Readers looking for a writer who can smoothly blend together interesting characters and hard facts will enjoy the writings of Richard Rhodes. Like yesterday’s author, John McPhee, Rhodes is known for both the quality of his research into the subjects about which he is writing and for an ability to make complex topics understandable.
This ability is most evident in Rhodes’s trilogy on atomic weapons, beginning with The Making of the Atomic Bomb. In these books and his other works, Rhodes brings a sense of scale to the broader story by relating the lives of those people involved. In the case of his works on nuclear warfare, soldiers, scientists, and politicians all have their say, and the stories of their lives ground the science in humanity.
Like McPhee though, Rhodes can also write perceptively about the natural world, and his biography of John James Audubon, one of America’s first naturalists, is an excellent introduction to Rhodes’s writings. Here, Rhodes deftly captures the a sense of the possibilities that the undeveloped expanses of North America raised for naturalists in the early days of the country. Through the story of the life of Haitian-born Audubon’s early years in France, his emigration to America, and his struggles to support his family, Rhodes also tells the story of the early days of the Republic.
Audubon’s entrepreneurial spirit and drive to succeed make him an excellent choice to model the spirit of the young America. Rhodes does an excellent job at conveying both the details of Audubon’s life and of the broader canvas on which Audubon lived and worked without overwhelming the reader in either case. Readers interested in the early days of ornithology, in the development of the American republic, or in the development of an artist will find much to enjoy here.
Check the WRL catalog for Audubon: The Making of an American