Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Review: A Supremely Bad Idea

Magnificent Frigatebirds circle above 'Bird Island' in El Salvador
In my efforts to expand the reach of this blog to more people, I've started to do some book reviews for nature and photography related titles.  The first unofficial review was for John Turner's latest book Exploring the Other Island: A seasonal guide to nature on Long Island which features a dozen of my images and is an excellent alternative field guide to Long Island an essentially New England and New Jersey (that review can be found here: Exploring the Other Island.  This post will focus on the wildly entertaining book by Luke Dempsey entitled A Supremely Bad Idea: Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See It All.  In an interesting twist, John Turner's book has several photographs from NY's own Lloyd Spitalnik who is also an acquaintance of Luke Dempsey and is mentioned in A Supremely Bad Idea.  The birding world is a small one!

I bought this book prior to my summer visit to El Salvador and Guatemala - figuring there would be a good amount of down time that would allow me to relax and read.  To be honest, I'm not much of a reader and it's rare that I buy a book - even more so that I buy a book about birds but when I skimmed through A Supremely Bad Idea at the store I saw that Mr. Dempsey was NY based and I guess I subconsciously enjoy supporting other artists named Luke.  The book focuses on Mr. Dempsey's entry into the birding world and his subsequent whirlwind tours of the hottest birding spots in the Country with a married couple who are wholly responsible for getting him addicted to birding.  The couple is from the NY area but assume rather amusing pseudonyms in the book to protect their identities.  The authors ability to mix humor, real life, travel and birds together is truly impressive.  I caught myself laughing out loud throughout the book but to be sure there are a few moments that will tug on your heart strings.  For Mr. Dempsey, birding becomes an escape from his exceedingly stressful life.  While it kills him to not have control over his personal life, he relishes in not being able to control the natural world in pursuit of the rarest birds North America has to offer (though he does an excellent job of masking this with splashes of profanity and plenty of British humor).

Nikon D300s 18-200mm VR @ 200mm f/5.6, 1/1600s, -.33 EC, ISO 320, El Salvador
One of the things I enjoyed most was the picture that he paints with his descriptions from his birding adventures.  This certainly was amplified by the fact that I read the majority of this book on a hammock a stone's throw from a major roost for Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans.  Reading about his experiences, then looking up to the sky to see thousands of these birds circling overhead was a really cool experience that enhanced the literature.  In the middle of the book are several pages of pictures taking during the author's jaunts around the country.  While the quality may not rival mine (how could it?) they add to the personal flavor this book has.

For anyone looking for a good book, a good laugh, or an interesting read about birding and birders, you absolutely must purchase this book.  I hope one day to have the pleasure of meeting Mr. Dempsey and thanking him for writing such a wonderful book.  Perhaps I will be fortunate enough to run into him in the field while photographing some exceedingly rare bird - how fitting would that be?  For those interested - click the link below to check it out on


  1. Hi Luke,
    I like the new look to your blog. Good work!

    I too enjoyed "A Supremely Bad Idea". Its a good, light read about one of our favorite hobbies (obsessions?)

    In my humble opinion, this book ranks up there with "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson, my favorite travel book. There are plenty of laughs mixed with good birding info. Its an entertaining and accurate description of birding.

    Thanks for the post Luke!

  2. Hi Luke,
    Thanks for the mention. I really appreciate it. Should be on Dune Road this Thursday 2/3 in the early afternoon. One of these days we'll meet up.
    Keep up the good work,

  3. Don and Donna Graffiti appreciate your generous review of our friend Luke's book. Off to Costa Rica tomorrow. Nice photos, by the way.

  4. thanks for the review, I think I might just have to get it...