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Reviewed by Annamaria Farbizio for Readers' Favorite
America's Other Audubon by Joy M. Kiser published by Princeton Architectural Press offers details about the history of amateur naturalist Genevieve Jones and her family. Over fifteen years ago, Joy Kiser was a librarian in a small Ohio town when she first saw the book Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio in a display case. The plates in the book, reminiscent of Audubon drawings, were so beautiful and rendered with exquisite details. She became intrigued by the book and by the Jones family. There was little offered about their history. When she found out that it was Genevieve Jones who had launched the project when she was only a young girl, she was even more intrigued. After attending a conference for the Society for the History of Natural History, she noticed that the next conference in 1999 was to be held in London. The Natural History Museum in London owned a copy of the book, so she began research about the book, hoping that she would be able to give a presentation about it at the conference. She followed through and gave the presentation. In the beginning, there didn't seem to be much interest, but then the Natural History Museum put the copy they had on display in response to her presentation. The acquisition editor at Princeton Architectural Press contacted Joy and the book project began. Joy researched the family history which became the preface of the book and lovingly pieced together the information that became this book within a book. The book includes a preface telling the events that led up to the book, the history of Genevieve and her family, the remarkably detailed color plates of the bird's nests and eggs, and a special reference key to the eggs.
It's rare that I open the pages of a book and feel that I'm looking at a national treasure. This is the feeling I had when I reviewed this amazing book. The sixty-eight color plates in the book are some of the most beautiful and detailed that I have ever seen. When you consider the way color lithography was done in the 1870s when this book was first printed, it's a testament to Genevieve Jones and her family that such a work could have ever been created. This work was truly a labor of love and yet the story behind it is so bittersweet. Genevieve was inspired by her father's love of ornithology. He was a physician and amateur naturalist and shared his love for nature and birds with his daughter and his son. They would go on outings as he was driving their buggy back and forth from visiting patients. One day young Gennie found a bird's nest that her father Nelson and brother Howard had never seen. She combed her Dad's extensive library but couldn't find the nest. It was then that she realized that there was a need to create a scientifically detailed work of the bird's nests and eggs. Gennie was an amazing young woman. She rallied her family to support the work. Their original plan was to offer the work in installments, on a subscription basis. Nelson created a publishing business plan and pre-sold the book to twenty subscribers, many of whom were celebrated ornithologists. They planned to create 100 copies of the original work. The painstaking process they had to follow to create the original lithographs and the hand-colored versions of the book is described in the introduction to the book.
Due to the small number of finished copies, most of which are housed in natural history museums, very few people have seen this aesthetically magnificent and scientifically detailed work. Sadly, Gennie died tragically of typhoid fever after suffering for three weeks at the age of thirty-two. Her parents and brother continued her life work and buried their sadness over the loss of Gennie by putting love and energy into this work. Thanks to the publication of this book, their work will be seen by a much larger audience. America's Other Audubon by Joy Kiser is a book that will be a treasure for generations to come, reminding us of a remarkable young woman and her story, the beauty of nature, and the natural wonder that is America.