J. A. Baker's "The Peregrine" is a remarkable achievement in nature writing for both its style and substance, easily among the finest ever in the category. The book, in diary form, details the author's extensive viewing and tracking of peregrine falcons, but more accurately, his obsessive stalking of these birds of breathtaking speed and predatory skill, in the Essex countryside outside London during the fall of 1962 through the spring of 1963.
Baker's singular style is the very model of concision. It is stark and stunning prose, often more like preternatural poetry, exceptional in its beauty. He is not simply reporting the activities of the peregrines, their prey, and their surroundings, he is fully within the action and its environs, and so, therefore, is the reader. It is an unmatched reading experience. Baker displays an uncanny ability to describe color, movement, landscape, and weather with brilliant clarity and nuance.
Though less than 200 pages, this is not a quick or easy read. Best digested in small bites, I found it too intense for long sessions. Also, there are many passages, individual sentences, and striking word combinations which must be reread a time or two and lingered over in order to fully appreciate.
There is a somewhat lurid focus on the peregrines' kills, unflinchingly described with a certain admiration. Indeed, as the seasons progress, the author increasingly identifies with the peregrine, simultaneously grousing a growing disdain for the human species: a thoroughly fascinating narrative posture. This is essential reading; an altogether unforgettable book.