The Last of the Bird People

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John Hanson Mitchell's new novel is about a secretive band of mixed-race hunter-gatherers who lived, undiscovered, in the Swift River Valley of Central Massachusetts for many generations. The book, which takes the form of a legal deposition, is the story of the fate of these retiring, peaceable people and the young anthropologist who first contacted them. More

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About John Hanson Mitchell

John Hanson Mitchell is the author of Ceremonial Time and eight other books on cultural and environmental history. His early books concentrated on a single square mile of land west of Boston known as Scratch Flat. His most recent book is The Paradise of all These Parts: A Natural History of Boston (Beacon, 2010).

Along with his nonfiction work, John Hanson Mitchell is editor of the award winning magazine, Sanctuary, published by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. In 2001, he won a Vogelstein grant for his book Following the Sun. He was awarded an honorary PhD from Fitchburg State University for his work on the book Ceremonial Time, and was given three different grants for Looking for Mr. Gilbert, the story of his discovery of the first African American landscape photographer. He is also winner of the John Burroughs Essay Award for his Sanctuary piece, “Of Time and the River”. In 2000, he was given the New England Booksellers’ Award for the body of his work.

Mitchell attended the Sorbonne and is a graduate of Columbia University. A former journalist, he has had assignments in Kerala in southern India and also around the South China Sea, and has written extensively about the gardens and natural history of Western Europe. His book The Rose Café is about Corsica.

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Reviews

Review by: Susan Schnare on June 24, 2012 : (no rating)
In 1857 a band of disenfranchised Indians, Irish, Blacks, and other misfits, disappear into the wilderness of the Swift River Valley in Central Massachusetts where they develop an intricate culture divorced entirely from the world outside their valley. The women are the hunters, the men tend the children, and they have various, unusual ways of insuring food availability.

Seventy years later, they are cast out of Eden by the Quabbin Reservoir Project, which will dam their river and flood the valley. Led by an unlikely guide, Harvard anthropologist Minor Randall, the Bird People begin their quest for a new home fifteen hundred miles to the South. The farther they get from their wilderness home, the more their delicately balanced Stone Age culture crumbles. The more contact they have with the Wasichus, white people, the more their innocence is lost and conflicts arise amongst the band.

This is a gutsy, earthy book that tells a riveting tale and is a fast-paced excellent read. Some say it is not entirely fiction.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

Review by: Pete Nice III on June 20, 2012 : star star star star star
A refreshing mental journey into the recent past.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

Review by: Debbie Wiess on June 19, 2012 : star star star star star
THE LAST OF THE BIRD PEOPLE is an fascinating read, as it recounts the mysterious disappearance of a noted anthropologist from Harvard as if this person really existed. It is an interesting anthropological study and also an intriguing mystery.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

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