Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

 

 

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books - Nature Writing

 

Short List of Best Recommended Books on Nature Writing - Classics Before Walden

The Journals of Lewis and ClarkThe Journals of Lewis and Clark
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

From 1804 to 1806, Meriwether Lewis, accompanied by co-captain William Clark, the Shoshone guide Sacajawea, and thirty-two men, made the first trek across the Louisiana Purchase, mapping the rivers as they went, tracing the principal waterways to the sea. Together the captains kept a journal, a richly detailed record of the flora and fauna they sighted, the Indian tribes they encountered, and the awe-inspiring landscape they traversed, from their base camp near St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia River. These journals are an incomparable contribution to the literature of exploration and the writing of natural history. 1997, Mariner Books


Nature and Selected EssaysNature and Selected Essays
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Through his writing and his own personal philosophy, Ralph Waldo Emerson showed Americans how to be creators of their own circumstances. His mandate, which called for harmony with, rather than domestication of nature, and for a reliance on individual integrity, rather than on materialistic institutions, is echoed in many of the great American philosophical and literary works of his time. 2003, Penguin Classics


Reading the RootsReading the Roots: American Nature Writing Before Walden
Michael P. Branch, editor

This is an unprecedented anthology of outstanding early writings about American nature - a rich, influential, yet critically underappreciated body of work. Rather than begin with Henry David Thoreau, who is often identified as the progenitor of American nature writing, editor Michael P. Branch instead surveys the long tradition that prefigures and anticipates Thoreau and his literary descendants. The selections in Reading the Roots describe a diversity of landscapes, wildlife, and natural phenomena, and their authors represent many different nationalities, cultural affiliations, religious views, and ideological perspectives. The writings gathered here also range widely in terms of subject, rhetorical form, and disciplinary approach - from promotional tracts and European narratives of contact with Native Americans to examples of scientific, theology and romantic nature writing. 2004, University of Georgia Press

 

Return to page menu

Return to short list menu

Short List of Best Recommended Books on Nature Writing - Classics: Thoreau

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers / Walden, or, Life in the Woods / The Maine Woods / Cape CodA Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers / Walden, or, Life in the Woods / The Maine Woods / Cape Cod
Henry David Thoreau

Subtly interweaving natural observation, personal experience, and historical lore, these primary works by Thoreau reveal his brilliance not only as a writer, but as a naturalist, scholar, historian, poet, and philosopher. A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers is based on a boat trip taken with his brother. Walden, one of America's great books, is at once a personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, manual of self-reliance, and masterpiece of style. The Maine Woods and Cape Cod portray landscapes changing irreversibly even as he wrote. Thoreau’s essential works in one volume. 1985, Library of America


A Year in Thoreau's JournalA Year in Thoreau's Journal: 1851
Henry David Thoreau

Many reader’s exposure to Thoreau's published works like Walden and The Maine Woods are intrigued enough to look deeper. Inevitably, you end up with the Journals. Thoreau's journal of 1851 reveals profound ideas and observations in the making, including wonderful writing on the natural history of Concord. This journal allows the reader to follow Thoreau through the cycle of the seasons he observed so closely. 1993, Penguin

Return to page menu

Return to short list menu

Short List of Best Recommended Books on Nature Writing - Classics: Nineteenth Century

Charles Darwin: VoyagingCharles Darwin: Voyaging
E. Janet Brown

The centerpiece of this vivid portrait of Darwin’s early life is an account of his five-year expedition on the Beagle (1831-36), which transformed a seasick, Cambridge-educated science apprentice into a keen observer of nature and an amateur geologist. In the book we glimpse many facets of Darwin: the failed medical student; the laid-back undergraduate; the impassioned abolitionist; the explorer roping cattle; the chronically ill country squire, the patriarchal husband and reluctant atheist with a devout Anglican wife. Browne captures the spirit of a quietly revolutionary scientist whose ingrained Victorian prejudices were at odds with his radical ideas. 1996, Princeton University Press


Nature WritingsNature Writings: The Story of My Boyhood and Youth; My First Summer in the Sierra; The Mountains of California; Stickeen; Essays
John Muir

This volume is virtually an entire library of Muir. It combines The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, My First Summer in the Sierra, The Mountains of California, Stickeen, and a number of his essays along with illustrations, a chronology of his life, and scholarly notes. 1997, Library of America


Beyond the Hundredth MeridianBeyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West
Wallace Stegner

Wallace Stegner recounts the sucesses and frustrations of John Wesley Powell, the distinguished ethnologist and geologist who explored the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon, and the homeland of Indian tribes of the American Southwest. A prophet without honor who had a profound understanding of the American West, Powell warned long ago of the dangers economic exploitation would pose to the West and spent a good deal of his life overcoming Washington politics in getting his message across. Only now, we may recognize just how accurate a prophet he was.
National Book Award Finalist 1955
1992, Penguin


Sailing Alone Around the WorldSailing Alone Around the World
Joshua Slocum

Sir Joshua Slocum’s spellbinding account of his 46,000 mile, three-year-long solo journey around the world—the first ever made—has inspired generations of readers. "I had resolved on a voyage around the world, and as the wind on the morning of April 24, 1895 was fair, at noon I weighed anchor, set sail, and filled away from Boston…” Sailing Alone, a compelling statement of self-reliance, is the “nautical equivalent” to Thoreau’s Walden. Slocum said afterwards that he had been “in touch with nature as few have ever been”, and described his entrance to the stormy Strait of Magellan: “…the scene was again real and gloomy; the wind, northeast, and blowing a gale, sent feather-white spume along the coast; such a sea ran as would swamp an ill-appointed ship . . . I observed that two great tide-races made ahead, one very close to the point of land and one farther offshore. Between the two . . . went the Spray with close-reefed sails.” This is a gripping adventure story suffused with the salty tang of sea air and a palpable sense of the powers of Nature. 2005, Shambhala

Return to page menu

Return to short list menu

Short List of Best Recommended Books on Nature Writing - Classics: After 1900

American EarthAmerican Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau
Bill McKibben

In his introduction to this superb anthology, editor McKibben proposes that "environmental writing is America's most distinctive contribution to the world's literature." The collected pieces amply prove the point. Arranged chronologically, McKibben's selection of more than 100 writers includes great early conservationists, the early exponents of national parks and wilderness areas, writers who have borne witness to environmental degradation, visionaries, contemporary activist/writers, and many other eloquent nature writers. McKibben's trenchant introductions to the pieces sum up each writer's thoughts and form a running commentary on the progress of the conservation movement. The book can be read as a survey of the literature of American environmentalism, but above all, it should be enjoyed for the sheer beauty of the writing. 2008, Library of America


Desert SolitaireDesert Solitaire
Edward Abbey

This memoir by Edward Abbey recounts his years as a park ranger working at Arches National Park in Utah. Abbey's keen eye and sharp writing clearly impart the beauty of the desert and the importance of preserving our limited natural resources. His reflections and rants on American environmentalism, the auto and mining industries, and the impact they have on our national park system ring just as true today as when the book was first published in 1968. 1990, Touchstone


The Island withinThe Island Within
Richard Nelson

The Island Within is a beautifully written tribute to the Pacific Northwest. Drawn from the author's journals, it is an account of the natural and cultural history of an island in the waters of the Haida Strait, focusing on geology, marine life, wildlife, habitats and Koyukon heritage. On frequent visits to the island, anthropologist Nelson describes his self-sufficient existence there, practicing a respect for the wilderness learned from the Alaskan native peoples.  The Island Within is filled with epiphanies both small and large as Nelson opens all his senses to become immersed in the natural world of the island.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1991
1991, Vintage


The Practice of the wildThe Practice of the Wild: Essays
Gary Snyder

The essays in Practice of the Wild display the deep understanding and wide erudition of Gary Snyder in the ways of wildness and the world. These essays, first published in 1990, stand as the mature centerpiece of Snyder's work and thought. He offers a prescription for recovering our humanness by giving it away--by giving back to the earth more than we take. Future readers will come to see this book as one of the central texts on wilderness and the interaction of nature and culture. 2003, Shoemaker & Hoard


A Sand County AlmanacA Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There
Aldo Leopold

A Sand County Almanac is a classic and beloved book, remaining in print over 60 years for the strength of its ideas, its compelling stories, and the quality of its prose. Leopold honored the land, believing it to be a community of living things, to be loved and respected, the deepest source of all our cultural harvests. These beliefs lead ultimately to his Land Ethic, presented in the last sections of the book. Sand County Almanac begins by taking the reader through the seasons on Leopold’s farmed-out farmstead in central Wisconsin, providing a rich and detailed picture of the rhythm of life on the land. Everything matters: the simple act of cutting a dead tree for firewood becomes a lesson in the interweaving of natural history and social history. Each bite of the blade into an earlier ring of the tree gives us a story, both human and natural. As the "fragrant little chips of history" fall, we see the complex and ongoing interrelationship between the tree, other trees, and the humans living around them.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1977
1989, Oxford University Press


The Unsettling of AmericaThe Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
Wendell Barry

Poet/farmer Wendell Berry sees the environmental crisis as a crisis of character, agriculture, and culture. Because Americans are divorced from the land, they mistreat it; because they are divorced from each other, they mistreat those around them. Berry argues for thecreation of more meaningful work, the protection of the environment, and the necessity of meaningful community. 1996, Sierra Club Books


Wallace Stegner and the American West

Nature and Environmental Book Review

Wallace Stegner and the American West
Philip L. Fradkin

In this illuminating biography, Philip L. Fradkin goes beyond Stegner's iconic literary status to give us, as well, the influential teacher and visionary conservationist, the man for whom the preservation and integrity of place was as important as his ability to render its qualities and character in his brilliantly crafted fiction and nonfiction. Rich in personal and literary detail, and in the sensual description of the country that shaped his work and his life-this is the definitive account of one of the most acclaimed and admired writers, teachers, and conservationists of our time. 2009, University of California Press

Return to page menu

Return to short list menu

Short List of Best Recommended Books on Nature Writing - Anthologies

American EarthAmerican Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau
Bill McKibben

In his introduction to this superb anthology, editor McKibben proposes that "environmental writing is America's most distinctive contribution to the world's literature." The collected pieces amply prove the point. Arranged chronologically, McKibben's selection of more than 100 writers includes great early conservationists, the early exponents of national parks and wilderness areas, writers who have borne witness to environmental degradation, visionaries, contemporary activist/writers, and many other eloquent nature writers. McKibben's trenchant introductions to the pieces sum up each writer's thoughts and form a running commentary on the progress of the conservation movement. The book can be read as a survey of the literature of American environmentalism, but above all, it should be enjoyed for the sheer beauty of the writing. 2008, Library of America


The Future of NatureThe Future of Nature: Writing on a Human Ecology from Orion Magazine
Barry Lopez, editor

Since its inception in 1982, Orion magazine has been a forum for looking beyond the effects of ecological crises to their root causes in human culture. Less an anthology than a vision statement, this timely collection challenges the division of human society from the natural world that has often characterized traditional environmentalism. Edited and introduced by Barry Lopez, The Future of Nature encompasses such topics as local economies, the social dynamics of activism, America’s incarceration society, naturalism in higher education, developing nations, spiritual ecology, the military-industrial landscape, and the challenges of wilderness designation. 2007, Milkweed Editions


Nature WritingNature Writing: The Tradition in English
Robert Finch and John Elder, editors

This fine, well-annotated anthology offers selections from familiar writers such as Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Annie Dillard, and Barry Lopez. It contains surprises as well, including George Orwell's little-known essay, "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad" and Herman Melville's musings on how the great white whale came to be so white in the first place, the fruit of the deep natural-historical research that underlies Moby-Dick. At more than 900 pages, The Norton Book of Nature Writing is too hefty to pack into the wild, but every page is an inspiration to take into the world outdoors. 2002, W. W. Norton

Return to page menu

Return to short list menu

Short List of Best Recommended Books on Nature Writing - Ecocriticism

The Environmental ImaginationThe Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture
Lawrence Buell

The best writing about nature, literary scholar Buell suggests, has at its root an argument that humans are accountable to the environment. In the American literary canon, the work that best demonstrates this thesis is Thoreau's classic Walden, a memoir celebrating at once the virtues of voluntary simplicity and the quest for political liberty. It is from Walden that much contemporary writing about nature derives. In this study, Buell charts the growth of Thoreau's own environmental ethic and his lasting influence on writers of many kinds. 1996, Belknap Press


A Natural History of Nature WritingA Natural History of Nature Writing
Frank Stewart

In this well-documented and well-written volume essayist and poet Stewart has attempted to capture the mystery as well as the history of nature writing. Without transgressing biographical or historical certainties, Stewart has created full-bodied characters in his interwoven portraits of the genre's most important practitioners. In doing so, the reader approaches an empirical understanding of that ephemeral "in-betweenness" with nature that is often left behind when reading the work of such disparate figures as Gilbert White, John Muir or Edward Abbey. It is, however, the towering figure of Henry David Thoreau to whom Stewart repeatedly returns as a touchstone for his historical understanding of the genre's ceaseless appeal. Interweaving biography, history, and literary criticism, his book is a highly readable summary of the nature writing genre. 1994, Island Press


Wilderness and the American MindWilderness and the American Mind
Roderick Nash

Roderick Nash's classic study of America's changing attitudes toward wilderness has received wide acclaim since its initial publication in 1967. The Los Angeles Times has listed it among the 100 most influential books published in the last 25 years; Outside Magazine has included it in a survey of "books that changed our world;" and it has been called the "Book of Genesis for environmentalists." Now a fourth edition of this highly regarded work is available, with a new preface and epilogue in which Nash explores the future of wilderness and reflects on its ethical and biocentric relevance. 2001, Yale University Press

Return to page menu

Return to short list menu

Short List of Best Recommended Books on Nature Writing - How to Write About Nature

Home GroundHome Ground: Language for an American Landscape
Barry Lopez and Debra Swartney, editors

National Book Award-winner Lopez and co-editor Gwartney assemble 45 writers, known for their intimate connection to particular places, and challenge them to draw on the polyglot richness of American English to collectively create a unique dictionary. This marvelous book, treating such words as arroyo, muskeg, kiss tank, vly, graded shoreline, and revetment, enlivens readers to the rich diversity of language that captures our complex relationship to the land. 2010, Trinity University Press


Writing About NatureWriting About Nature: A Creative Guide
John A. Murray

Originally published by the Sierra Club in 1995, this handbook has helped thousands of aspiring writers, scholars and students share their experiences with nature and the outdoors. Using exercises and examples, Murray covers genres, techniques, and publication issues. Many examples from the masters of nature writing are included. Recommended readings, a directory of creative writing programs and a directory of environmental organizations make this a comprehensive and useful book for writers. 2003, University of New Mexico Press

Return to page menu

Return to short list menu