In the USA, some 50 million people lay claim to being bird-watchers or 'birders', spending over $60 billion on birding-related travel each year and over $560 million on birding-related membership fees. And for a select - and utterly obsessed few - they compete in one of the world's quirkiest contests: the race to spot the most species in North America in a single year. And 1998 wasn't just a big year, it was the BIGGEST. . . THE BIG YEAR is Pulitzer Prize-winner Mark Obmascik's account of what was to become the greatest 'birding' year of all time (freak weather conditions ensured all previous records were broken) as experienced by three of the biggest, most obsessive hitters in the birding world.;Greg Miller, the recently divorced software engineer for a nuclear plant; Al Levantin, retired vice President of a billion-dollar chemical conglomerate; and Sandy Komito, a New Jersey roofing contractor and holder of the Big Year bird-spotting record for 1987. Oh, and there's the Californian who, too infirm to go out into the field, participates in Big Sits - birdwatching on TV - his greatest fear is those competitors with satellite dishes. . . What becomes very clear through the pages of this classic portrait of obsession is that while our feathered friends may be the objective of the Big Year competition, it's the curious activities and behavioural patterns of the pursuing 'homo sapiens' that are the real cause for concern. It's a contest that reveals much of the human character in extremis - a tendency towards passion and deceit, fear and courage combined with that fundamental craving to see, conquer and categorize, no matter how low the stakes.;And as the author brilliantly brings to life, gets under the skin of, this extraordinary, eccentric triumvirate of obsessive 'birders' he empathises with and eventually succumbs to the all-consuming nature of their obsession. The result is a wonderfully entertaining, acutely observed lark of a read that is destined to rank alongside the best of Bill Bryson.