Audubon at Sea

The Coastal and Transatlantic Adventures of John James Audubon

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Buy on Amazon Buy on Buy on
*This page contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.
Send NetGalley books directly to your Kindle or Kindle app

To read on a Kindle or Kindle app, please add as an approved email address to receive files in your Amazon account. Click here for step-by-step instructions.
Also find your Kindle email address within your Amazon account, and enter it here.
Pub Date 19 Aug 2022 | Archive Date 01 May 2022

Talking about this book? Use #AudubonAtSea #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


This one-of-a-kind, lavishly illustrated anthology celebrates Audubon’s connection to the sea through both his words and art.
The American naturalist John James Audubon (1785–1851) is widely remembered for his iconic paintings of American birdlife. But as this anthology makes clear, Audubon was also a brilliant writer—and his keen gaze took in far more than creatures of the sky. Culled from his published and unpublished writings, Audubon at Sea explores Audubon’s diverse observations of the ocean, the coast, and their human and animal inhabitants. With Audubon expert Christoph Irmscher and scholar of the sea Richard J. King as our guides, we set sail from the humid expanses of the American South to the shores of England and the chilly landscapes of the Canadian North. We learn not only about the diversity of sea life Audubon documented—birds, sharks, fish, and whales—but also about life aboard ship, travel in early America, Audubon’s work habits, and the origins of beloved paintings. As we face an unfathomable loss of seabirds today, Audubon’s warnings about the fragility of birdlife in his time are prescient and newly relevant.

Charting the course of Audubon’s life and work, from his birth in Haiti to his death in New York City, Irmscher and King’s sweeping introduction and carefully drawn commentary confront the challenges Audubon’s legacy poses for us today, including his participation in American slavery and the thousands of birds he killed for his art. Rounded out by hundreds of historical and ornithological notes and beautiful illustrations, and with a foreword by distinguished photographer and conservationist Subhankar Banerjee, Audubon at Sea is the most comprehensively annotated collection of Audubon’s work ever published.
This one-of-a-kind, lavishly illustrated anthology celebrates Audubon’s connection to the sea through both his words and art.
The American naturalist John James Audubon (1785–1851) is widely...

Advance Praise

"While of course best-known for his definitive depictions of American birdlife, John James Audubon also wrote about his extensive travels at sea, from the American South to the shores of England and the frozen Canadian North. This is as much an ecological account as a narrative of his travels, however, with Audubon's concerns for the natural world still relevant today."―Bookseller

“These excellent selections are a wonderful reminder of why Audubon’s writing deserves to be more widely read. Audubon at Sea is a delightful, captivating book, one that ranges to different regions and seasons, and features not only birds but fish, marine mammals, and many passages of interest concerning fishing, hunting, and collecting practices. Irmscher and King’s expertise is impressive, and their introductions are helpful, informative, and beautifully written. The notes are also truly remarkable: extremely well-informed, instructive, and detailed. This is a superb read.”--Michael P. Branch, professor of literature and the environment, University of Nevada, Reno, author of On the Trail of the Jackalope

“A must-read for lovers of the sea and of avian species plying its waters and gracing its shores—this timely, eloquent collaboration between an Audubon scholar and a noted writer on the sea is a plea to save not only birds and their habitats but also wildlife and planet Earth. In Audubon at Sea, Irmscher and King offer a fascinating porthole to a new perspective on the brilliant artist-naturalist and nature writer as well as his portrayals of waterbirds. Reconsidering Audubon’s triumphs and human failings with novel insights, the book celebrates the waterbirds of his Birds of America against a historical maritime and scientific backdrop. In the process, it makes a significant contribution to Audubon studies and underlines, beyond the so-called fallacy of the inexhaustible, the acute loss in biodiversity that threatens the extinction of avifauna.”--Roberta J. M. Olson, curator and author of numerous books, including Audubon’s Aviary: The Original Watercolors for ‘The Birds of America

Audubon at Sea shines a bright light on, and makes visible, three overlooked but significant aspects of Audubon’s work and legacy: his writings on waterbirds as they evolved from imperfect to polished and lyrical prose; his seabird drawings, like the unforgettable ‘Gannet’; and a new focus especially on the seabirds that are now in peril even if they remain out of our sight. The book adds a significant new chapter in our understanding and appreciation of Audubon as an imperfect and troubled nineteenth-century polymath—an artist, ornithologist, writer. Audubon’s work will live on in new debates and conversations, in which Audubon at Sea will play an important role.”--Subhankar Banerjee, from the foreword

"While of course best-known for his definitive depictions of American birdlife, John James Audubon also wrote about his extensive travels at sea, from the American South to the shores of England and...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9780226756677
PRICE $30.00 (USD)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (PDF)
Send to Kindle (PDF)

Average rating from 10 members

Featured Reviews

Audubon at Sea: The Coastal and Transatlantic Adventures of John James Audubon by Edited by Richard J. King and Christoph Irmscher is a wonderful nonfiction that takes the life and times of James Audubon during his sea travels and adventures, and brings those observations to one and all.

This is such a wonderful book that is part biography, part nature writing, and part nonfiction/historical account and wraps it all up into an impressive collection of thoughts, observations, events, writings, images, and moments of inspiration to its readers.

The authors have clearly done their research and present a beautiful collection of Audubon’s writings, musings, reflections, images, drawings, inspirations, and the events associated with all the above in regards specifically to his many sea voyages. It was fascinating to see and imagine what he witnessed, felt, and heard. The annotations are informative, the images, plates, maps, and drawings included are stunning.

It was wonderful to get these glimpses of the past, not only of a lost time of life and nature, but also into this fascinating and yet deeply flawed man that we associate with birds today. Is he perfect? Oh definitely not, but we can acknowledge those shortcomings while appreciating what he was able to give and add to the world.

A beautiful book.

5/5 stars

Thank you NG and University of Chicago Press for this wonderful arc and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.

I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication on 5/26/22.

Was this review helpful?

For the academic shelf, but certainly readable by all, this book aims to direct our attention to the fact that Audubon's nautical world is less well considered than his land-locked ornithology. Audubon was practically the best bird illustrator of his time, using the world's best engraver of the subject to get his imagery to some of the largest practical pages one could wish for. But his magnum opus, "The Birds of America" has so much in it, and yet so few waterbirds – despite the creator being quite a routine, if quite a routinely ill, sailor.

There's clearly a case to be said that Audubon did a disservice to seabirds, which has equally led to what he did do as regards them being swept under the academic rug a little. If he was such a determined scientist, often seeing birds glibly ignoring storms at sea, surely it's a case of "because of" not "despite" his seasickness that he should wish to concentrate on them the more, due to their alien natures and supreme abilities? Either way, what he did is what we have, starting with his personal notes from his first voyage as a working scientist sailing from the US to Liverpool. These are as scrappy and hard to parse as they ever were, with awkward use of language, but as they started out as 'what we would have talked about had you been there' messages to his wife, and gradually became firmer nature notes, that's forgivable. The next chunk is such extracts as are relevant from his "Ornithological Biography" volumes – those essays and descriptive sections that relate to sea life.

What the book cannot do is shy away from one issue the man and his science has to this day, in that a lot of his work – and a lot of the on-ship life – seems to have involved catching, slaughtering and gutting the critters concerned. So these initial essays launch with catching "dolphins" (even if they're not strictly dolphins at all). Of course, fishermen and scientists were a lot more keen to get the killing done back then, but it's going to be an issue for some people reading this now to have it first-hand – and eventually, with later style changes from Audubon's pen, in the second person.

The final section does what the rest has done, but less well, not fully coming from Audubon's hand. Where before we've had wonderfully presented sections of Audubon, with excellent notes from our current editors and fine glimpses into the sketchbooks and less polished artworks, this is a previous cobbling-together from copies, rewrites, later edits and hatchet jobs alike, the original journals of the voyage having been lost. Either way, it's a more polished author by now – if once again the end to life featured is less than delightful.

Coming to this as a non-specialist, albeit one who was admiring his art in London's Natural History Museum less than a month prior to this review, I saw nothing to dissuade the academic here. The editors go to great lengths to edify, correct, re-identify and so on, while allowing the majority of the pages to be Audubon's writings. Having the OB heavily redacted to all that remains relevant to the volume at hand won't serve all scholars, but this way of reappraising Audubon certainly seemed to work for me. And as a newcomer to his life story, it provided interesting basic background – I knew nothing of his slightly dubious parentage and slave-owning heritage, nor even reliance on British producers to get his works to the public. I doubt the average commuter reader will relish all of this, but it remains thoroughly readable, and very accessible, while the book's academic intent is completely met. On those grounds, as opposed to those of reading for pleasure, this deserves the full five stars.

Was this review helpful?

I love reading about natural history and the people who document it so a book about John James Audubon? Here for it. While this book definitely has an academic lean, the authors do a great job of presenting Audubon's contributions and also his flaws and missteps. Part biography, part history of natural science, Audubon at Sea is a fantastic read for anyone interested in travel, adventure, animals, history, and ornithology.

Was this review helpful?

Excerpt from a longer article:

Timely Take-aways for Life-Long Learning: Birds and Birders

Several new and upcoming books explore the world of birds and birders. From naturalists and scientists to backyard birders, these books explore the wide range of ways people connect with birds.


Audubon at Sea
Edited by Christoph Irmscher & Richard J. King, 2022, University of Chicago Press
Themes: Nature, Birds

Weaving together Audubon’s writings and artwork, the editors explore this famous artist and naturalist’s connect with the sea and waterbirds.

Take-aways: Explore this book for examples of the challenges educators and students face in addressing the legacy of naturalists such as Audubon who killed for his art.


Whether helping educators keep up-to-date in their subject-areas, promoting student reading in the content-areas, or simply encouraging nonfiction leisure reading, teacher librarians need to be aware of the best new titles across the curriculum and how to activate life-long learning. - Annette Lamb

Was this review helpful?

John Audubon was a master of observing the natural world and birds in particular. The world no longer looks like this and in many ways, this is the only way to experience this world. Luckily we still can experience it through teh genius of John James Audobon.

Was this review helpful?

This book covers different regions and seasons, and features not only birds but fish, marine mammals etc in this beautiful illustrated anthology of art and words.
The text is so detailed. as we explore hunting and fishing etc observations through Audubon's sea adventures. Audubon’s warnings about the fragility of birdlife in his time are prescient and newly relevant.
It's a comprehensive collection and fascinating tribute.

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: