Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

 

 

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900
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Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Roderick Nash (1939- )

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

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Richard Nelson (1941- )

Nelson has spent the past twenty-five years working with Alaskan native peoples and writing about their relationships to nature. He has also participated in several projects on subsistence and traditional land use in Native Alaskan communities.

Hunters of the Northern ForestHunters of the Northern Forest: Designs for Survival Among the Alaskan Kutchin
Richard K. Nelson

Boreal forest Indians like the Kutchin of east-central Alaska are among the few native Americans who still actively pursue a hunter's way of life. Yet even among these people hunting and gathering is vanishing so rapidly that it will soon disappear. This updated edition of Hunters of the Northern Forest stands as the only complete account of subsistence and survival among the Kutchin, capturing a final glimpse of a way of life at the crossroads of cultural development. 1986, University of Chicago Press


The Island Within
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

The 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


Make Prayers to the RavenMake Prayers to the Raven: A Koyukon View of the Northern Forest
Richard K. Nelson

Nelson spent a year among the Koyukon people of western Alaska, studying their intimate relationship with animals and the land. His chronicle of that time represents a thorough and elegant account of the mystical connection between Native Americans and the natural world. 1986, University of Chicago Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Adam Nicolson (1957- )

Sea RoomSea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides
Adam Nicolson

In 1937, Adam Nicolson's father answered a newspaper ad—"Uninhabited islands for sale. Outer Hebrides, 600 acres. . . Puffins and seals. Apply."—and thus found the Shiants. With a name meaning "holy or enchanted islands," the Shiants for millennia were a haven for those seeking solitude, but their rich, sometimes violent history of human habitation includes much more. When he was twenty-one, Nicolson inherited this almost indescribably beautiful property: a landscape, soaked in centuries-old tales of restless ghosts and Bronze Age gold, that cradles the heritage of a once-vibrant world of farmers and fishermen. In Sea Room, Nicolson describes and relives his love affair with the three tiny islands and their strange and colorful history in passionate, keenly precise prose—sharing with us the greatest gift an island bestows on its inhabitants: a deep engagement with the natural world. 2007, Harper Perennial

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Jim Nollman (1947- )

The Charged BorderThe Charged Border: Where Whales and Humans Meet
Jim Nollman

For 25 years Nollman has communicated through music with whales, dolphins and porpoises. In The Charged Border he explores our interest with these creatures as they play out along this place where human "desires and notions" interact with actual cetaceans. Nollman clearly relishes the nonscientific nature of his work in interspecies communication, which he describes as "more an affair of the heart, the ear, and the gut, than of the mind and the spread sheet." His lyrical, imaginative descriptions of his encounters with cetaceans offer a fresh perspective on these extraordinary seagoing mammals. 1999, Henry Holt


The Man Who Talks to WhalesThe Man Who Talks to Whales: The Art of Interspecies Communication
Jim Nollman

The Man Who Talks to Whales is a dramatic true account of close encounters with the wild animals of our planet and the surprising events that unfold when one man "talks" to the animals and stops to listen to their response. This book is unique in its compelling tales of species-to-species interaction taking place in the animals' natural environment. The Man Who Talks to Whales challenges us to reconsider the way we think about and relate to the animals who share our world. Nollman's writing conveys his joy and sense of brotherhood in these encounters. 2002, Sentient Publications

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Kenneth S. Norris (1924-1998)

Dolphin DaysDolphin Days: The Life and Times of the Spinner Dolphin
Kenneth S. Norris

Dolphin Days is a comprehensive scientific study of the behavior of Hawaiian spinner dolphins both in the wild and captivity--and of the dangers posed to dolphins by the tuna-fishing industry. Through long-term observations of dolphin behavior Norris and his associates unlocked many of the secrets of dolphin life, including why they swim in organized schools and use sonarlike echolocation (to protect themselves from predators), and why they make clicking sounds (to stay in close communication and to capture prey).
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1992
1993, Avon Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Dan O'Brien (1947- )

EquinoxEquinox: Life, Love, and Birds of Prey
Dan O'Brien

He wanted to finally "do falconry right." Writer Dan O'Brien had a chance, with his physician wife leaving their South Dakota ranch on a year-long fellowship, to devote himself to training hunting falcons. O'Brien writes passionately about living close to nature, and provides a detailed and fascinating look at a very unusual avocation. Equinox is a lyrical tale about the revelations of life, a story we haven't heard before told in crystalline prose. 2010, Bison Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Charlton Ogburn, Jr. (1911-1998)

The Winter BeachThe Winter Beach
Charlton Ogburn, Jr.

The Winter Beach comprises winter tours of Mt. Desert Island, Cape Ann, Cape Cod, Long Island, Assateague, and the Outer Banks with informed commentary on the areas’ geological history and present ecological condition. Prominent themes are the winter quiet of summer-crowded beaches, the sense of an impending storm, the hardiness of wintering birds, and the ever-present threat of encroaching development.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1967
1971, Touchstone

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Mary Oliver (1935- )

American PrimitiveAmerican Primitive
Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver wakes us to the wonders of the world. Her poetry is an invitation to amazement, a way to find something startling and stunning in the commonplace. She writes "When it's over, I want to say: all my life / I was a bride married to amazement. / I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms." One late summer morning, when she is unnoticed by a fox she thinks: "so this is the world. / I'm not in it. / It is beautiful." There is a mythical quality to her view of nature and its processes, a celebration of life that becomes religious. In a just-waked she-bear who rises "like a black and leafy ledge," Oliver finds "perfect love." The natural world serves as a foil to what is human, and she allows us to see that other world through the translucent membrane of her work. From the burst of goldenrod to the flash of a deer's white tail to the water snake's disdain, she invites us to extract lessons of mortality.
Pulitzer Prize 1984
1983, Back Bay Books


Blue PasturesBlue Pastures
Mary Oliver

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Oliver is enamored of nature, not the cute nature of spring flowers/ prancing fawns but Edmund Burke's awe-ful nature, with its "scream of the owl, which is not of pain and hopelessness and the fear of being plucked out of the world, but of the sheer rollicking glory of the death-bringer." But the best part of the book is Oliver's plein-air poetizing, consisting of tidbits almost all jotted down "somewhere out-of-doors": in her partial observations of nature ("Just at the lacey edge of the sea, a dolphin's skull"), her exhortations ("You must not ever stop being whimsical") or an evocative list ("Molasses, an orange, fennel seed, anise seed, rye flour, two cakes of yeast"), readers catch the first whiffs of poetry. 1995, Harvest Books


New and Selected PoemsNew and Selected Poems: Volume One
Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver's perceptive, brilliantly crafted poems about the natural landscape and the fundamental questions of life and death have won high praise from critics and readers alike. "Do you love this world?" she interrupts a poem about peonies to ask the reader. "Do you cherish your humble and silky life?" She makes us see the extraordinary in our everyday lives, how something as common as light can be "an invitation/to happiness,/and that happiness,/when it's done right,/is a kind of holiness,/palpable and redemptive." She illuminates how a near miss with an alligator can be the catalyst for seeing the world "as if for the second time/the way it really is." Oliver's passionate demonstrations of delight are powerful reminders of the bond between every individual, all living things, and the natural world.
National Book Award 1992
2005, Beacon Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Sigurd Olson (1899-1982)

Sigurd F. Olson was one of the greatest environmentalists of the twentieth century. A conservation activist and popular writer, Olson introduced a generation of readers to the importance of wilderness. He served as president of the Wilderness Society and the National Parks Association and as a consultant to the federal government on wilderness preservation and ecological problems. His crowning achievement was the preservation of his beloved Boundary Waters Canoe Area, on the U.S.-Canadian border. Olson's philosophical reflections on what he called "the all-engulfing silence of wilderness" created a cult of readers for his work.

Olson is listed in "100 Champions of Conservation in the 20th Century" by the Audubon Society.

Listening PointListening Point
Sigurd F. Olson

Listening Point is about the spiritual human connection to the environment. “Each time I have gone there I have found something new which has opened up great realms of thought and interest,” Sigurd F. Olson writes. “For me it has been a point of discovery and, like all such places of departure, has assumed meaning far beyond the ordinary.” Considered by some to contain Olson's most vivid and moving passages, Listening Point is the nature lover's companion for hearing the depth and beauty of the great outdoors. 1997, University of Minnesota Press


The Meaning of WildernessThe Meaning of Wilderness: Essential Articles and Speeches
Sigurd F. Olson

The Meaning of Wilderness gathers together the most important of Sigurd Olson's articles and speeches, making them available for the first time. The book also contains an introduction and chapter-by-chapter commentary by Olson's authorized biographer, David Backes, that help the reader discover the various facets of Olson's wilderness philosophy and their development over time. The Meaning of Wilderness is lively look at the evolution of one of environmentalism's greatest figures.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1974
2001, University of Minnesota Press


Reflections from the North CountryReflections from the North Country
Sigurd F. Olson

Written in the last years of his life, Reflections from the North Country is often considered Sigurd Olson's most intellectually significant work. Based on speeches delivered at town meetings and government hearings, Olson outlines the wilderness philosophy he developed while working as an outspoken advocate for the conservation of America's natural heritage. This book joins The Singing Wilderness and Listening Point as the core of Olson's work that became an inspiration to the burgeoning environmental movement. 1998, University of Minnesota Press


Runes of the NorthRunes of the North
Sigurd F. Olson

In Runes of the North Sigurd F. Olson explores the haunting appeal of the wilderness. He recounts how the legends of the northern vastness of Canada and Alaska have influenced him, weaving the tales and myths with his own stories and experiences as an explorer, writer, grandfather, and biologist. Runes of the North is a mystical and reflective guide to the northern wilderness written with a oneness and communion with nature that is unique to Olson's pen. It is a work filled with beauty, wisdom, and renewal. 1997, University of Minnesota Press


The Singing WildernessThe Singing Wilderness
Sigurd F. Olson and Francis Lee Jaques

"The Singing Wilderness has to do with the calling of the loons, northern lights, and the great silences of a land lying northwest of Lake Superior," Olson writes. "It is concerned with the simple joys, the timelessness and perspective found in a way of life that is close to the past. I have heard the singing in many places, but I seem to hear it best in the wilderness." Olson tells his story through descriptions of the simple events in nature that bring meaning to his life: picking berries, looking for pine knots, fly-fishing, hiking through the forest, paddling a canoe. "The movement of a canoe is like a reed in the wind," he writes. "It is part of the medium through which it floats, the sky, the water, the shores." 1997, University of Minnesota Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Mark James Owens and Cordelia Dykes Owens

Cry of the KalahariCry of the Kalahari
Mark James Owens and Cordelia Dykes Owens

Cry of the Kalahari tells the story of Mark and Delia Owens, two American researchers who lived in the isolation of the Kalahari Desert, one of the most extreme wildernesses in the world. They were there to study the region's large carnivores, arriving with little more than one change of clothes each and some basic equipment. For seven years they lived in a remote camp near the path of an ancient riverbed in a place appropriately named Deception Valley. Their insights into the behavior and range lions, cheetahs, wildebeests and hyenas were invaluable to scientific discovery and led to lasting conservation efforts.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1985
1992, Mariner Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Craig Packer

Into AfricaInto Africa
Craig Packer

Into Africa gives a vivid, day-by-day view of field biologists at work. In fall 1991 Packer spent seven weeks in Tanzania orienting new assistants to lion research, helping a doctoral student collect fecal samples from lions and baboons and retrieving files from Jane Goodall's house. Twenty years earlier, he had worked with Goodall at Gombe; later, he studied lions in the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater. Here, he explores the social lives of the animals and the threats to their survival. He also tells of coping with vehicle breakdowns, physical exhaustion, personality conflicts and political upheavals. In the tradition of Jane Goodall and George Schaller, Packer has written an engaging account of his African experience.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1995
1996, University of Chicago Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Doug Peacock (1942- )

The Essential GrizzlyThe Essential Grizzly: The Mingled Fates of Men and Bears
Doug Peacock and Andrea Peacock

Doug and Andrea Peacock explore the broad range of human-grizzly bear relationships, primarily through integrating interviews with a wide variety of individuals who have had experiences with the large carnivorous mammals, including hunters, biologists, photographers, mauling victims, conservationists, Native Americans, and many others. They include “biographies” of particular bears they’ve come to know in the wild. The closing chapter consists of practical advice and precautions to take when traveling on foot in grizzly country. This is a touching, informative book about these magnificent creatures and their misfortune in increasingly overlapping habitat with humans. 2006, The Lyons Press


Grizzly YearsGrizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness
Doug Peacock

Returning from the war in Vietnam, Peacock sought solitude and peace of mind in the wilderness. Grizzly bears, he writes, saved his life; now he is committed to their survival. From the late '60s through the '80s, he followed and filmed these animals in an attempt to assemble a collective portrait of all grizzlies south of Canada. Traveling on foot through trailless areas of Glacier and Yellowstone parks and into the Southwest desert and Mexico, he observed the bears feeding, denning and playing. While one of the grizzlies' attractions for Peacock is their unpredictability, he discusses attacks and offers practical advice on safety. This is natural history writing of a high order. 1996, Owl Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Donald Culross Peattie (1898-1964)

Flowering EarthFlowering Earth
Donald Culross Peattie

This is an extraordinary chronicle of the plant kingdom, originally published in 1939 and now back in print. The late Donald Peattie meanders through the plant world, recalling the marvels he has witnessed in vivid, evocative prose ("On icy peaks the sprawling crustose lichen clings where even a mountain goat would gasp and stumble") and explaining the innards and workings of plants with clarity and imaginative images. He writes of plants that inspire awe, like the mighty Sequoia tree, and of more ordinary greens, from seaweed to conifers, but always with the same sense of wonder. Nor does he overlook the lowly weed. With typically wry humor, he observes, "For me, a weed is a plant out of place." 1991, Indiana University Press


A Natural History of North American TreesA Natural History of North American Trees
Donald Culross Peattie

“A volume for a lifetime” is how The New Yorker described Donald Culross Peattie's great classic, referred to elsewhere as the most eloquent, informative, and entertaining book ever written about the trees of North America. The result is a picture of life in America from its earliest days to the middle of the last century. The information is always interesting, but it often is heartbreaking as well. While Peattie looks for the better side of mans nature, he reports sorrowfully on the greed and waste that has doomed so much of Americas virgin forests. No one will read this book without the occasional lump in the throat. More than one hundred of the original, stunning black-and-white illustrations by Paul Landacre make this a visual as well as a literary treat. 2007, Houghton Mifflin

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Michael Pollan

The Botany of DesireThe Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
Michael Pollan

Working in his garden one day, Michael Pollan had an idea: do plants, he wondered, use humans as much as we use them? The result is a fascinating and engaging look at the true nature of domestication. The book focuses on the relationship between humans and four specific plants: apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. Pollan elegantly combines literary, historical, philosophical, and scientific references with engaging anecdotes, giving readers much to ponder while weeding their gardens.
ABA Book Sense Book of the Year Award, 2002
2002, Random House


The Omnivore's DilemmaThe Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Michael Pollan

Pollan examines what he calls "our national eating disorder" (the Atkins craze, the precipitous rise in obesity) in this remarkably clearheaded book. Pollan approaches his mission not as an activist but as a naturalist: "The way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world." All food, he points out, originates with plants, animals and fungi. Pollan's narrative strategy is simple: he traces four meals back to their ur-species. He starts with a McDonald's lunch. Surprise: the origin of this meal is a cornfield in Iowa; one of the many eye-openers in the book is the prevalence of corn in the American diet - of the 45,000 items in a supermarket, more than a quarter contain corn. Later, Pollan prepares a dinner with items from Whole Foods, investigating the flaws in the world of "big organic"; cooks a meal with ingredients from a small, utopian Virginia farm; and assembles a feast from things he's foraged and hunted. A fascinating tour of the American diet.
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 2006
2007, Penguin

 

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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