• The Big Year

  • A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession
  • By: Mark Obmascik
  • Narrated by: Del Roy
  • Length: 9 hrs and 53 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (329 ratings)

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The Big Year  By  cover art

The Big Year

By: Mark Obmascik
Narrated by: Del Roy
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Publisher's summary

A classic in the making - an account of the biggest year in birdwatching history.

In the USA, some 50 million people lay claim to being bird-watchers or “birders,” spending billions of dollars on birding-related travel and membership fees every year. A select, and utterly obsessed, few compete in one of the world’s quirkiest contests - the race to spot the most species in North America in a single year. And 1998 wasn’t just a big year. It was the biggest. 

The Big Year is Pulitzer Prize-winner Mark Obmascik’s account of what was to become the greatest birding year of all time. 

It was freak weather conditions that ensured all previous records were broken, but what becomes clear within the pages of this classic portrait of obsession is that while our feathered friends may be the objective of the Big Year competition, it’s the curious activities and behavioral patterns of the pursuing “homo sapiens” that are the real cause for concern. It is a contest that reveals much of the human character in extremes. 

Such are the author’s powers of observation that he brilliantly brings to life and gets under the skin of these extraordinary, eccentric and obsessive birders while empathizing with and eventually succumbing to the all-consuming nature of their obsession. The result is a wonderfully funny, acutely observed classic to rank alongside the best of Bill Bryson. 

©2004 Mark Obmascik (P)2004 Books on Tape, Inc.

Critic reviews

"A fun account of a whirlwind pursuit of birding fame." (Publishers Weekly)
"With a blend of humor and awe, Obmascik takes the reader into the heart of competitive birding, and in the process turns everyone into birders. " (Booklist)
"Charming, engrossing, and educational even for people who can't tell a mudhen from a magpie." (Washington Post)
"A rollicking, feather-ruffler of a read, this uproarious adventure...will have you cawing with laughter." (Jeff Corwin)

What listeners say about The Big Year

Average customer ratings
Overall
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Not for the Birds

I like to watch the birds in my yard, that's why I picked up this book. But you don't have to care about birds or know anything about them to enjoy it. The obsession the characters had was amazing and the whole experience pointed out to what lengths people will go when they feel they are in a competition.
I usually give up on unabridged books (short attention span) but I listened to every word of this one and was disappointed when it ended.

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8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating, Exciting

Once the groundwork has been laid, the main characters take over and the Big Year finishes with high drama. I rooted for the underdog and am still astonished at the sheer physical endurance of the three men in pursuit of the Holy Grail of birding. A fun, interesting, sometimes heart-stopping "read."

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5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Good Book, I hated the Readers Voice

I am not a birder, but this book takes what sounds like a very dry story and makes it a very interesting story worth listening to. This is an Adventure Travel book, not just a "bird lovers book." My family and I listened to it as we drove on a multi-day Thanksgiving vacation drive. It was fun betting on which of the people was going to come out the winner. So we did enjoy the book and shook our heads at just what lengths the competitors were willing to go to in order to try and get the most birds. But I really think that whoever made the decision to use this reader made a huge mistake. The reader's voice works against what the book was trying to do. The reader's voice sounds like a nice older grandpa reading you a bed-time story, or an old retired professor reading you a technical biography of Abraham Lincoln or something like that. It is like whoever made the decision to assign this guy to read this book, read the title of the book and said, "....Oh a book about birding, I will assign some old guy who might be interested in such a subject. But this book is an adventure travel book, not an old dusty, scholarly look at an obscure topic. This book should have been read by somebody who you would assign to an exciting adventure travel book. Audible blew it on this one. Most books I like to keep and re-listen to again, but I doubt that I will re-listen to this one, only because of the readers voice. No knock against the reader, it is just his voice does not fit the story at all.

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4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Don't let the movie put you off! Truly wonderful!

"The Big Year" is right up there with the best audio (and paper) books I've consumed. Telling a quietly compelling and unexpectedly exciting story of three men's journeys in life through the lens of a quasi-official, quasi-insane birding competition, Obmascik's book draws the reader in with it's humor, heart, and characters, each of whose lives and motivations are revealed through both action and back-story vignettes.

Equally appealing as a character study, travelogue, and adventure / drama, "The Big Year" is hard to put down and leaves the reader satiated with its conclusion and epilogue. Whether one likes birding or simply a well-told tale, "The Big Year" has big appeal. I absolutely loved it.

P.S. Be aware that the movie is just "inspired by" the book. Whatever you think of the movie, the real characters and storyline are far more compelling than the Hollywood-ized caricatures (and outright inventions) that made it to the screen!

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3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Not a birder - Loved the book

I bought this book with some skepticism, but after I got into it, I loved it. There is a lot of name dropping about birds - bird names - but it didn't really get in the way of enjoying the book. I even looked up some of the birds on the internet to see what they were talking about. It's a play by play of 3 people who set out to see how many birds they could see and identify in a year. I had no idea people did this. I had heard about the Christmas bird counts, but didn't know that people did this year round. I found it a very interesting and informative book. I didn't know Audobon killed all those birds that he drew pictures of. They would have kicked him out of the Audobon Society today! I was rooting for the guys who were competing, and thought some of the stories were hilarious about one guy who would leave a "hello" message for the other two birders just for fun. There are some Audible books that leave me wanting more when they finish and this was one of them. It would be fun to count how many birds are named in the book - to see if it coincides with the number of birds viewed that year by the winner. Try it and let me know!

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3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Best for Birders, interesting look at a subculture

I'm a birder, so I thoroughly enjoyed this look into competitive listing and the vast opportunity of habitat in the U.S. The narrative was a little slow, but it was a good story.

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1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Great listen

This is a very entertaining story well presented parts are hilarious, my wife and I are birders and can relate.

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1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Competitive Birding !!??

I'm an avid birder, but not an avid lister- meaning I like to identify birds, but wouldn't drive 100 miles just to get a new one. So it was very interesting to read about these three men who would fly to Alaska, and stay in primitive conditions in terrible weather - at great expense - just to add some new birds to their lists.
It's a great story...

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1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

REALLY BORING!

I found this book incredibly boring and would strongly advise against listening to it unless you're really an avid bird lover. Hoping the "interesting, funny" parts other reviewers mentioned were yet to come, I listened to most of Part 1 before giving up. What a disappointment!

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1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

My new New Year’s tradition

Great story and well-paced performance. Every year I listen around New Year’s Day (and also watch the movie) to encourage me to get out and look for birds no matter what the weather. I don’t chase rarities much but have picked up a couple of tips from this nice adventurous true tale.

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