Short review: Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a book about potential, about dreamers, about passion and the meaning of life. That’s quite a lot for a little book about an ordinary Seagull who teaches himself to be extraordinary. This is a book for anyone who is a dreamer with a passion that doesn’t fit into the pack.
Longer review: Jonathan Livingston Seagull doesn’t feel like it fits in with the rest of the flock. They spark and care only for food, flocking around the fishing boats in the hope of picking up scraps of fish and bread, while Jonathan Livingston Seagull flies by himself working on his skills of flight. Now seagulls are not known for being graceful flyers, or for being fast or agile, but Jonathan Livingston Seagull is fascinated by these things. He spends hours trying to fly faster, higher or more spectacular ways. He would rather do that than eat. For him flight is a special thing. It is the purest of joys. It is the thing that when he does it he feels most himself. And he becomes something quite extraordinary. But the flock do not like this, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull is exiled to live by himself.
This is a story about an ordinary Seagull goes on an extraordinary journey. It is on a journey from one place to another on a map, but rather a personal journey. There is a story about what it takes to explore one’s passion and to master a skill. But if that was all the book was about it might not have made Jonathan Livingston Seagull the fabled classic that has become. What sets it apart is that Jonathan Livingston Seagull is about a spiritual journey as well. The story very much follows the path of Jesus Christ, although that’s not really what the stories about. It is about how someone can be ordinary and make themselves become exceptional, and that that truth lies in everyone. However this is no easy thing, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull runs through all the ways that most people react to the extraordinary. Jonathan becomes an outcast, when he transcends ordinary gulls. Later he then returns to them and he is regarded with suspicion. Slowly Jonathan gains the small, loyal following of close students who learn from him and pass on his knowledge, which has become theirs. When Jonathan Livingston Seagull finally leaves, his exceptionalism is turned into extraordinary supernatural abilities. The gull is turned into a God, and what he had achieved becomes the acts of deity and not of any ordinary Seagull.
The message is lost. But in every generation there are new goals to discover the secret of exploring their passion and developing it through hard work, and so Jonathan Livingston Seagull’s message lives on potentially in everyone willing to look and work hard enough.
This book is a classic for good reason. There are no wasted words, and the simple story of a Seagull might just be one of the most uplifting things you will ever read, that is unless you are just another Seagull squawking scraps of fish and bread like everybody else.
Find out more about Richard Back and Jonathan Livingston Seagull here.
Reviewed by Dan Soule
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