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  • Published: 10 February 2015
  • ISBN: 9780099575450
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • RRP: $22.99

H is for Hawk

A BBC2 Between the Covers pick




'Dazzling. Deeply affecting, utterly fascinating and blazing with love and intelligence' Financial Times

Discover the number one bestselling phenomenon that is a powerful and profound mediation on grief expressed through the trials of training a goshawk.


As a child, Helen Macdonald was determined to become a falconer, learning the arcane terminology and reading all the classic books. Years later, when her father died and she was struck deeply by grief, she became obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She bought Mabel for £800 on a Scottish quayside and took her home to Cambridge, ready to embark on the long, strange business of trying to train this wildest of animals.

H is for Hawk is an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald's struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk's taming and her own untaming. This is a book about memory, nature and nation, and how it might be possible to reconcile death with life and love.

'This beautiful book is at once heartfelt and clever in the way it mixes elegy with celebration' Andrew Motion

'It just sings. I couldn't stop reading' Mark Haddon, bestselling author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

'Dazzling... Deeply affecting, utterly fascinating and blazing with love and intelligence' Financial Times

  • Published: 10 February 2015
  • ISBN: 9780099575450
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • RRP: $22.99

About the author

Helen Macdonald

Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, naturalist and historian of science. Her book H is for Hawk won many prizes, including the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, the Costa Book of the Year, the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger in France, and in the US was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine, and lives in Suffolk.

Also by Helen Macdonald

See all

Praise for H is for Hawk

It just sings. I couldn't stop reading.

Mark Haddon

This beautiful book is at once heartfelt and clever in the way it mixes elegy with celebration: elegy for a father lost, celebration of a hawk found - and in the finding also a celebration of countryside, forbears of one kind and another, life-in-death. At a time of very distinguished writing about the relationship between human kind and the environment, it is immediately pre-eminent.

Andrew Motion

Nature-writing, but not as you know it. Astounding.


One of the most eloquent accounts of bereavement you could hope to read. A grief memoir with wings.

Caroline Sanderson, Bookseller

I'm convinced it's going to be an absolute classic of nature writing.

Nick Barley, Guardian

MacDonald's prose is poetic, forensic, yet often capable of quickening the pulse. Her lexicon.is vivid and joyous, soaring as freely as birds do.

Benjamin Myers, New Scientist

H is for Hawk is a dazzling piece of work: deeply affecting, utterly fascinating and blazing with love and intelligence. The result is a deeply human work shot through.with intelligence and compassion. I will be surprised if a better book than H is for Hawk is published this year.

Melissa Harrison, Financial Times

What she has achieved is a very rare thing in literature - a completely realistic account of a human relationship with animal consciousness. It is a soaring performance and Mabel is the star.

John Carey, Sunday Times



Captivating. There is a highly polished brilliance to her writing. The English-speaking world has an old passion for books about creatures and captivating companions . Helen Macdonald looks set to revive the genre.

Guardian, Mark Cocker

Absorbing. This memoir is lit with flashes of that grace, a grace that sweeps down to the reader to hold her wrist tight with beautiful, terrible class. The discovery of the season.

Erica Wagner, The Economist

A talon-sharp memoir that will thrill and chill you to the bone... Fascinating.

Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday



Strange yet compelling... Macdonald's poetic prose soars. An uplifting message that.sends the heart soaring.

Gerard Henderson, Daily Express

Vivid and fascinating.

James Attlee, Independent

Soars beyond genres, and burns with emotional and intellectual intensity.


We can't recommend this strange, clever, beautiful book highly enough.

Jarrold's Bookshop, Eastern Daily Press

Cunningly plaited and - almost - devastating. It deserves to sell shedloads and win prizes, it is naturalist writing of that spectacular quality that is literature too.

Angus Clarke, The Times

A soaring triumph.

Christian House, Daily Telegraph

[Macdonald's] descriptive writing, startlingly and devilishly precise.is only the half of it. She has written her taming of Mabel like a thriller, slowly and carefully cranking the tension is that your stomach and heart leap queasily towards each other. Captivates.

Rachel Cooke, Observer

Mesmerising, decisive and devastating. Her description of Mabel in flight should be etched into every birdwatcher's field guide... Macdonald is a nature writer supreme, arguably the best practitioner of this art form writing today.

Stuart Winter, Sunday Express

A soliloquy that sings from the pages. Truly beautiful.

Rufus the Hawk, Twitter



Macdonald makes nature writing new.

For Books Sake

Poetic, imaginative and richly persuasive prose. Macdonald's sensitivity to English weather, landscape and natural habitat is extraordinary; she is a word-painter of the subtlest palette and an audio recorder of peerless quality.

Book Oxygen

In fifty years time - a hundred - H is for Hawk will still defy easy definition. Readers will see wildness a little differently and they will still finish with a silent cheer for a fellow human starting to re-engage with the world. File under classic.

Nigel Roby, We Love This Book

People talk about books that change your life. I loved the fact that this book does something much more valuable. It doesn't change anything. It leaves everything just where it was, only more so; more distinct, more itself. It opens your eyes. And it deepens what we have always known; that we live side by side with each other, as we do with the creatures around us.

Laura Beatty, Caught by the River

Extraordinary. A searing study of bereavement and a meditation on man's place in the natural world. Written with vigour, leavened with humour, it doesn't just sing, it flies.

Maggie Ferguson, Intelligent Life

Unusual and incredibly moving.

Twin Magazine

It is a mark of Macdonald's achievement that so exultant a book can resolve itself in a sense of failure, yet leave the reader as uplifted as a raptor riding on a thermal.

Philip Hoare, New Statesman

A wondrous book of loss and recovery. When [Macdonald] matches her factual know-how.with her poet's eye, it is excellent. An exceptional book of twisted growth.

Tim Dee, National

A masterpiece.

Metro, Patricia Nicol

Very rarely does a book reach out to its readers in such an immediate and engaging manner. A page-turning saga full of profound reflection. A truly remarkable achievement. This book transcends nature writing. Its quality of distinction is apparent before any exercise of critical faculty.

John Lister-Kaye, WOW247

Macdonald is her father's daughter; she takes photographs, but with words, brilliant ones. H is for Helen. G is for good.

John Lewis-Stempel, BBC Countryfile

Strange and beautiful. An incredible achievement.

Kevin Jackson, Literary Review

It is in her descriptions of nature that Macdonald really excels. And.it's the hawks themselves.which really come alive.

James Mcconnachie, Spectator

Big-hearted, joyful and blazing with gorgeous descriptions of nature, H is for Hawk is an unusual but very special memoir.

Good Housekeeping

Lyrical, headlong, humourous.

Iain Finlayson, New Statesman

As phenomenal, unusual, moving and agile as a fearsome bird of prey.


Helen's skill is to cover so much beneath the camouflage of 'nature writing' - with perceptive, far-reaching and rather beautiful results.

Galen O'Hanlon, Skinny

An elegant, disturbing and heart-warming book.

Wharfedale Observer

A brilliantly beautiful evocation which interweaves her experiences as an austringer, a grieving daughter, an academic and simply a human being.

Allen Sleith, Belfast Telegraph

Destined to be a nature classic.

Bath Magazine

It is moving and personal in a way that few books of this kind are.

Gabriel Smith, Cotswold Life

H is for Hawk is a mature, accomplished work: a touchstone for future memoirs, bibliomemoirs, and writing that deals with the natural environment and the self.

The Times Literary Supplement

Beautifully written and interposed with literary references, it will captivate book lovers and bird lovers alike.

Catriona Gray, House and Garden

Likely to leave a lasting impression.

Scotland Outdoors

This is an encounter with a bird many of us only dream of seeing in the wild, so read this and fill a void.

John Miles, Bird Watching

You won't find a better nature book this year.

Fanny Blake, Woman and Home

This part-memoir, part-history, part-nature combination could have gone dreadfully wrong but it doesn't. In fact, like Mabel, it flies.

Alan Johnson MP, Radio Times

Somehow the book had rattled me so much that, even after finishing it, I couldn't let it go.

Julie Myerson, Guardian

Helen Macdonald's book is a worthy and unusual winner; it's part grief-memoir, part history of falconry.

Robbie Millen, The TImes

H is for Hawk deserves its acclaim as a classic of its kind.

David Sexton, Evening Standard

A great read.

Western Morning News

Macdonald's unusual approach and her resonant natural descriptions make it an outstanding book.

Sameer Rahim, Telegraph

Never has the eye of a raptor assumed such fearful, beautiful meaning.

Philip Hoare, New Statesman

H is for Hawk.is the most "A for Amazing" book I've read in a long while.

Alan Johnson, Spectator

The deserved winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize, this is one of the most original works you'll read this year.

Daily Telegraph

The passion and conviction with which Macdonald tells an extraordinary story transcends any fear that this will be another "nature story". Instead it is fascinating, moving and gripping throughout.

Alex Larman, Daily Express

Winner of 2014's Samuel Johnson prize, this is a captivating nature book as well as a moving elegy on love and life.

Kate Figes, Mail on Sunday

The book is almost faultless in its exploration of the relationship with one's own consciousness as well as that of an animal.

Helen Davies, Sunday Times

I've never read anything like it before. The last lines brought tears to my eyes.

Ruth Rendell, Guardian

I must agree with the judges of the Samuel Johnson prize. Helen Macdonald's incredible H Is for Hawk.is a truly original mixture. It is, as the flyleaf predicts, destined to become a classic of nature writing.

Stephen Moss, Guardian

H is for Hawk is an extraordinary achievement - and a salutary reminder that animals are not symbols, but co-tenants of our living landscape.

Melissa Harrison, The Times

Helen Macdonald's prose streams on to the page with absolute clarity in this extraordinary book.

Pat Ashworth, Church Times

It really has been a privilege to read this book.

Dovegreyreader scribbles (blog)

Although grief is the engine of the story, its most exceptional aspect is the beauty and force of its descriptions of birds and landscape, and its real star is the goshawk.

Paul Laity, Guardian

The winner of this year's Samuel Johnson Prize is one of the most captivating books I've read.

Lucy Scholes, Independent

It is in no way a misery memoir. It is uplifting, poetic, exhilarating.

Jackie Kay, Scotsman

What makes the book outstanding is the beauty of her prose. It rightly won the prize.

Alan Johnson, Mail on Sunday

Combining nature writing of the highest order.with a deeply affecting meditation on bereavement, this looks set to become a classic.

Mail on Sunday

One of the most all-consumingly wonderful books I've read in ages.

Kate Kellaway, Observer

Emphatically my book of the year.

John Lister-Kay, Scotsman

I've read excerpts from this book and it sounds wild and strange and haunting.

Francesca Simon, UK Press Syndication

It's worthy winner most in that it shows how diverse non-fiction can be in itself.

Stuart Kelly, Scotsman

It's a treat - a truly original, if slightly mad, book.

Robbie Millen, The Times

I have never read anything that evokes the strange and broken landscape of bereavement more accurately.

Alexandra Blakemore, Times Higher Education

I've never read anything like it before. The last lines brought tears to my eyes.

Ruth Rendell, Guardian Weekly

Ultimately uplifting about the power of life, this has to be one of the best books of the year.

Bob Johnstone, Newstalk

It is a timeless classic that leaves you wondering how you did without it before.

Paul McNamee, Big Issue


Bel Mooney, Daily Mail

The book is unforgettable.

Michael McCarthy, Independent

I can't remember the last time a book made me feel so many different things in such quick succession.

Rachel Cooke, Guardian

Her book is so good that, at times, it hurt me to read it. It draws blood, in ways that seem curative.

Dwight Garner, New York Times

To categorize this work as merely memoir, nature writing or spiritual writing would understate [Macdonald's] achievement

Karin Altenberg, Wall Street Journal (Europe)

Captivating and beautifully written, it's a meditation on the bond between beasts and humans and the pain and beauty of being alive

People Magazine

To come across writing this good.is like spotting a swooping bird of prey on a woodland walk; it's unexpected and thrilling, and the experience stays with you

David Evans, 5 stars, Independent

It's completely original

Peter Duncan, Daily Express

Macdonald writes poignantly but avoids sentimentality on taking her reader on this journey of discovery and ultimately of liberation

Good Book Guide

Both sad and beautiful

Kate Phelan, Vogue

Macdonald's nature writing is truly breathtaking. H is for Hawk is a work that beautifully explores the natural in the midst of the very personal

Ben Walter, Journeys Magazine

probably one of the most unusual non-fictions books I've read, but. one of the most heartfelt and intriguing ones

Reading Matters

poetic and intriguing

Louise Elliott, Living Magazine

H is for Hawk, her memoir of loss, writing, recovery and nature, drawing ingeniously on the life and work of T.H. White, covered this territory with ferocious honesty and eloquence

Sarah Ditum, Spectator

Combines lyrical nature writing with moving introspection.

Radio Times

Fiercely, grippingly brilliant.

James Macdonald, The Sunday Times

Exceptionally well researched and written. It's a wonderful book, it made me cry.

Phil Williams, BBC Radio 5 Live

Macdonald's is a book about grief, the churlish indifference of the natural world to human emotions and the solitude of failure, but it is also about a "return from this strange hedgerow ontology to more ordinary humanity". It is heartbreaking and affirming at the same time.

Peter J. Smith, Times Higher Education Supplement

A lyrical, moving probe into both the process of mourning and our relationship with the natural world.

Martin Chilton, Olivia Petter and Ceri Radford, Independent, *Books of the Decade*

One of the decade's most arresting nature books

Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times, *Books of the Decade*

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