Cover image for Dreambirds : the strange history of the ostrich in fashion, food, and fortune
Dreambirds : the strange history of the ostrich in fashion, food, and fortune
Nixon, Rob, 1954-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Picador USA, [1999]

Physical Description:
289 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
First published in London by Doubleday in 1999.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
SF511.3.S6 N58 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Cómo enseñar a sus hijos en el control del dinero, patrones morales, y otros.

Author Notes

Rob Nixon is a professor at the University of Wisconsin. His work has appeared in The New Yorker , the Atlantic Monthly , the Village Voice , and Outside magazine. He has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, among others. Originally from South Africa, he now lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The memoirs of a South African emigreto Madison, Wisconsin, Dreambirds stitches together the lives of South African feather farmers and Arizonan alternative meat farmers, along with tales of a boyhood spent near the Karoo desert. The connecting thread of these disparate themes is the world's largest bird, the ostrich. The author grew up under apartheid, near a town famous for its boom and subsequent bust during the ostrich feather fashion craze of a century ago. Growing up fascinated by ostriches and other birds, the author delves into the history of ostrich farming in South Africa and the social and political currents that shaped that period in history. Interwoven with these tales of the distant past is the author's recounting of the more recent past of his boyhood and his return to South Africa on his father's death. The constant in all of this time-and globe-trotting is the ostrich, the author's love for the bird providing a platform for his ruminations on the elections that changed South Africa and the get-rich-quick ostrich schemes of the western U.S. A hard book to categorize, but nearly impossible to put down, Dreambirds will be welcomed by all who want to explore different worlds through another person's reflections on life. --Nancy Bent

Publisher's Weekly Review

Once in a while a book comes along that makes magical a seemingly odd subject. Part memoir of his youth in South Africa's Karoo desert, part social history of the men and women who have chased ostrich dreams in South Africa and America, and part hopeful and yet melancholy tale of a son's mature understanding of his father, this book defies easy categorization as it casts its spell. With stylistic ease and elegance, Nixon (who teaches English at Columbia) tells a story that is greater than its parts. At its core lies the ostrich, that "goofy gargantuan" that throughout history has "feathered our dreams more luxuriantly than any other bird." While readers will learn more than they ever imagined knowing about the strange bird, Nixon deftly turns their interest to the assorted dreamers who sought their fortunes in its gorgeous feathers, meat or skin--the South African ostrich ranchers of his childhood, the wave of pogrom-fleeing Lithuanian Jews, as well as Afrikaners and Scots, who settled in the Karoo to raise ostriches, and, finally, the newest wave of ostrich enthusiasts in the American Southwest in the 1980s. Nixon narrates these tales in all their fascinating glory and tragedy, presenting a rich socioeconomic tale of the ostrich's rise and decline during the 20th century. Tugging at this alternatingly humorous and bizarre background is the author's honest and fresh attempt to revisit two ghosts from his past--his father, a self-taught botanist and gardening columnist for a local newspaper, and South African apartheid. Nixon has succeeded in tying it all together into a tantalizing read. Who would have suspected that ostriches could provide the ballast for such a moving memoir? Agent, Bill Hamilton. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This poetic, beautifully written book concerns more than it seems. On the surface, it is an excellent chronicle of lives centered on ostrich ranching in both South Africa and the American Southwest. A century ago, the birds were raised by Lithuanian Jewish refugees for their plumes, which were used in the millinery trade. Now the attraction is their meat--billed as the "filet of the future" for its healthful qualities--as well as their leather. On another level, this is a memoir of Nixon's coming of age in South Africa and of the complexities of relationships with one's family. In addition, Nixon, now an English professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, illuminates recent history in both countries, discussing race relations, wars, ranch life, colonialism, and religion. The unlikely unifying theme for all this is the life history of the ostrich, its exploitation by humans, its place in history, and the plant and animal life of the terrains inhabited by this world's largest bird. Highly recommended.--Henry T. Armistead, Free Lib. of Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.