Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



American Nature Writing Before Walden and Thoreau

by David Yarian, Ph.D.

The European discovery of the New World loosed a torrent of wondering description of its natural riches. Early explorers eagerly mapped, sketched, collected animal and plant specimens and followed every river to its source - or to the sea.

These explorers and early naturalists published their reports, often profusely illustrated with drawings, engravings and maps to give the reader a better idea of the diversity of terrain and the wealth of animal and plant life in North America.

Many of these early writings have been reprinted and make wonderful reading - both as armchair travel and as an instructive baseline to inform us of that which has been lost.

Here are books from the explorers Cabeza de Vaca, William Dunbar, John Charles Fremont, Lewis and Clark, Thomas Nuttall and John Kirk Townsend; early settlers De Crevecoeur, Susan Fenimore Cooper, and Thomas Morton; naturalists and scientific observers John James Audubon, William Bartram, Mark Catesby, and Thomas Jefferson; travellers John Lawson, Prince Maximilian, and William Wood; and the transcendental philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Gilbert White is included here because he essentially invented the nature essay, writing about the natural life he observed around him in his English country parish.

So, before Thoreau went to Walden Pond to live, there was a rich tradition of observing nature in the English-speaking world. The books in this section - American Nature Writing Before Walden - are a delightful sampling of early American nature writing.