Review: Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Updated on July 15, 2019
Larry Slawson profile image

Larry Slawson received his Masters Degree in History at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

Richard Bach's short story, "Jonathan Livingston Seagull."
Richard Bach's short story, "Jonathan Livingston Seagull." | Source

Introduction

Book Title: Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Author: Richard Bach

Illustrated By: Russel Munson

Language: English

Genre: Self-Help; Novel; Spiritual

Date Published: 1970

Number of Pages: 144

First published in 1970, Richard Bach’s landmark book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, follows the life of seagull and his attempt to learn more about life through both exploration and experimentation. Divided into four parts, the story was originally conceived by Bach as a series of short-stories that he published in Flying magazine, enjoying limited success. After compiling the stories into a multi-part book, Bach’s work skyrocketed in sales, reaching the top of the New York Times “Best Seller List” for thirty-eight straight weeks. The book is named after a Waco Aircraft Company test pilot by the name of John H. Livingston, who died of a heart attack after testing a homemade Pitts Special aircraft.

Commentators, such as Tom Butler-Bowdon, have listed the book as one of fifty “timeless spiritual classics” (Wikipedia.org). Others have emphasized its “self-help” tendencies, as well as its connections with the “positive thinking” culture of the early 1970s that was first epitomized by individuals such as Norman Vincent Peale (Wikipedia.org).

Synopsis

In “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” the reader is introduced to the idea of having “purpose” in ones’ life, and the practicality of pursuing ones’ dreams. One particular quote that seems to epitomize this concept exceptionally well can be seen with the following: “How much more there is now to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there’s a reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!” (Bach, 17).

This quote is interesting in that it is both encouraging and inspirational for Bach’s readers. Jonathan Livingston Seagull is tired of living a life of routine and nothingness that is espoused by the flock of seagulls that surround him daily. He desires to rise above this type of lifestyle with the pursuit of knowledge, and experimentation through flying.

By acting like all of the other seagulls, Jonathan was incapable of having a purpose within his life. By going against the traditional norms upheld by his flock, however, Jonathan is capable of pursuing his dream and discovers a newfound purpose in life. His constant pursuit of knowledge leads him to become a creature of “excellence and intelligence and skill” (Bach, 17). By following his dream of flying, Jonathan is able to achieve true happiness. This happiness, which is hinted at by Bach on numerous occasions, is the equivalent to being in a heavenly state. Remaining in an unfulfilling life like the rest of Jonathan’s flock, however, hinders one from ever achieving this divine state of mind and is portrayed by Bach in a negative light.

Richard Bach

Richard Bach. Notice the aircraft in the background, as aviation and flying has long been one of Bach's personal hobbies.
Richard Bach. Notice the aircraft in the background, as aviation and flying has long been one of Bach's personal hobbies. | Source

Review

In closing, Jonathan Livingston Seagull demonstrates the importance of pursuing a meaningful life. In order to lead fulfilling lives, however, we must always go beyond what is expected of us. In a sense, Jonathan seems a lot like the modern day college student. Rather than simply accepting a high school education as a basis for the rest of their lives, college students instead pursue degrees that further their understanding of the world around them, and develop skills that will benefit them in the long term. As the story suggests, we should always establish goals for ourselves and pursue things that make us better human beings. Once an individual accomplishes a set of goals they should, in turn, set additional expectations for their future just like Jonathan, who never stopped learning to fly. By pursuing ones’ dream, you can achieve happiness and purpose within your life that would otherwise not exist.

All in all, I give Bach’s work 5/5 Stars, and highly recommend it to anyone who is seeking to find purpose or meaning in their life. This book, while short, offers a unique perspective of life that should not be ignored. Definitely check it out if you get the opportunity, as you will not be disappointed with the contents of this book.

“How much more there is now to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there’s a reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!”

— Jonathan Livingston Seagull

About Richard Bach

Richard David Bach is an American writer who was well-known throughout the 1970s for his bestsellers, Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970), and Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah (1977). Bach’s books are primarily fiction, but dabble with non-fiction themes that are described by many as “semi-autobiographical,” as the author uses fictionalized events to illustrate his personal philosophies as well as personal events from his daily life. Major themes in Bach’s work include philosophy, mortality, physical limits, as well as aviation (one of Bach’s personal favorites).

Bach was born in Oak Park, Illinois on 23 June 1936. He is currently eighty-two years old, and resides at home with his wife Sabryna Nelson-Alexopoulous.

Poll

Before reading this review, were you familiar with the book "Jonathan Livingston Seagull?"

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Works Cited:

Articles/Books:

Bach, Richard, and Russell Munson. Jonathan Livingston Seagull. New York, NY: Scribner, 1998. Print.

Images/Photographs:

Wikipedia contributors, "Jonathan Livingston Seagull," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jonathan_Livingston_Seagull&oldid=895300069(accessed May 13, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, "Richard Bach," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Richard_Bach&oldid=893462714 (accessed May 13, 2019).

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Larry Slawson

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      • Jane Molt profile image

        Jane Molt 

        3 months ago from Marion, OH, Unites States

        Amazing review! Good job!

      • Marie Flint profile image

        Marie Flint 

        3 months ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

        My familiarity with the story was through an audio book version while working on staff at Hippocrates Health Institute in Boston, Massachusetts.

        I remember the seagull was always striving to fly faster.

        That was a long time ago.

        Life has taught me to live in the now. It's okay to have goals, but I don't judge myself relative to them. I remember the beauty around me and allow myself to feel from the heart.

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 

        3 months ago from the short journey

        Interesting to see this surface again. I read it when it first came out and was young enough to emote about the warm fuzzy romanticized picture of focusing on self, which, even as a teen, I found nothing unique in. We were all self focused, but constantly struggling with the conflict of wanting to fit in.

        All wanted to stand out, be a cut above others in some way, thinking that would make us better people, thus the confusion of inexperienced minds grew. Some grew out of it, some did not. Too many have died because of it. We wanted to have our cake and eat it too, and that has not changed because the human condition is exactly what God says it is.

        It is sad that everyday people continue to be denigrated by ambitious people who consider what they think/want, what they work toward, what they accomplish and gain is more important than just enjoying life in a simple manner. But again, that is the condition of the fallen human race. I am thankful to know why I was created by God and to continue learning about the awesome glory and blessings of what it means to walk with Him according to His Word.

        Expressing our opinion in writing can be dangerous for we have nothing to base someone's comments on beyond the black words on white page, so please don't be offended! I appreciate the chance to revisit this book and reconsider it in light of time and experience. I can't agree with the philosophy behind it, but some of what you write is important to consider as long as we have the right motive/perspective, otherwise, in the end, we will find it all to be worse than useless.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        3 months ago from Sunny Florida

        I remember buying, reading and loving this book back when it came out. You did an excellent review of this book. Even though I haven't thought of this book for years your description brought bac those memories.

      • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

        Larry Slawson 

        3 months ago from North Carolina

        Thank you Liz. Yes, you should definitely read it sometime. Its really good, and relatively short as well. Highly recommended.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        3 months ago from UK

        I had not heard of this book before. Your review makes it sound like an interesting read.

      • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

        Larry Slawson 

        3 months ago from North Carolina

        Haha, that's funny Eric. Yeah, its a pretty good book. I had to read it for one of my Twentieth-Century American History courses in college. I just read it again last week.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        3 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        My mom who I obeyed well into my fifties and now her legacy had this as a must read. Chicken Soup and How to be a Jewish Mother were in there along with Julia Child's the Joy of cooking. I think do to your inspiration I shall read this again if I can find and dust off. Thanks.

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