Jonathan Livingston Seagull

jonathan livingston seagull cover richard bach
7.0 Overall Score

A cultural phenomenon, perfect speed is being there

Cheesy late '60s/'70s pop-philosophy

Book Info

Book Title:  Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Publisher:  Macmillan

Writer:  Richard Bach

Photography:  Russell Munson

Release Date:  1970


Spread your wings and fly! (yeah, the message is that basic)

Jonathan Livingston Seagull dreams of flying better than any seagull that has ever lived.  While the rest of his flock is content with fishing and survival, Jonathan wants more.  Jonathan’s quest to fly faster than any seagull pushes him to the brink both physically and mentally and leads to being ostracized by his own family.  When Jonathan learns that there are other gulls like him, Jonathan learns that the secret of flight might be mental more than physical, and Jonathan might one day reach his dream!

Written by Richard Bach with photographs by Russell Munson, Jonathan Livingston Seagull was a philosophical novel released in 1970 by Macmillan Publishing.  The novel clicked with the populous and became a New York Times best-seller.  The novel spawned a movie in 1973 with music by Neil Diamond, and the novel continues to regarded as a modern classic.


Don’t fly with the flock just because it is easy

When I was in school, Jonathan Livingston Seagull was assigned reading.  The book was a lit book but also served a dual purpose as an intro to philosophy.  The short easy to read novel and its positive message were good for young adult readers.  I hadn’t reread Jonathan Livingston Seagull since middle school…and thought some of the themes still are strong, the book feels rather dated.

The messages of Jonathan Livingston Seagull are basic ones:  don’t let others tell you what your limitations are and always strive for better.  This is why the book is a strong selection for younger readers, but the message is so basic, I can’t see how it caught on.  The early ’70s were a different time with a different philosophy toward life, but the concepts of this book are so basic that it seems that real readers would laugh it off.


You can go your own way! (and you can sing Fleetwood Mac while doing it)

That is why I think that Jonathan Livingston Seagull was more of a status book.  It was like watching The Sopranos (which by comparison was a truly good series).  Jonathan Livingston Seagull seems like one of those books that pseudo-intellectuals would have asked others if they read at parties while drinking cocktails or a guy would use as a pick-up line on a girl.  It feels like it would be the “smart” book to read and that because anyone can get the message, the readers feel smart because they are reading transcendental philosophy.

What I do think is interesting about Jonathan Livingston Seagull is the sci-fi/fantasy aspect of the story.  The thing I remember most from my reading in middle school was the idea of speed.  The book proposes that speed is more time than movement.  Jonathan learns that “perfect speed…is being there”.   As a kid, this blew my mind, but I do always think about this with comic book speedster characters like The Flash or Quicksilver and whenever scientists talk about faster than light travel…even faster than teleportation.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull isn’t a bad book for younger readers but it is quite basic and overly simplistic for adults.  As a science fiction book, it does have slight merit which was not its intention, but I do like this aspect of it.  For a much better animal based book with similar basic messages, I’d still recommend Watership Down, but Jonathan Livingston Seagull can be a good primer.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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