Review: The Secret Life of the Owl

The Secret Life of the Owl audiobook cover. A white outline of an owl with wings spread wide soars across a dark blue starry background. The Secret Life of the Owl by John Lewis-Stempel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 1 hr 51 mins

The Secret Life of the Owl Is a wonderful audiobook by John Lewis-Stempel, charting the owl's place in history, Mythology, and nature.

'Dusk is filling the valley. It is the time of the gloaming, the owl-light.
Out in the wood, the resident tawny has started calling, Hoo-hoo-hoo-h-o-o-o.'


This charming audiobook has a soothing, lyrical style, and explores the relationship between humans and these beautiful birds in a format which is part love-letter, part lament. In a changing landscape with much of their habitat disappearing it is hard not to note a sense of nostalgia in the author's words.

Wonderfully narrated by Roy McMillan, whose smooth, pleasing voice is equally authoritative and conversational, The Secret Life of the Owl Is a journey through time as well as nature; through our world and that of the owl, to examine the places where they intersect. From their 58-million-year old fossilised ancestors, to the howlet's wing bubbling away in a Shakespearian witches' cauldron, and the pocket-sized pet of Florence Nightingale, Lewis-Stempel details the myriad ways in which owls appear in historical records, culture, and literature - variously as the spirit of a dire warning, a wise sage, or a cherished pet.

In this book we also learn about the biology, behaviours, and habitats of the owl, and how it is so perfectly adapted to exploit the night. Owls are an iconic part of the landscape in many places across the world, and their impact upon the communities with whom they share their territories can not be underestimated.

Despite the book's brevity the information it contains manages to be comprehensive without ever feeling lecturing, instead seeming to marvel in the complex history and ecology it imparts to the listener. I loved the snippets of poetry and verse which Lewis-Stempel includes alongside the factual information, especially given McMillan's enchanting delivery.

This is the perfect book for anyone who revels in the natural world and its creatures, and is not afraid to peer out into the dark...

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