Wook Kim
October 15, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

John James Audubon

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Richard Rhodes
publisher
Knopf
genre
Biography, Nonfiction

We gave it an A

Richard Rhodes, the Pulitzer-winning author of 1986’s The Making of the Atomic Bomb, understands the drama of creation — the subtitle of this splendid biography is ”The Making of an American.” Indeed, John James Audubon might be considered a prototypical modern American. Born in Haiti and raised in France, he landed on these shores in 1803, married an Englishwoman, explored the Appalachian frontier, tried his hand at business, went bankrupt, and reinvented himself in his middle age as a naturalist (his first effort, The Birds of America, is still regarded with awe). But Rhodes presents something more than a scrupulously researched portrait of a self-actualized genius: Through an understanding of the life and times of this flawed but likable character, we can trace the beginnings of our own complex national identity.

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