Book Review: Duet by Phillip Hoose

If someone asked you how birds have changed history, you’d probably think of Darwin’s finches or Thanksgiving turkeys. But Phillip Hoose has a very different, unexpected, and fascinating bird story to tell. In this post for Book Reviews, I’m reviewing Hoose’s new book, Duet, a history of the mockingbird.

While birdsong has enchanted people for thousands of years, some singers are more impressive than others. In North America, the Robin is one famous songster, but the Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is the reigning champion. These clever, resourceful and boisterous birds in the family Mimidae sing round the clock during warmer months.

Duet tells fascinating true stories around this incredible animal, from natural history and conservation to its impact on culture around the world. For example, did you know that Darwin’s theory of natural selection was jumpstarted by his encounters with Galapagos mockingbirds? Or that U.S. President Thomas Jefferson kept mockingbirds as pets?

A lot in a small package

At around 120 pages, Duet packs a lot of information into a portable book. Like the Northern mockingbird, it has a lot to say despite being on the small side. Paging through this quick and delightful read, you’ll learn about:

  • How mockingbirds can learn and remember hundreds of unique songs
  • Their role in indigenous, colonial American, and European art and culture
  • The importance of mockingbird songs in inspiring jazz and the conservation movement

Hoose shows how the mockingbird is a common thread linking important cultures, places, people, and events in world history. From pre-colonial times through to the Civil War and the Hunger Games books, Duet reminds us that this quirky gray bird has been with us all the while.

The book alternates this running story with cool factoids and surprising spinoff topics in helpful sidebars. Meanwhile, the book is beautifully formatted and boasts dozens of excellent photographs that bring the text to life. All of this makes the book a pleasure to read, and is many facts have me referring back to it often.

Go check it out!

If you’re looking to give your favorite nature lover some fun reading this holiday season, I strongly recommend Duet. It’s sure to delight history buffs and bird-lovers alike.

Further reading

Of course, this isn’t Hoose’s first rodeo when it comes to writing stellar books about Birds. Be sure to check out other bird-related books from this award-winning author:

If you’d like to learn more about Mockingbirds, check out the Nature Guy Podcast‘s episode, Mockingbird.