Review of Roger Tory Peterson – A Biography


Without his mentor Ludlow Griscom and the Bronx County Bird Club, we may never have been blessed with the accomplishments of one of the greatest birders of all time, Roger Tory Peterson. There would also be no need for Douglas Carlson’s Roger Tory Peterson: A Biography (Mildred Wyatt-Wold Series in Ornithology).

Peterson’s life story is wonderfully retold and we learn so much more about who this legend really was. Roger Tory came from humble beginnings and his story shows us that we can be absorbed in birds, protect birds, and just plain love birds without necessarily being in a field directly related to birds.

RTP began his birding career through his skill of painting and while many of us (i.e. Birdfreak) have no artistic talent, we can always find ways in whatever field we are in to be leaders in bird conservation. And while Roger Tory had many skills that made him a great leader, much of his accomplishments were due to his dedication.

He spent “three years of intense effort, often under circumstances that would have put off a less passionate and less focused writer” to complete the first Field Guide. During that time, it would have been easier to give up, especially considering that the outlook for getting such a work published was slim.

“Peterson’s version of the publication of the Guide is quite different—and more colorful. After four New York publishers turned the manuscript down, Peterson and [John B.] May took it to [Houghton Mifflin senior editor, Francis] Allen, believing that [William] Vogt had written a letter of support. In fact, Peterson recalled, the letter hadn’t arrived, but Allen liked the idea. To see if [the “Peterson system”] worked, they brought in Ludlow Griscom, who was shown Peterson’s plates from across the room. He identified the birds pictured with 100 percent accuracy, and the deal was sealed.” – Excerpt from Roger Tory Peterson – A Biography

There are a few versions about how Peterson’s first Field Guide came to light, but it was definitely not a sure thing as to how well it would do. Of course as we know, the book sold extremely well.

Carlson’s work recalls Peterson’s life in chronological order including his time spent in New York City, Washington D.C. and Old Lyme, Connecticut where he spent a large chunk of his life until his death on July 18, 1996.

Above all, Roger Tory Peterson’s long list of accomplishments are always in regard to the love of birds, teaching about birds, and promoting their conservation. “As Peterson’s life and work suggest, the root purpose of natural history study should be to create environmentalists.”

Roger Tory Peterson – A Biography
Douglas Carlson
University of Texas Press, October 2007
304 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0292716803

Overall Rating: 9 of 10 feathers

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