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 Robert Michael Pyle (1947- )

Chasing MonarchsChasing Monarchs: Migrating with the Butterflies of Passage
Robert Michael Pyle

Robert Pyle, a lepidopterist and nature writer, decided to personally investigate the migration of monarch butterflies by following them. His loosely concieved experiemnt took him over much of western North America, from a monarch breeding ground deep in the forests of British Columbia to the pine-clad mountainsides of central Mexico. His long journey is told in this book that mixes literate, often funny, travelogue with the natural history of Danaus plexippus and its relatives. This memoir serves both as a tribute to this majestic insect and as a thoughtful tour of the contemporary American West. 2001, Mariner Books


Nature's Fading ChorusNature's Fading Chorus: Classis and Contemporary Writings on Amphibians
Robert Michael Pyle and Gordon Miller

Naturalists in every age have been intrigued by frogs, toads, and salamanders. Nature's Fading Chorus presents an anthology of writings on amphibians drawn from the entire Western natural history tradition, beginning with Aristotle's Inquiry Concerning Animals written in the fourth century B.C.E., and continuing through recent scientific accounts of the relatively sudden - and alarming - global declines and deformities in amphibian species. The offerings not only reveal much about amphibian life, but also provide fascinating insight into the worldviews of the many writers, scientists, and naturalists who have delved into the subject. 2000, Island Press


Sky Time in Gray's RiverSky Time in Gray's River: Living for Keeps in a Forgotten Place
Robert Michael Pyle

Gray's River, one of the earliest settled communities near the mouth of rural Washington's Columbia River, remains a relatively isolated place, connected to the rest of the state by just one narrow highway. Pyle has lived there for almost 30 years, gradually fitting into the self-reliant community. This luxuriant account of an ordinary year among the flora, fauna and folks of the countryside—where the author's daily walk to the compost heap "is the closest thing I know to sacrament"—focuses as much on bats, butterflies and the pleasure of fresh berries as it does on people. Crafted in words as lovely and as fresh as a field of spring flowers, every page is an epiphany. Sky Time in Gray's River is destined to become a classic in the literature of place." 2008, Mariner Books


Walking the High RidgeWalking the High Ridge: Life As Field Trip
Robert Michael Pyle

In Walking the High Ridge, Pyle describes his development as a writer and lepidopterist, helped along by mentors and "sacred texts" like The Origin of Species and A Field Guide to the Butterflies of North America. Students of nature writing will appreciate, too, his views on the craft, his concern for natural literacy and for finding one's place in the world. "I tell students," he writes in his amiable memoir, "that a nature writer can be thought of as an amanuensis to the land: the land speaks, we take dictation, and by dint of great attentiveness, care, love, and luck, we might get some of the words right." 2000, Milkweek Editions


WintergreenWintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land
Robert Michael Pyle

In the southwest corner of Washington State lie the Willapa Hills, a temperate, rain-drenched land of perennial greenness. Still the habitat of fungi, mosses, lichens, and ferns, they were once the home of "one of the greatest forests on earth." But as Pyle so articulately states, years of improvident lumbering practices and economic greed have despoiled the hills, decimated the wildlife, and rendered the future uncertain. Out of this, his chosen home, Pyle has created a collection of vividly responsive observations and speculations about the diversity and requirements of life, from butterfiles to bears.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1987
2002, Sasquatch Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by David Quammen (1948- )

The Flight of the IguanaThe Flight of the Iguana: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature
David Quammen

Naturalist Quammen's essays, originally appearing as magazine columns, are here compiled into a lively book. His unusual way of seeing leads him into fascinating realms. How many of us have studied the face of a spider or spent an hour thinking about earthworms? Quammen has and shares his observations with us. His widely varied and thought-provoking essays range over humans and their interactions with ecology, including both desert and swamp. The only central focus of the book is Quammen's unified view of the world's natural life, which of course includes us. 1998, Scribner


Monster of GodMonster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind
David Quammen

Quammen describes the fascinating past, tenuous present and bleak future of four supremely adapted predators who are finding themselves increasingly out of place in the modern world. The animals - Indian lions, Australian crocodiles, Russian brown bears and Siberian tigers - share more in common than alpha roles in their respective environments and dwindling prospects for maintaining them; they are, as the book pointedly notes, man-eaters, animals that can and do feed on human flesh. He examines them in their threatened enclaves in the wild and ponders what these killers have meant to us in our religion and art - from the pages of the Bible and Beowulf to Norse sagas and African poetry. Equally resonant are his arguments for why these particular animals excite such fear and fascination in us, and how we will suffer in terms practical and profound if they are eliminated completely from their habitats and confined to zoos and human memory. 2004, W. W. Norton & Company


The Reluctant Mr. DarwinThe Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution
David Quammen

Charles Darwin took 20 years to write his theory of natural selection: he produced On the Origin of Species only on learning that he was about to be scooped. During those two decades, Darwin was busy conducting scientific research that would bolster his scientific observations. Quammen commences his portrait with Darwin's homecoming from his five-year trip on the Beagle and then focuses on how he gained enough confidence and evidence to publish the book that would displace humankind from its privileged position as a special creation. 2007, W. W. Norton


The Song of the DodoThe Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction
David Quammen

In a wonderful weave of science, metaphor, and prose, David Quammen applies the lessons of island biogeography - the study of the distribution of species on islands and islandlike patches of landscape - to modern ecosystem decay, offering us insight into the origin and extinction of species, our relationship to nature, and the future of our world. That a book on so technical a subject could be so enlightening, humorous and engaging is an extraordinary achievement.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1997
1997, Scribner


Wild Thoughts from Wild PlacesWild Thoughts from Wild Places
David Quammen

Wide-ranging ecojournalist David Quammen turns his attention to all manner of earthly matters: the physics of flowing water and the thrills of kayaking, the evolution of supercoyotes, and the lives of famous naturalists (Charles Darwin, Gilbert White). Above all, Quammen celebrates the joys of life in the outdoors, especially in his favorite haunts in the mountains and trout streams of Montana. "We never know what we have lost, or what we have found," he writes. That may be, but in these pages you'll know that you have found a lively intelligence and wonderful natural history writing. 1999, Scribner

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Jonathan Raban

Bad landBad Land
Jonathan Raban

Raban has written a vivid and utterly idiosyncratic social history of the homesteading movement in eastern Montana that went boom and bust during the first three decades of this century. It is the story of a dream turned sour that still echoes in the western American consciousness. Lured by free land from the government and a deceptive publicity campaign, thousands of hopeful immigrants went to Montana to make their fortune as farmers. Raban argues that, given the land and the weather, the homesteading scheme was doomed to failure. The legacy today, seen most dramatically in the anti-government militia movement, is the belief, rooted in family memory, that government and big business conspire together against the little folk. This seemingly informal yet careful blend of chronicle and personal reportage is social history at its best.
National Book Critics Circle Award 1996
1998, MacMillan

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Janisse Ray

Ecology of a Cracker ChildhoodEcology of a Cracker Childhood: The World As Home
Janisse Ray

Janisse Ray grew up in a junkyard along U.S. Highway 1, hidden from Florida-bound vacationers by the hedge at the edge of the road and by hulks of old cars and stacks of blown-out tires. Ecology of a Cracker Childhood tells how a childhood spent in rural isolation and steeped in religious fundamentalism grew into a passion to save the almost vanished longleaf pine ecosystem that once covered the South. In language at once colloquial, elegiac, and informative, Ray redeems two Souths.
American Book Award 2000
2000, Milkweed Editions

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Chet Raymo (1936- )

Chet Raymo is a noted writer, educator and naturalist. He received the 1998 Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction.

The Soul of the NightThe Soul of the Night: an Astronomical Pilgrimage
Chet Raymo

Balanced between poetry and physics, astronomer Chet Raymo's elegant essays ponder the connections between faith and reason. His odyssey through the heavens links the mysterious phenomena of the night sky with the human mind and spirit, showing us how the stars reinforce our humanity as he ranges through the realms of mythology, literature, religion, history, and anthropology. 2005, Cowley Publications

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Marc Reisner

Cadillac DesertCadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water
Marc Reisner

In this stunning work of history and investigative journalism, Reisner tells the story of conflicts over water policy in the West and the resulting damage to the land, wildlife and Indians. He describes massive irrigation projects, funded by the U.S. government, that have caused many arid areas to bloom: the cities of Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles and vast areas of farmland are wholly dependent upon water brought at great cost from long distances. He calls attention to the long-term despoilation of agricultural soil through concentration of salts - the inevitable result of irrigation. A pioneering book that is still immensely valuable.
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 1986
1993, Penguin

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by David Roberts (1943- )

The Mountain of My Fear & DeborahThe Mountain of My Fear & Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative: Two Mountaineering Classics in One Volume
David Roberts

Deborah is the story of Roberts' expedition with fellow Harvard Mountaineering Club Member Don Jensen to the eastern side of Mount Deborah in Alaska in 1964. Their two-man attempt on the then-unclimbed ridge was a rash and heroic effort. The story tells not only what happened on the mountain, but what happened in that stark isolation to the climbers and to their friendship, as each became totally dependent on the other for survival. In The Mountain of My Fear, Roberts and Jensen come together again only a year after the Deborah climb to attempt an ascent of Mount Huntington. The Mountain of My Fear is the story of a magnificent achievement. It is also the story of how the perfect adventure turned into tragedy in a single instant when Roberts' partner plunged, silently and swiftly, off the face of the mountain. 1991, Mountaineers Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by John J. Rowlands

Cache Lake CountryCache Lake Country: Life in the North Woods
John J. Rowlands

Over half a century ago, John Rowlands set out by canoe into the wilds of Maine to survey land for a timber company. After paddling alone for several days--"it was so quiet I could hear the drops from the paddle hitting the water"--he came upon "the lake of my boyhood dreams." He never left. He named the place Cache Lake because there was stored the best that the north had to offer--timber for a cabin; fish, game and berries to live on; and the peace and contentment he felt he could not live without. Cache Lake Country exemplifies the classic American notion that what is most worth finding lies far from the tracks of civilization, and that what is most worth doing demands resourcefulness and wit. 1998, Countryman Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Jack Rudloe (1943- )

The Living DockThe Living Dock
Jack Rudloe

In the tiny fishing community of Panacea, Florida, the author's floating dock nurtures an abundance of marine life. Crabs, worms, mollusks and algae make their home there, attracting and feeding fish and other creatures higher up the food chain. These also feed the author's business, Gulf Specimen Marine Lab, which supplies specimens to research and teaching institutions: marine fauna from his dock, from nearby mud flats and beaches, and netted offshore from his little shrimp boat, "Penaeus." This entertaining and educational book looks at the life histories of some of these creatures, and recounts Rudloe's experiences in collecting them, in the process examining man's relationship with the natural world. 2003, Great Outdoors Publishing


Search for the Great Turtle MotherSearch for the Great Turtle Mother
Jack Rudloe

A rotating rock that exercises a directing force over the migration of sea turtles is the legendary Turtle Mother of Rudloe's quest. Accounts by Central American coastal inhabitants, fishermen, and academicians explain that Turtle Mother folklore provided a conservation ethic that guided early inhabitants to harvest turtles at a sustainable rate in contrast with current destructive practices. Travels through warring countries, confrontations with hostile poachers, and other hair-raising adventures are interwoven with the natural history of the sea turtle. This captivating book leaves the reader with a fresh perspective on the condition of marine turtles and the people who depend on them. 2003, Great Outdoors Publishing


The Wilderness CoastThe Wilderness Coast
Jack Rudloe

Rudloe makes his living collecting and studying marine organisms in the waters off Florida's Gulf Coast. The ocean and the wetlands of the area, largely unexplored, contain many exotic and beautiful creatures, and the author's adventures there make exciting reading. He gathers electric rays, tracks baby horseshoe crabs, makes friends with octopuses, saves loggerhead turtles from the dredging operations of the Army Corps of Engineers, captures giant toadfish and monster sea roaches for the New York Aquarium, fights alligators and searches for crocodiles. A conservationist, he respects the sea and is captivated by its mysterious inhabitants. 2004, Great Outdoors Publishing

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Everett Ruess (1914-1934)

A Vagabond for BeautyA Vagabond for Beauty
Everett Ruess

Everett Ruess, the young poet and artist who disappeared into the desert canyonlands of Utah in 1934, has become widely known posthumously as the spokesman for the spirit of the high desert. Many have been inspired by his intense search for adventure, leaving behind the amenities of a comfortable life. His search for ultimate beauty and oneness with nature is chronicled in this remarkable collection of letters to family and friends. 1973, Gibbs Smith


The Wilderness Journals of Everett RuessThe Wilderness Journals of Everett Ruess
Everett Ruess

Ruess' letters are stunning, alive with achingly poetic descriptions of the land. We're left with a moving, ghostly vision of a young artist at odds with a society growing out of control as he escapes farther and farther into an unforgiving wilderness. While most of Everett's lyrically written, essay-type letters have been made public, his only existing journals--for 1932 and 1933--have never before been published. These journals were his companions, a place where he confided his joys, his regrets, his complaints, and his aspirations, as well as some exciting adventures. They also provide us with insight into Everett's deeper feelings toward the complexity, the frustrations, as well as the beauty of life. 1998, Gibbs Smith


Sandstone SunsetsSandstone Sunsets: In Search of Everett Ruess
Mark A. Tayor

In Sandstone Sunsets Mark Taylor describes his attempts to solve the mystery of the 1934 disappearance of poet and adventurer Everett Ruess in Utah’s redrock country. Retracing Everett's steps he describes his own spiritual journey; his personal counterpart to Everett's quest a half century earlier. Taylor writes, "I knew my search for Everett had become more important than finding him." Beautiful writing about a mysterious and beautiful place. 1997, Gibbs Smith

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Carl Safina (1955- )

Carl Safina is an ecologist, conservationist and award-winning author of books and articles about the sea. During his research, he noticed rapid declines in marlin, sharks, tunas and other fishes, and sea turtles. It seemed to him as though a kind of last buffalo hunt was occurring in the sea. He has worked to put ocean fish conservation issues into the wildlife conservation mainstream, leading campaigns to ban high-seas drift-net fishing, working for international agreements to restored depleted fish populations and helping to achieve passage of a U.N. global fisheries treaty. In 1990 he founded the Living Oceans Program at the National Audubon Society and in 2003 he co-founded the Blue Ocean Institute, which uses science, art and literature to inspire a closer relationship with the sea. He is an elected member of the Explorers Club and a winner of a MacArthur Fellowship.

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

Eye of the AlbatrossEye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival
Carl Safina

In this dazzling volume, Safina, a MacArthur award recipient, recounts his travels to remote portions of the northwest Hawaiian Islands to witness albatross breeding season, during which parent birds fly across entire oceans as much as 25,000 miles to hunt sufficient food to nourish their single chicks. This book eloquently tells a story of struggle and hope and the power of sheer persistence and life's resilience.
Winner, John Burroughs Medal for Natural History
2003, Owl Books


Song for the Blue Ocean
Short list

Song for the Blue Ocean: Encounters Along the World's Coasts and Beneath the Seas
Carl Safina

In this lyrical and heartfelt account of the North Atlantic Blue Tuna and Pacific Salmon, Safina describes how populations have fallen by more than 90% in just the last few decades - the result of changing global temperatures, overfishing, pollution, and inland watershed destruction. Safina argues that we must extend our sense of biological community to ocean animals before it is too late.
New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Los Angeles Times Best Nonfiction
Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction
 1999, Owl Books


Voyage of the TurtleVoyage of the Turtle: In Pursuit of the Earth's Last Dinosaur
Carl Safina

MacArthur fellow Safina presents an impassioned account of the plight of ocean-dwelling turtles, especially the largest, the leatherback -- "the closest thing we have to a living dinosaur." Leatherbacks, which can weigh over a ton, range across the oceans to nesting sites on beaches along the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards. Human activities threaten these turtles with extinction: poaching, longline fishing nets in which the turtles can drown and depletion of the turtles' food supply due to overfishing and global warming. Safina's eloquent book is a battle cry in the struggle for the survival of one of the world's most beautiful and endangered creatures. 2007, Holt

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by George B. Schaller (1933- )

George Beals Schaller is a mammalogist, naturalist, conservationist and author. He is recognized by many as the world’s preeminent field biologist, studying wildlife throughout Africa, Asia and South America. His conservation honors include National Geographic’s Lifetime Achievement Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the World Wildlife Fund’s Gold Medal for “Contributions to the understanding and conservation of endangered species.” His book The Serengeti Lion won the National Book Award in 1973.

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

The Last PandaThe Last Panda
George B. Schaller

Only George Schaller, the intrepid and clear-eyed biologist and author, could have written this book. In 1980 Schaller became the first foreigner allowed to study the panda in its native habitat, in China's Sichuan Province. Five years later he emerged shaken and angered by what he saw as mismanagement leading to the panda's decline. Schaller is unafraid to criticize the Chinese government, the U.S. government, even the World Wildlife Fund, which uses the panda as its logo. This beautiful, passionate book shows that, sadly, even a species as well-known and well-loved as the panda faces a grim future in modern Asia.
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 1993
1994, University of Chicago Press


A Naturalist and Other BeastsA Naturalist and Other Beasts: Tales from a Life in the Field
George B. Schaller

Schaller, field biologist and vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, guides readers through 50 years of fieldwork. He writes vividly of his unforgettable experiences in the Americas, Africa, South Asia, China, Mongolia, and the Tibetan plateau, and reminds us of the profound benefits of patient animal observation. No technology can replace a trained field biologist, and Schaller is at the top of his field in studies of barking deer and mice, a heron dubbed Siegfried, and prairie dogs in Tibet, not to mention mountain gorillas, tigers, and the thrilling discovery of new species. In this fond memoir, Schaller presents exciting animal lore and reminds us of our collective responsibility to ensure wild nature’s continued existence. 2010, Sierra Club/Counterpoint


The Serengeti LionThe Serengeti Lion: A Study of Predator-Prey Relations
George B. Schaller

This classic wildlife field study was first published nearly 30 years ago, winning the National Book Award in 1973. Its information is still considered authoritative by many researchers, remaining in print all these years. Supplemented by charts, photos and drawings, the book describes almost every aspect of lion life, from social structure and behavior within the group to food habits, hunts and the impact of predation on prey population. A must read for any lion enthusiast. 1976, University of Chicago Press


Stones of Silence: Journeys in the Himalaya
George B. Schaller

The mountains of the Himalaya, from the lushly forested slopes of Nepal to the barren ranges of Central Asia, offer solitude, enlightenment, and incredible beauty, as well as the brutal reality of barren peaks and wind-torn slopes and glaciers. They are a lost world of nameless valleys, of people living in the Middle Ages, of travel by yak caravan. To field biologist George Schaller, the Himalaya is all this, and yet it is more, forming as it does the habitat of the world's greatest variety of whild sheep and goats....markhor, urial, bharal, and other spectacular animals...as well as the elusive snow leopard. This is a story of high adventure, introspection, observation, and discovery. 1980, Viking


The Year of the GorillaThe Year of the Gorilla
George B. Schaller

Year of the Gorilla, the fascinating story of the author's expedition to study Mountain Gorillas in 1959-60, is as much an adventure story as a scientific analysis. From the riveting first encounter with a family of gorillas through the identification of several distinct groups, their daily routine is revealed. The gentleness that Schaller found dispelled many long-held myths about gorilla behavior. Beyond the gorillas, this is also the complete story of a region, its people and other flora and fauna. The issues of preservation of these animals and their habitat are much the same as those faced today. 1997, University of Chicago Press

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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