Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



19th Century American Nature Writing

by David Yarian, Ph.D.

The last half of the nineteenth century brought the culmination of the great expeditions of exploration into the unmapped West. Many intrepid travelers returned from the Rocky Mountains, California and the West coast, and the great American deserts with interesting descriptions of the flora and fauna they observed.

John Burroughs and John Muir attracted wide readership for their popular books on nature as the American public became more acquainted with the wonders of nature and, at the same time, more aware that they were beginning to slip away.

Most close observers of nature in 19th century America were coming to see that the unconstrained human impacts on the continent were taking an irreparable toll on its wildlife. Already the Eastern forests were empty of large game; it did not take long for the seemingly numberless herds of bison to be wiped out; and the passenger pigeons who once darkened the skies for days at a time were lost forever.

Still, these writers spoke of great adventures to be had in exploring the natural wonders of the largely-unsettled country. A great migration was underway as settlers headed west.

Charles Darwin's work shook the foundations of biology; we are still feeling some aftershocks today. The explanatory power of his theorizing, based on close observation of nature, opened the eyes of students of the natural world. It was finally clear that the web of life on Earth included us all.

The books listed in this section on Classic Nature Writing 19th Century are the best of 19th century nature writing after Walden, and include reports of explorations, works of natural history, nature essays, and Darwin's great volumes of science.