by desmond morris

published by reaktion books ltd in 2009


What is this book about?

‘Owl’ by Desmond Morris is part of the Animal Series published by Reaktion Books. It looks at owl anthropology, investigating the relationship humans have had with owls throughout history. It begins by considering prehistoric owls, then moving into ancient, medicinal, symbolic, emblematic, literary and tribal owls. Throughout the text is accompanied by appropriate pictures depicting what is being described whether this be an owl cave painting, an ancient Greek myth or the emblem of a football club.

Morris also considers why the owl has been depicted like this throughout history, exploring how opinions of it have developed and changed. From evil to wise and powerful, many different cultures have influenced the myths and legends surrounding owls.

Finally, Morris explains owls biologically from an evolutionary perspective. He looks at classification, highlighting some extraordinary owls of both the past and present.

Areas of Interest for Further Research

  • Owl Face

One of the first ideas Morris picks up on is the reason humans are fascinated with owls. I have always loved owls, filling my bedroom with pictures and ornaments, though never knowing why. Morris suggests that it is the ‘broad head and the big, forward-facing eyes’ meaning that owls remind us of ourselves. We are genetically programmed to respond to maternal eyes and therefore, the owl triggers a reaction in our bodies giving us a sense of closeness to it. It struck me that this is replicated in other animals, such as kittens, and I would love to look at the chemical reactions behind this.

How good was this book?

I really enjoyed this book because of both the content and the quality of the writing. I found it engaging and felt fascinated by everything Morris picked up on. He has carefully selected interesting snippets of information, giving enough detail but not too much about each one. There is also a brilliant balance of sociological and biological facts, bringing out the true character of the owl depicted by both humans and nature.

Who would I advise this book to?

I would suggest that anyone would enjoy this book. We have all experienced a connection with owls, especially as they become ever more fashionable. The approachable language and structure make it a fantastic and accessible reminder of the history behind our love of owls.

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