for Hawk

Book description

One of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year

ON MORE THAN 25 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR LISTS: including TIME (#1 Nonfiction Book), NPR, O, The Oprah Magazine (10 Favorite Books), Vogue (Top 10), Vanity Fair, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times,…

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Why read it?

12 authors picked H is for Hawk as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I read this book when it was first published in 2014 and have revisited it many times since. 

My father died in 2012, and this book connected me to how I was feeling over my own loss. Helen’s words comforted me and consoled me, never placating or patronising, but placed so perfectly on the page that they made me feel she was reading me, not the other way round. The feeling of being set apart from others for a while, needing nature and self-nurture before venturing back into life.

I have recommended it to friends and clients, especially those who…

I. Love. This. Book.

After Macdonald’s beloved father dies unexpectedly, she acquires and trains a goshawk. She is not a newbie to this pursuit, but training this particular bird against the backdrop of her recent and devastating loss colors her whole experience and, thus, this book.

This is a transcendent story in the sense that Macdonald comes to almost embody a hawk herself. I could not put the book down when she described all the steps she took to bond with her hawk, Mabel. In addition, Macdonald is a gorgeous and evocative writer. You feel her grief, her exhaustion, and…

From Deb's list on humans bonding with wild animals.

The only non-fiction book on my list, H is for Hawk nevertheless perfectly embodies my chosen theme.

H is for Hawk is part memoir, part nature-writing, part biography of T.H. White all seamlessly woven together into an enchanting book about battling grief and finding new ways to look at life. Macdonald is a woman who recently lost her father and in response takes on the training of a new (and famously challenging) goshawk, which becomes an obsession for her.

Macdonald has a true mastery of words and language and is also a brilliant narrator; I highly recommend the audiobook, narrated…

From Amber's list on unusual manifestations of grief.

Helen Macdonald, Richard Hines and I first met on a foggy winter’s day in Oxford back in 2009, and quickly formed an unofficial T. H. White Goshawk fan club. We were all incubating books of different kinds, with the common element of T. H. White’s book The Goshawk. We continued to share thoughts and information as our books took shape.

Helen’s book describes how she sought solace in a goshawk following the shattering loss of her father. She compares notes on her hawk training experience with White.

The lines between her and the hawk become blurred. In many passages the…

Grief is a weird, strange country. It has a way of taking what was once familiar and turning it inside out, making our life unrecognizable to us.

After the death of her father, Helen Macdonald deliberately entered into the strange territory of grief full tilt, meeting its strangeness with an unusual quest of her own: taking up a childhood dream, she became a falconer.

This book tugged at me with its curious story. In a time when I felt so lost, I was fascinated by Macdonald’s telling of her life with her goshawk, Mabel, and of how, in the intense…

In my top five books, of all time, why in the world Helen Macdonald decides after the death of her father to tame the most difficult hawk that falconers attempt to tame, is a lesson in endurance and a very human portrait of a woman grieving a great loss.

The fascinating tie between Helen, who works at Cambridge, and to TH White, who was also living at Cambridge while writing the Once and Future King and grappling with his homosexuality and his foibles as a falconer, opens a window into the souls of these deep and tormented thinkers as they…

There are some books you just need. Before I’d even finished my library copy, I’d gone and bought my own; otherwise I couldn’t have given it back. On the face of it, this is nature writing; MacDonald weaves an account of her relationship with a pet goshawk into the story of T.H. White and his own writing of The Goshawk before his King Arthur stories made him famous. It’s a place, this book: a landscape, a psychology, and a sensitive, compassionate history. MacDonald reaches deep into our past – not just the Arthurian lore, but the mythology of animals and…

In glittering prose, this British author writes how she came apart after her father’s sudden heart attack, and how his death broke her. I was struck by the intensity and darkness of her grief, and how she coped with it. Captivated by falconry since childhood, Macdonald grieves by buying a young goshawk, naming her Mabel, and going through the painful training of Mabel. The bird changes, growing into an adult hawk that returns to Helen after flying free. And so did Macdonald change. She wrote that, as time passed, it worked its careful magic: her grief gave way to love,…

Look, you don’t like memoirs, and I don’t have the slightest interest in falconry. Nevertheless—this book is transcendent. At once the story of a daughter grieving her father, it is also a year-in-the-life narrative of a woman learning to raise (and fly) a goshawk named Mabel, and, as if that weren’t enough, a sneaky literary biography of forgotten dinosaur (and hawk enthusiast) T.H. White. The book would have worked on any one of these levels, but braided together, it is a masterclass in narrative nonfiction. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be transported—and you’ll learn a lot of ornithology along…

Macdonald’s fierce determination to train a wild goshawk is at first puzzling: why is she choosing such a difficult, aggressive bird to train and sticking with it when she clearly is failing? As we learn about her close relationship with her recently deceased father, it becomes slowly, beautifully clear that the bird and the falconer--both injured in their own way—have much to give each other. I happened upon the book the year after my husband passed away and it was more helpful than any grief therapy.

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