The book contained fewer than 10,000 words. It tells the story of a seagull called Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The manuscript written by Richard Bach was turned down by many publishers. At last it was accepted and published by Macmillan Publishers in 1970. Surprisingly it broke all hardcover sales records since "Gone with the Wind". It sold more than 1,000,000 copies in 1972 alone.
The story is about Jonathan Livingston Seagull who flew for the love of flying rather than merely to catch food. Young Jonathan Livingston is frustrated with the meaningless materialism and conformity and limitation of the seagull life. Seized by a passion for flight, he pushes himself, learning everything he can about flying. For him flying isn’t something to get food, he tries to break the ‘speed limits’ because every limit is a restriction of freedom. Eventually, his lack of conformity to the limited seagull life leads him into conflict with his flock, and they cast him out of their flock. An outcast, he continues to learn, becoming increasingly pleased with his abilities as he leads a free life.
One day, Jonathan is met by two radiant, loving seagulls who take him to a “higher plane of existence” in that there is no heaven but a better world found through perfection of knowledge, where he meets other gulls who love to fly. He discovers that his sheer tenacity and desire to learn make him “pretty well a one-in-a-million bird.” Jonathan befriends the wisest gull in this new place, named Chiang, who takes him beyond his previous learning, teaching him how to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the Universe. He realizes that one has to be true to his self: “You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way.”
Jonathan returns to his former flock to share his newly discovered ideals and the recent tremendous experience, ready for the difficult fight against the current rules of that society. He wants to find others like him, to bring them his learning and to spread his love for flight. He soon found several good flight students. Fletcher Gull was one of them, he has a desire to learn to fly. Jonathan teaches Fletcher to fly like Chiang has told him.
His mission is successful, gathering around him others who have been outlawed for not conforming. Ultimately, the very first of his students, Fletcher Lynd Seagull, becomes a teacher in his own right and Jonathan leaves to teach other flocks.
Actually the story is about people, not birds. It teaches men and women about the meaning of life, that we are put on earth to strive and to reach for perfection in whatever we choose to do. Flight is a symbol of any human activity that enlarges the personality. Eating is a symbol of activities which only gratify the senses. It is important, but it is not the goal itself. One has to go beyond and strive more to attain perfection.
We learn from Jonathan the price which must be paid for excellence. Excellence requires leaving the flock, being alone, and practising. And the practice requires “fierce concentration.”
The book is dedicated to “the real Jonathan Seagull who lives within us all”. Every one of us could learn something from this book because there are a lot of principles and eye openers in it. Here are some beautiful quotes in the book.
“You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way".”
“We choose our next world through what we learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome.”
“Do you have any idea how many lives we must have gone through before we even got the first idea that there is more to life than eating, or fighting, or power in the Flock? A thousand lives, Jon, ten thousand!”
“Whatever stands against that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation in any form.”
“Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.”
“[Perfect speed] isn’t flying a thousand miles, or a million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit and perfection doesn’t have limits.”
“Keep working on love.”