Jonathan Livingston Seagull:
A Story
Johnathan Livingston Seagull.jpg
First edition
AuthorRichard Bach
IllustratorRussell Munson
(black-and-white photographs)
SubjectThe life of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a seagull.
GenreSpiritual, self-help, novella
PublisherMacmillan Publishers (United States)
Publication date
1970, 2014
Media typePrint (paperback)
Pages144 (The Complete Edition)
ISBN978-1-4767-9331-3 (2014 paperback edition)

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by American author Richard Bach and illustrated with black-and-white photographs shot by Russell Munson, is a fable in novella form about a seagull who is trying to learn about life and flight, and a homily about self-perfection. Bach initially wrote it as a series of short stories that were published in Flying magazine in the late 1960s. It was first published in book form in 1970, and by the end of 1972 over a million copies were in print. Reader's Digest published a condensed version, and the book reached the top of the New York Times Best Seller list, where it remained for 37 weeks. In 1972 and 1973, the book topped the Publishers Weekly list of bestselling novels in the United States.

In 2014 the book was reissued as Jonathan Livingston Seagull: The Complete Edition, which added a 17-page fourth part to the story.

In 1980 a Spanish edition was published by Pomaire (Barcelona) featuring illustrations by photographer Jordi Olavarrieta, translated by Carol and Frederick Howell. [1]

In 1981 a French edition was published by Flammarion (Paris) featuring illustrations by photographer Jordi Olavarrieta, translated by Pierre Clostermann. [2]


The book tells the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a seagull who is bored with daily squabbles over food. Seized by a passion for flight, he pushes himself and learns everything he can about flying. His increasing unwillingness to conform finally results in his expulsion from the flock. Now an outcast, he continues to learn, becoming increasingly pleased with his abilities while leading a peaceful and happy life.

One day Jonathan meets two gulls who take him to a "higher plane of existence" in which there is no heaven, but a better world found through perfection of knowledge. There he meets another seagull who loves to fly. He discovers that his sheer tenacity and desire to learn have made him "pretty well a one-in-a-million bird." In this new place, Jonathan befriends the wisest gull, Chiang, who takes him beyond his previous self-education, and teaches him how to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the Universe. The secret, Chiang says, is to "begin by knowing that you have already arrived."

But unsatisfied with his new life, Jonathan returns to Earth to find others like himself to teach them what he has learned and to spread his love for flight. His mission is successful, and Jonathan gathers around himself a flock of other gulls who have been declared outcasts themselves for not conforming. The first of his students, Fletcher Lynd Seagull, ultimately becomes a teacher in his own right, and Jonathan leaves to teach other flocks.

Part One

Part One of the book finds young Jonathan Livingston frustrated with the meaningless materialism, conformity, and limitations of the seagull life. He is seized with a passion for flight of all kinds, and his soul soars as he experiments with exhilarating challenges of daring aerial feats. Eventually, his lack of conformity to the limited seagull life leads him into conflict with his flock, and they turn their backs on him, casting him out of their society and exiling him. Not deterred by this, Jonathan continues his efforts to reach higher and higher flight goals, finding he is often successful. But eventually, he can fly no higher. He is then met by two radiant, loving seagulls who explain to him that he has learned much, and that they are there now to teach him more.

Part Two

Jonathan transcends into a society where all the gulls enjoy flying. He is only capable of this after practicing hard alone for a long time and the first learning process of linking the highly experienced teacher and the diligent student is raised to almost sacred levels. They, regardless of all their immense differences, are sharing something of great importance that can bind them together: "You've got to understand that a seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull." He realizes that you have to be true to yourself: "You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way."

Part Three

The last words of Chiang, Jonathan's teacher, are, "Keep working on love." Through his teachings, Jonathan understands that the spirit cannot be really free without the ability to forgive, and that the way to progress leads--for him, at least--through becoming a teacher, not just through working hard as a student. Jonathan returns to the Breakfast Flock to share his newly discovered ideals and the recent tremendous experience, ready for the difficult fight against the current rules of that society. The ability to forgive seems to be a mandatory "passing condition."

Part Four

In 2013 Richard Bach took up a non-published fourth part of the book which he had written contemporaneously with the original. He edited and polished it, and then sent the result to a publisher. Bach reported that he was inspired to finish the fourth part of the novella by a near-death experience which had occurred in relation to a nearly fatal plane crash in August of 2012.[3] In February of 2014, the 138-page Bach work Illusions II: The Adventures of a Reluctant Student was published as a booklet by Kindle Direct Publishing. Illusions II also contains allusions to and insights regarding the same near-death experience. In October of 2014, Jonathan Livingston Seagull: The Complete Edition, was published, and this edition includes Part Four of the story.

Part Four focuses on the period several hundred years after Jonathan and his students have left the Flock and their teachings become venerated rather than practiced. The birds spend all their time extolling the virtues of Jonathan and his students and spend no time flying for flying's sake. The seagulls practice strange rituals and use demonstrations of their respect for Jonathan and his students as status symbols. Eventually some birds reject the ceremony and rituals and just start flying. Eventually one bird named Anthony Gull questions the value of living since " is pointless and since pointless is by definition meaningless then the only proper act is to dive into the ocean and drown. Better not to exist at all than to exist like a seaweed, without meaning or joy [...] He had to die sooner or later anyway, and he saw no reason to prolong the painful boredom of living." As Anthony makes a dive-bomb to the sea, at a speed and from an altitude which would kill him, a white blur flashes alongside him. Anthony catches up to the blur, which turns out to be a seagull, and asks what the bird was doing:

"I'm sorry if I startled you," the stranger said in a voice as clear and friendly as the wind. "I had you in sight all the time. Just playing...I wouldn't have hit you."

"No! No, that's not it." Anthony was awake and alive for the first time in his life, inspired. "What was that?"

"Oh, some fun-flying, I guess. A dive and pullup to a slow roll with a rolling loop off the top. Just messing around. If you really want to do it well it takes a bit of practice, but it's a nice-looking thing, don't you think?"

"It's, it's...beautiful, is what it is! But you haven't been around the Flock at all. Who are you, anyway?"

"You can call me Jon."


Jonathan Livingston Seagull is named after John H. Livingston,[4] a Waco Aircraft Company test pilot who died of a heart attack in 1974, at the age of 76, just after he had test-flown an acrobatic home-built Pitts Special.

The book was rejected by several publishers before coming to the attention of Eleanor Friede at Macmillan in 1969. She convinced Macmillan to buy it and Bach received a $2,000 advance.[5]


Several early commentators, emphasizing the first part of the book, see it as part of the US self-help and positive thinking culture, epitomised by Norman Vincent Peale and by the New Thought movement. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote[6] that the book was "so banal that it had to be sold to adults; kids would have seen through it."

The book is listed as one of fifty "timeless spiritual classics" in a book by Tom Butler-Bowdon,[7] who noted that "it is easy now, thirty-five years on, to overlook the originality of the book's concept, and though some find it rather naïve, in fact it expresses timeless ideas about human potential."

John Clute, for The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997), wrote: "an animal fantasy about a philosophical gull who is profoundly affected by flying, but who demands too much of his community and is cast out by it. He becomes an extremely well-behaved accursed wanderer, then dies, and in posthumous fantasy sequences--though he is too wise really to question the fact of death, and too calmly confident to have doubts about his continuing upward mobility--he learns greater wisdom. Back on Earth, he continues to preach and heal and finally returns to heaven, where he belongs."[8]

Bibliography, editions and translations

Jonathan Livingston Seagull has been translated into over thirty languages. Here is a partial list of editions and translations: [9]

Title Year Publisher ISBN ISBN ( 13 digit ) Language
Ջոնաթան Լիվինգսթոն ճայը 2017 Անտարես 978-9939-76-139-8 Armenian
Xuan Salvador Gaviota 1991 Uviéu : Conseyería d’Educación 84-7347-044-1 Asturian
D’Möwe Jonathan 2007 Kreuzlingen 3720-53-028-0 Bernese German (Bärndütsch)
Джонатан Ливингстън Чайката (Dzhonatan Livingstyn Chaikata) 2002 Кибеа 9544-74-065-1 Bulgarian
Joan Salvador Gavina Biblioteca de Bolsil 978-8440-68-825-5 Catalan
海鸥乔纳森 2004 978-7544-22-840-4 Chinese
Galeb Jonathan Livingston 1997 V.B.Z. 9536-21-664-7 Croatian
Jonathan Livingston Racek 1999 Synergie 8086-09-923-7 Czech
Jonathan Livingston Havmåge 2006 Lindhardt og Ringhof 978-8775-60-587-3 Danish
Jonathan Livingston Zeemeeuw 1991 Strengholt 978-9060-10-272-5 Dutch
Jonathan Livingston Seagull 1970 Macmillan 0684-84-684-5 978-0684-84-684-2 English
Jonathan Livingston Seagull: The Complete Edition 2014 Scribner 1476-793-31-X 978-1476-79-331-3 English
Jonathan Livingston Seagull: A Story 2003 HarperCollins 06-49-034-4 English
Jonathan Livingston Merikajakas 2003 Pegasus 9949-40-910-1 Estonian
جوناتان، مرغ دريايي   (Jonatan, Morghe Daryayee) 978-9641-75-033-8 Farsi
Lokki Joonatan 2010 Gummerus 978-9512-07-993-3 Finnish
Jonathan Livingston, Le Goéland 1981 Flamarrion 2080-10-985-5 978-2080-10-985-9 French
Jonathan Livingston, Le Goéland 2000 Editions 84 2290-21-562-7 French
თოლია ჯონათან ლივინგსტონ (Tolia Jonatan Livingston) 2009 Nectar Publishing 978-9941-00-166-6 Georgian
Die Möwe Jonathan 2003 Ullstein Tb 978-3548-25-658-0 German
Ο γλάρος Ιωνάθαν Λίβινγκστον 1992 Ξένη πεζογραφί 9603-64-067-0 Greek
ג’ונתן ליווינגסטון השחף 2017 Hebrew
A Sirály 2005 Édesvíz Kft. Nagykereskedés 978-9635-28-880-9 Hungarian
Jónatan Livingston Mávur 1973 Örn og Örlygur Icelandic
Il Gabbiano Jonathan Livingston 1995 Rizzoli 8817-13-162-8 Italian
かもめのジョナサン 1977 4102-15-901-0 Japanese
갈매기의 꿈 2003 978-8989-92-940-6 Korean
Qaqlibaz 1994 Fırat Yayınları 900-0002-65-171-3 Kurdish
Kaija vārdā Džonatans Livingstons 2004 Zvaigzne ABC 978-9984-36-505-3 Latvian
Džonatanas Livingstonas Žuvėdra 2000 Trigrama 9986-92-534-7 Lithuanian
Галебот Џонатан Ливингстон (Galebot Dzonatan Livingston) 2005 Табернакул 9989-17-117-3 Macedonian
Måken Jonathan 1986 Cappelen 978-8202-10-651-5 Norwegian
Jonathan Livingston Meuchi 1985 Willemstad, Curacao 9060-10-591-5 Papiamento
Mewa Twarda 978-8375-10-380-9 Polish
Fernão Capelo Gaviota 1997 Europa-América 978-9721-03-003-9 Portuguese
Fernão Capelo Gaviota 2015 Record 978-85-01-10612-4 Portuguese
Pescarusul Jonathan Livingston 2008 Humanitas 9735-00-364-3 Romanian
Чайка по имени Джонатан Ливингстон (Chaika po imeni Dzhonatan Livingston) 2003 азбука 5352-00-509-7 Russian
Čajka Jonathan Livingston 1999 Gardenia 8085-66-229-9 Slovakian
Jonatan Livingston Galeb 2010 Mladinska knjiga 978-9610-11-407-9 Slovenian
Juan Salvador Gaviota 1970 Pomaire 8428-60-659-5 978-8428-60-659-2 Spanish
Juan Salvador Gaviota 2005 Ediciones B 978-8466-61-249-4 Spanish
Måsen, berättelsen om Jonathan Livingston Seagull 2008 Norstedts 978-9113-01-725-9 Swedish
Martı Jonathan Livingston 1994 Ocak 9753-31-008-0 Turkish

In popular culture

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The novella inspired the production of a 1973 film of the same title, with a soundtrack whose music was primarily composed and whose lyrics were written by Neil Diamond, who also sang the original songs he contributed to it. The film was made by Hall Bartlett many years before computer-generated effects were available. In order to make seagulls act on cue and perform aerobatics, Mark Smith of Escondido, California built radio-controlled gliders that looked like real seagulls from a few feet away.

Bach had written the film's original screenplay, but he sued Paramount Pictures before the film's release because he felt that there were too many discrepancies between the film and the book. Director Bartlett had allegedly violated a term in his contract with Bach which stated that no changes could be made to the film's adaptation without Bach's consent.[15] Bach took offense to scenes Bartlett had filmed which were not present in the book, most notably the sequence in which Jonathan is suddenly attacked by a wild hawk, which was voiced by Bartlett himself. Ultimately, the court ruled that Bach's name would be taken off the screenplay credits, and that the film would be released with a card indicating that Bach disapproved of the final cut. Bach's attorney claimed, "It took tremendous courage to say this motion picture had to come out of theaters unless it was changed. Paramount was stunned."[16]

The Grammy Award-winning soundtrack album was composed and written by Neil Diamond, as stated above, and produced by Tom Catalano. It won the 1974 Grammy Award as Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special. The album apparently also made more money than the film. The album sold two million copies in the United States,[17] 400,000 in France,[18] 250,000 in Germany,[19] 200,000 in Canada [20] and 100,000 in the United Kingdom.[21]

The Irish actor Richard Harris won a Grammy in 1973 for the Audiobook LP Jonathan Livingston Seagull.[22] To date, Harris's reading has not been released on any other format. Versions read by the author, Richard Bach, have been released on LP, cassette, and CD.[23][24][25]


  1. ^ "Juan Salvador Gaviota by Bach, Richard". ISBN 978-8428-60-659-2. Retrieved 2021-12-18.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ Bach, Richard (1981). Jonathan Livingston le Goéland (in French). Jordi Olavarietta, Pierre, ... Clostermann. Paris: Flammarion. ISBN 2-08-010985-5. OCLC 419739538.
  3. ^ Sullivan, Jennifer (17 January 2013). "Author Richard Bach, recovering from plane crash, returns to inspirational tale". Seattle Times. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  4. ^ "Our History". Archived from the original on January 3, 2010. Retrieved January 20, 2016. John Livingston was an inspiration for the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull — 'to Johnny Livingston who has known all along what this book is all about.' — Richard Bach 1970
  5. ^ Grimes, William (2008-07-25). "Eleanor Friede, 87, Is Dead; Edited 1970 Fable 'Seagull'". Retrieved 2012-02-23.
  6. ^ Ebert Roger, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, November 8 1973, Chicago Suntimes. Retrieved November 9 2020
  7. ^ Butler-Bowdon, T., 2003, 50 Spiritual Classics: Timeless Wisdom From 50 Great Books of Inner Discovery, Enlightenment and Purpose, Nicholas Brealey: London.
  8. ^ Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter (1993). "Bach, Richard (David)". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St Martin’s Griffin. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-312-13486-0.
  9. ^ Tesi, Raffaello. "Translations of Jonathan Livingston Seagull -". Retrieved 2021-12-18.
  10. ^ Meehan, Thomas (November 18, 1972). "Marvin Stanley Pigeon". The New Yorker. New York City: Condé Nast: 53. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  11. ^ "About Us". Archived from the original on January 14, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  12. ^ ""The Simpsons' The Mysterious Voyage of Homer (TV Episode 1997)". Retrieved 2018-08-02.
  13. ^ Thomas, Betty (1995-02-17). "The Brady Bunch Movie". Shelley Long, Gary Cole, Christine Taylor. Retrieved 2018-08-16.
  14. ^ "Barclay James Harvest Album Portfolio: Time Honoured Ghosts". Barclay James Harvest. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
  15. ^ "'Seagull' Author Sues". The Evening News. October 11, 1973. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
  16. ^ Campbell M. Lucas, 80; Judge Became an Entertainment Law Mediator (obituary), Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2005.
  17. ^ "American album certifications – Diamond, Neil – Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Soundtrack)." Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH
  18. ^ "French album certifications – Neil Diamond – Jonathan Livingston Seagull (B.O.F.)" (in French). Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique.
  19. ^ "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Neil Diamond; Jonathan Livingston Seagull)" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie.
  20. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Neil Diamond – Jonathan Livingston Seagull." Music Canada.
  21. ^ "British album certifications – Neil Diamond – Jonathan Livingston Seagull." British Phonographic Industry. Enter Jonathan Livingston Seagull in the field Search. Select Title in the field Search by. Select album in the field By Format. Click Go.
  22. ^ "Private Tutor". Retrieved 2011-07-26.
  23. ^ Richard Bach reads his Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Audiobook on LP, 1981). OCLC 443077158.
  24. ^ Richard Bach reads his Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Audiobook on cassette, 1981). OCLC 7887346.
  25. ^ Jonathan Livingston Seagull: The Complete Edition (Audiobook on CD, 2016). OCLC 953793484.