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"Jonathan Livingston Seagull" by Richard Bach Review

Larry Slawson received his master's degree 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."

Introduction and Overview of "Jonathan Livingston Seagull"

  • 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 a seagull and his attempt to learn more about life through both exploration and experimentation.

Divided into four parts, Bach initially conceived the story as a series of short stories 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 named 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” ( 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 (


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 of 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—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.


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 a 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.

Quote in Jonathan Livingston Seagull

“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.

Works Cited


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


  • Wikimedia Commons.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Larry Slawson


Jane Molt from Marion, OH, Unites States on May 15, 2019:

Amazing review! Good job!

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on May 14, 2019:

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 on May 13, 2019:

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.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 13, 2019:

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 (author) from North Carolina on May 13, 2019:

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

Liz Westwood from UK on May 13, 2019:

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

Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on May 13, 2019:

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.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on May 13, 2019:

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.