Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



American Nature Writing Before Walden, Page 2

Recommended American Nature Writing by John Lawson (1674-1711)

A New Voyage to CarolinaA New Voyage to Carolina
John Lawson

Lawson, a naturalist, writer and explorer left England arriving in the Carolinas in 1700. He set out from Charleston and traveled over 600 miles taking careful notes on what he saw. His descriptions of the Indian tribes and the natural environment in the area are quite detailed, and reveal much about the Southeast before it was settled by Europeans. On a later expedition he was captured, tortured and killed. 2007, Book Jungle

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Recommended American Nature Writing by and about Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and William Clark (1770-1838)

The Journals of Lewis and Clark
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

The 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

Acts of DiscoveryActs of Discovery: Visions of America in the Lewis and Clark Journals
Albert Furtwangler

Navigators, naturalists, and diplomats Meriwether Lewis and William Clark wove science and raw adventure together in their journals as they blazed a trail from St. Louis to the Pacific. Albert Furtwangler investigates their process of discovery itself and shows how the information they gathered on their expeditions challenged the science, the politics, and the artistic ideals of the Jeffersonian age and helped shape the way we see America. 1999, University of Illinois Press

Lewis and ClarkLewis and Clark: Pioneering Naturalists
Paul Russell Cutright

First published in 1969 and now newly revised, Lewis and Clark: Pioneering Naturalists remains the most comprehensive account of the scientific studies carried out by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their overland expedition to the Pacific Northwest and back in 1804–6. Summaries of the animals, plants, topographical features, and Indian tribes encountered are included at the end of the chapter devoted to each particular leg of the journey. 2003, Bison Books

The Natural World of Lewis and ClarkThe Natural World of Lewis and Clark
David A. Dalton

Enhanced with informative illustrations, biologist David Dalton’s book reexamines Lewis and Clark’s observations of the new plants and animals they encountered. He shows how advances like DNA research, modern understanding of proteins, and the latest laboratory methods shed new light on the expedition’s findings. He expertly balances botanical and zoological information with coverage ranging from the extinction of large animals in North America to the expected effects of invasive species and climate change in the coming centuries. 2007, University of Missouri Press

Our Natural HistoryOur Natural History: The Lessons of Lewis and Clark
Daniel Botkin

Botkin describes the American West as seen by Lewis and Clark in 1804-06 and compares it with today's West as shaped by industrial civilization. He maintains that our present approach to environmental issues is based on faulty beliefs, mythologies and religious convictions. The records of Lewis and Clark are valuable for helping us understand what nature was like before we changed it. 2004, Oxford University Press

Undaunted CourageUndaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West
Stephen Ambrose

This biography of Meriwether Lewis relies heavily on the journals of both Lewis and Clark, and is also backed up by the author's personal travels along Lewis and Clark's route to the Pacific. Ambrose assesses the military leadership of Lewis and Clark, how they negotiated with various native peoples and what they reported to Jefferson. Though the expedition failed to find Jefferson's hoped-for water route to the Pacific, it fired interest among fur traders and other Americans, changing the face of the West forever. 1997, Simon & Schuster

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Recommended American Nature Writing by Alexander Philip Maximilian (1782-1867)

Travels in the Interiors of North America 1832-1834Travels in the Interiors of North America 1832-1834
Maximilian Prince of Wied

The expedition that Prince Maximilian and Karl Bodmer took through America is one of the best-kept secrets in American History. This text provides an excellent view of what North America looked like to individuals traveling through the area for the first time. Bodmer's glorious aquatints bring their journey to life. 2001, Taschen

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Recommended American Nature Writing by Thomas Morton (1575-1646)

New English Canaan by Thomas Morton of "Merrymount"New English Canaan by Thomas Morton of "Merrymount": Text, Notes, Biography & Criticism
Thomas Morton

First published in 1837, New English Canaan gave the English public a first look at Native American cultures. In 1626 he established a trading post outside of Plymouth, Mass. There he incurred the wrath of the Puritans by not adhering to their strict views and by socializing freely with the Indians. This book offers some interesting critiques of the Pilgrims, but is most valuable for its information about New England’s native inhabitants and its natural resources. Morton argues that New England is a valuable region inhabited by friendly natives, well deserving of English colonization. 2000, Digital Scanning

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Recommended American Nature Writing by and about Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859)

A Journal of Travels into the Arkansas Territory During the Year 1819A Journal of Travels into the Arkansas Territory During the Year 1819
Thomas Nuttall

This is the journal of Thomas Nuttall who, in 1819, with $200 and a residual case of malaria, traveled from Philadelphia down the Ohio and the Mississippi to the Arkansas River and as far west as the current site of Oklahoma City. His account of the plant and animal life, the geology and the streams of Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma are accurate, jargon-free and, in many cases, still definitive. His portrayals of the European and Native Americans he met are objective, unsentimental and unprejudiced. 1999, University of Arkansas Press

The Land Between the RiversThe Land Between the Rivers: Thomas Nuttall's Ascent of the Arkansas, 1819
Russell M. Lawson

In this fascinating account of English botanist Thomas Nuttall's travels through the wilderness of the middle West, author Russell Lawson - using Nuttall's own journal - captures the sense of excitement of the early wanderer. As much a delight for the mind as the senses, The Land between the Rivers details the unremitting weather and rugged geography of uncharted lands within the Louisiana Territory. A sense of discovery pervades the narrative as Nuttall's odyssey builds to its climax in the prairie wilderness of what is now Oklahoma. 2004, University of Michigan Press

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Recommended American Nature Writing by John Kirk Townsend (1809-1851)

Narrative of a Journey Across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia riverNarrative of a Journey Across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River
John Kirk Townsend

Narrative of a Journey is an engaging account of scientific discovery by the first trained naturalist to cross the continent. As a member of Nathaniel Wyeth's 1834 expedition, John Kirk Townsend journeyed west through a "rich and unexplored region" that offered scientists an "almost inexhaustible field for the prosecution of their inquiries." His book, a classic of western exploration, chronicles the first transcontinental trek along the route that would soon become the Oregon Trail, documents the expedition's role in the opening of the West and records the author's scientific contributions. 1999, Oregon State University Press

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Recommended American Nature Writing by Gilbert White (1720-1793)

The Natural History of SelborneThe Natural History of Selborne
Gilbert White

Curate of a country parish, White was a beloved amateur naturalist who was a keen observer of the life around him. Natural History is a compilation of his letters containing his discoveries about local birds, animals and plants. Regarded by many as England’s first ecologist, his book was very popular, and has remained continually in print to the present. It is one of the most frequently published books in English, and influenced Thoreau and Darwin. White was interested in everything: “Earthworms, though in appearance a small and despicable link in the chain of nature, yet, if lost, would make a lamentable chasm … worms seem to be the great promoters of vegetation, which would proceed but lamely without them . . . ” 2000, Adamant Media Corporation

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Recommended American Nature Writing by William Wood

New England's ProspectNew England's Prospect
William Wood

William Wood traveled to New England in 1629 and was a keen observer of the land, with a particular interest in learning what English crops would grow well there. His observations about nature, the weather, and the Native inhabitants hold great interest. 1994, University of Massachusetts Press

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Recommended American Nature Writing: Anthologies

America as Seen by Its First ExplorereAmerica as Seen by Its First Explorers: The Eyes of Discovery
John Bakeless

This anthology presents a fascinating composite portrait of the New World as the first explorers and settlers experienced it — Manhattan teeming with wildflowers, Boston with beavers, Chicago a buffalo run. The book is based on scores of original journals, diaries and letters, as well as authentic Native American narratives. 1989, Dover Publications

California's Frontier NaturalistsCalifornia's Frontier Naturalists
Richard G. Beidleman

This book chronicles the fascinating story of the enthusiastic, stalwart, and talented naturalists who were drawn to California's spectacular natural bounty over the decades from 1786 to 1890, the proclaimed "end" of the American frontier. Beidleman's engaging narrative describes these botanists, zoologists, geologists, paleontologists, astronomers, and ethnologists as they camped under stars and faced blizzards, made discoveries and amassed collections, kept journals and lost valuables, sketched flowers and landscapes, recorded comets and native languages. He weaves together the stories of their lives, their demanding fieldwork, their contributions to science, and their exciting adventures against the backdrop of California and world history. 2006, University of California Press

Encompassing NatureEncompassing Nature: Nature and Culture from Ancient Times to the Modern World
Robert Torrance

Robert Torrance, a literary scholar, gathers nature writing from all times and locales, ranging from the creation stories of Native American people to the lyrics of the Chinese T'ang dynasty poet Li Bai, from the letters of the ancient Roman poet Epicurus to the travel memoirs of the colonial American naturalist William Bartram. The result is a literary reference work of the first order, one that should become a standard textbook for many years to come. 1999, Counterpoint

Reading the Roots
short list

Reading 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

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