Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: A Sweet, Wild Note (Richard Smyth)

A celebration and a warning, written with love


Title: A Sweet, Wild Note: What we hear when birds sing
Author: Richard Smyth
Genre: Non-Fiction / Natural World
First published: 2017
Edition: Hardback, published in 2017

Birdsong is woven into our culture, our emotions, our landscape; it is the soundtrack to our world. We have tried to capture this fleeting, ephemeral beauty, and the feelings it inspires, for millennia.
In this fascinating account, Richard Smyth asks what it is about birdsong that we so love. Exploring the myriad ways in which it has influenced literature, music, science and our very ideas of what it means to be British, Smyth’s nuanced investigation shows that what we hear says as much about us, our dreams and desires, as it does about the birds and their songs.


This book had been lingering on my shelf since I bought it back in the year it came out. The subject matter sounded interesting to me, but I just never picked it up to read. Of course, now I have and I am glad I did.

This was a both a joyous read and a sad one. Joyous, because it pulled my attention to the birdsong that sounds all the time where I live, deep in the Dutch countryside. But sad, as birdsong is not as prevalent as it once was.

The author explores birdsong through tidbits of science, literature, and his own musings and experiences. Because of that, it never felt too heavy or serious and it felt like a work of love instead. There was an philosophical element to this book and I actually really enjoyed that. It did make me smile in places too, which is always a bonus!

At under 200 pages this is not a long book, but what those pages hold was enough to keep me interested without getting bored at any point.

If you enjoy nature and are not expecting a scientific textbook, but rather a celebration of that most nostalgic of sounds that nature provides us with, I have no doubt you would enjoy this.

6 out of 7 stars

One thought on “Book Thoughts: A Sweet, Wild Note (Richard Smyth)

  1. This sounds lovely, I feel like I must have heard of it but I will certainly look out for it. I love birdwatching and we do try to identify birds by their song, though it’s not always easy!

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