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 A. W. Schorger (1884-1972)

The Passenger PigeonThe Passenger Pigeon: Its History and Extinction
A. W. Schorger

In Passenger Pigeon, first published in 1955, Schorger painstakingly reconstructed its life history - behavioral characteristics, feeding methods, traveling and roosting habits, nesting – and the various stages of the species encounter with man, from utilization by the Native American to extinction at the hands of white settlers. The passenger pigeon, once probably the most numerous bird on the planet, traveled in flocks a mile wide and up to 300 miles long - so dense that they darkened the sky for hours and days as the flock passed overhead. Total populations may have reached 5 billion birds and comprised up to 40% of the total number of birds in North America. No appreciable decline in their numbers was noted until the late 1870s but, thereafter, their destruction took only twenty-five years. The immense roosting and nesting colonies invited over-hunting. The last bird died in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo. 2004, The Blackburn Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Carolyn Servid (1954- )

Of Landscape and LongingOf Landscape and Longing: Finding a Home at the Water's Edge
Carolyn Servid

Servid’s slender book gathers essays inspired by her time in India, Alaska, and places in between, essays that return to questions of how one finds and makes a home, a place of rootedness and belonging, a place in which to battle homesickness for all the other places we've known. A keen, spiritually inclined observer of the natural world, and a committed defender of the untamed forests that surround her, she writes easily of salmon and eagles, of clouds and spruce trees. Her exaltation at living at the water's edge, close to wild animals and the wild ocean, rings true. 2000, Milkweed Editions

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Paul Shephard

Nature and MadnessNature and Madness
Paul Shephard

Nature and Madness examines the human animal in relation to the natural environment, showing the kinds of psychic disjunctions and troubles that have developed over the generations that humans have been seeking to distance themselves from the world. Shepard locates the source of much of those troubles in the invention of agriculture, an act that gave humans the false idea that nature can be controlled and micromanaged - an idea that has found expression in such things as dam-building and genetic engineering. Environmental destruction, writes Shepard, is a "mutilation of personal maturity," a failure of emotional development; continuing the metaphor, he adds that "the only society more frightful than one run by children ... might be one run by childish adults." Shepard calls on his readers to establish a meaningful, mature connection with the earth, to cultivate a sense of stewardship and responsibility. 1998, University of Georgia Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Leslie Marmon Silko

CeremonyCeremony
Leslie Marmon Silko

In this novel filled with the grace and luminosity of the natural world, Tayo is a half-white Laguna Indian almost destroyed by his experiences as a World War II prisoner of the Japanese. Unable to find a place among Native American veterans who are losing themselves in rage and drunkenness, Tayo discovers his connection to the land and to ancient rituals with the help of a medicine man, and comes to understand the need to create ceremonies, to grow and change, in order to survive. He finds peace by "finally seeing the pattern, the way all the stories fit together -- the old stories, the war stories, their stories -- to become the story that was still being told." Ceremony powerfully evokes a natural world alive with story and significance. 2006, Penguin Books; Anniversary edition

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by George L. Small

The Blue WhaleThe Blue Whale
George L. Small

The Blue Whale recounts the sad history of the exploitation of the blue whale, and includes a long chapter on biology. Blue whales were hunted extensively in the 1930’s, and numbers declined steeply. The killing continued even after international agreements attempted to provide annual limits to allow the whales to recover. Small described case after case of illegal whaling, including the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, whose pirate whaling fleet wantonly killed thousands of critically endangered whales. In closing this moving volume, Small wrote: “Isn’t there a single positive factor that can counter-balance to some small degree those now tipping the scales so heavily against the blue whale in its struggle for survival? Yes, there is one: the will to live.”
National Book Award 1972
1971, Columbia University Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Gary Snyder (1930- )

Gary Snyder teaches literature and wilderness thought at the University of California at Davis and lives with his family on San Juan Ridge in the Sierra foothills.

During the 1950's Snyder became involved with the San Francisco Beat movement. After Snyder and Jack Kerouac climbed Matterhorn Peak in the northern Sierra Nevada, Kerouac used Snyder as the model for Japhy Ryder, the itinerant mountain-climbing poet of Dharma Bums (1958), a man who took his Zen practice beyond the confines of formal study.

In 1956 Snyder moved to Japan. For 12 years he studied Rinzai Zen Buddhism, worked as a researcher and translator of Zen texts, and traveled throughout Asia, including a 6 month sojourn in India where he met the Dalai Lama in 1962. He also worked for 9 months in the engine room of a tanker visiting various ports in the Pacific and the Persian Gulf. In 1969 Snyder returned to the United States and settled on the mountain farmstead foothills where he lives today.

Poet and essayist Snyder, a Pulitzer and National Book Award winner, has been a committed environmentalist and student of East Asian thought for decades. Snyder has also received the Bollingen Prize for Poetry (1997), the John Hay Award for Nature Writing (1997) and the Buddhism Transmission Award (1998) by the Japan-based Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai Foundation (Snyder was the first American writer to receive this award). He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1987 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1993.

"The greatest of living nature poets."- Los Angeles Times

Back on the FireBack on the Fire: Essays
Gary Snyder

Poet, Buddhist, man of the land, and scholar, Snyder celebrates nature's beauty and considers humankind's impact on the Earth. Noting that "the whole world is in the trust of humans now," he looks to fire as an element that can teach us about destruction and regeneration. As he writes of his beloved Sierra Nevada home ground as "a fire-adapted ecosystem," Snyder asserts the importance of being "nature literate," and of recognizing that all living entities have a right to life. We are the "problem species," Snyder avers, yet we are capable of astonishing acts of creation. Writing in praise of cave art and haiku, he defines the role artists play in the "active defense of nature." 2007, Shoemaker & Hoard


Danger on PeaksDanger on Peaks: Poems
Gary Snyder

Landscape, geology, botany and ecology; the poet's Buddhist outlook and its consequences for ethics, and the small pleasures of daily existence, inform the understated, short poems making up most of this volume. Snyder excels in adapting Japanese forms, such as haibun, to American usage. Many of his short poems recall the people—friends, lovers, a daughter—for whom Snyder cares or has cared, an attractive surprise in a poet known more for his rapport with nonhuman nature. Last come five short poems prompted by world events, including the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in spring 2001 and the terrorist attacks later that year: Snyder reminds us that humans are animals too, "beings, living or not," "inside or outside of time."
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 2004
2005, Shoemaker & Hoard


Earth House HoldEarth House Hold: Technical Notes and Queries to Fellow Dharma Revolutionaries
Gary Snyder

Essays in Earth House Hold express Snyder’s diverse experiences and interests – hiking and climbing expeditions with Jack Kerouac, reflections on Buddhist and Hindu ideas, traveling to India with Allen Ginsberg, the emerging psychedelic subculture, matrilineal tribal cultures, the opening of the doors of perception in nature, his experiences studying Zen Buddhism in Japan. 1969, New Directions


The Gary Snyder ReaderThe Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry, and Translations
Gary Snyder

Introducing this generous selection of Pulitzer Prize-winner Snyder’s work, editor Jim Dodge says he changed his college major from fisheries management to interdisciplinary studies after reading Snyder's "Hay for the Horses." May it change other lives, though if one is resistant to poetry, there is twice as much of Snyder's prose here, concerned with nature, environmental consciousness, mythology, and, underlying it all, Buddhism, of which Snyder has long been a major practical Western exponent. Snyder is a man who lives healthily in the world, and any of his work is likely to change lives. 2000, Counterpoint


Mountains and Rives without EndMountains and Rivers Without End
Gary Snyder

A magnificent achievement, this epic poem unites 39 poems written between 1956 and 1996 (many published here for the first time) into a seamless whole that, like a modern Leaves of Grass, combines fascination with the varied particulars of the way people live with awe at the majesty of nature. Each of four sections is organized around a familiar Snyder focus: the demands made on people by nature and time ("The road that's followed goes forever;/ in half a minute crossed and left behind"); observation of the terrain he occupies ("Slash of calligraphy of freeways of cars"); various American landscapes ("trucks on the freeways,/ Kenworth, Peterbilt, Mack,/ rumble diesel depths,/ like boulders bumping in an outwash glacial river"); and subtle tributes to those who have survived the last 40 years ("At the end of the ice age/ we are the bears, we are the ravens,/ We are the salmon/ in the gravel/ At the end of an ice age").
Bollingen Prize for Poetry 1997
2008, Counterpoint


No NatureNo Nature: New and Selected Poems
Gary Snyder

This first selected edition of Snyder's poetry offers an overview of a career spanning more than 30 years, from his emergence as a poet of the Beat Generation to his eventual focus on nature and environmentalism.
National Book Award Finalist 1992
1993, Pantheon


A Place in SpaceA Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Watersheds
Gary Snyder

This richly rewarding book about ecology and technology draws on 40 years of careful thought. Although it does not dwell on information technologies, the points Snyder makes about "a feeling of place" are of interest to anyone who has mulled over the ways in which cyberspace jogs our normative notions of time, space, and community. 2008, Counterpoint, Revised edition


The Practice of the wild
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

The 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


Riprap and Cold Mountain PoemsRiprap and Cold Mountain Poems
Gary Snyder

"His greatest strength-a quiet and profound elegance, an ability to write a simple phrase that seems to have been echoing through human consciousness for three or four thousand years." - Lewis MacAdams, California Magazine
"As early as the 1950s, before ecology became a household word, Snyder understood things about our civilization and economy that no one else was talking about, and he wrote about them with great authority and a sinewy line." - Richard Tillinghast, The Nation 2010, Counterpoint


Turtle IslandTurtle Island
Gary Snyder

These Pulitzer Prize-winning poems and essays range from the lucid, lyrical, and mystical to the political. All, however, share a common vision: a rediscovery of North America and the ways by which we might become true natives of the land for the first time. Snyder uses “Turtle Island”, a name drawn from Native American traditions, to refer to North America, suggesting a view of the continent not merely as a land discovered and colonized by Europeans, but as a land inhabited and stewarded by a diverse collection of civilized peoples, making room for both indigenous and colonizer cultures.
Pulitzer Prize 1975
1974, New Directions

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Kim R. Stafford

Having Everything RightHaving Everything Right: Essays of Place
Kim R. Stafford

"Having Everything Right" is not just an Indian place name but the summation of a way of living on earth in a spirit of harmony, gratitude, and adventure. Within this patchwork quilt of personal reminiscences and stories are Nez Perce Indian battles, lone treks into the wilderness, the stirring of family myth, and conversations with "outcast eccentrics." A poetic eye to nature and personal biography knit together themes and ideas, which range from the unique fragility of the earth to the breadth and courage of the human spirit. 1997, Sasquatch Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Theodora C. Stanwell-Fletcher (1906-1999)

Driftwood ValleyDriftwood Valley: A Woman Naturalist in the Northern Wilderness
Theodora C. Stanwell-Fletcher

Driftwood Valley is Stanwell-Fletcher's journal of the three years that she and her husband spent studying plants and animals from their log cabin in the wilderness of northern British Columbia during the late 1930s and early 1940s. She recounts a magnificent story of adventure and survival and reveals the daily pleasures and insights sparked by living close to the wild, as well as the isolation, hardships, and struggles.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1948
1999, Oregon State University Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Wallace Stegner (1909-1993)

Taking the American frontier – both physical and psychological – as his subject, Wallace Stegner created a body of work that stretches from Pulitzer Prize-winning novels and short stories to historical and political nonfiction. Taking both human experience and natural beauty as his muses, Stegner embodied what he called the “western character.”

A novelist and conservationist, Wallace Stegner wrote 30 books, and he won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for fiction. This is Dinosaur, which he edited, helped block proposed dams on the Upper Colo- rado River in 1955. His famous "Wilderness Letter," on the necessity of protecting wild places, was quoted in the 1964 bill establishing the national wilderness-preservation system; it became a manifesto for the conservation movement. Called the dean of western writers, Stegner was active in the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society and served as an assistant to Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall.

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

American PlacesAmerican Places
Wallace Stegner and Page Stegner

"This book is an attempt, by sampling, to say something about how the American people and the American land have interacted, how they have shaped one another; what patterns of life, with what chances of continuity, have arisen out of the confrontations between an unformed society and a virgin continent. Perhaps it is less a book about the American land than some ruminations about the making of America. . . . We are the unfinished product of a long becoming." - from the Introduction 2006, Penguin


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


Sound of Mountain WaterSound of Mountain Water
Wallace Stegner

The essays, memoirs, letters, and speeches in this volume were written over a period of twenty-five years, a time in which the West witnessed rapid changes to its cultural and natural heritage, and Wallace Stegner emerged as an important conservationist and novelist. This collection is divided into two sections: the first features the eloquent sketches of the West's history and environment, directing our imagination to the sublime beauty of such places as San Juan and Glen Canyon; the concluding section examines the state of Western literature, of the mythical past versus the diminished present, and analyzes the difficulties facing any contemporary Western writer. The Sound of Mountain Water is at once a hymn to the Western landscape, an affirmation of the hope embodied therein, and a careful investigation to the West's complex legacy. 1997, Penguin


Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade SpringsWhere the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs: Living and Writing in the West
Wallace Stegner

Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs gathers together Wallace Stegner's most important and memorable writings on the American West: its landscapes, diverse history, and shifting identity: its beauty, fragility, and power. With subjects ranging from the writer's own "migrant childhood" to the need to protect what remains of the great western wilderness (which Stegner dubs "the geography of hope") to poignant profiles of western writers such as John Steinbeck and Norman Maclean, this collection is a riveting testament to the power of place. 2002, Modern Library


Wolf WillowWolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier
Wallace Stegner

Wallace Stegner weaves together fiction and nonfiction, history and impressions, childhood remembrance and adult reflections in this unusual portrait of his boyhood. Set in Cypress Hills in southern Saskatchewan, where Stegner's family homesteaded from 1914 to 1920, Wolf Willow brings to life both the pioneer community and the magnificent landscape that surrounds it. 2000, Penguin


Wallace Stegner and the American West
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

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

 

 

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by John Steinbeck (1902-1968)

Chronicling American dreams destroyed by either injustice or the simple difficulty of the world, John Steinbeck left lasting testaments to the struggles of working people in The Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row. His refusal to water down his realistic work got some of his books banned – and earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Log from the Sea of CortezThe Log from the Sea of Cortez
John Steinbeck

In 1940, Steinbeck and his friend, biologist Ed Ricketts, ventured into the Gulf of California to search for marine invertebrates along the beaches. This exciting, day-by-day account of their trip, drawn from the longer work, Sea of Cortez, is a wonderful combination of science, philosophy, and high-speed adventure that provides a fascinating portrait of Steinbeck and Ricketts. 1995, Penguin

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Peter Steinhart (1943- )

In the Company of wolvesThe Company of Wolves
Peter Steinhart

This book examines the relationship between humans and wolves in the wolves' last refuges in the Arctic and in places where the two species live together again as wolves move into new areas, either through their own natural movements or through attempts at reintroduction. Steinhart balances the book (while letting the reader know of his deep fondness and respect for wolves) between the wolves' advocates and their opponents, speaking with wolf biologists, wildlife managers, trappers, ranchers, Native Americans, and others. 1996, Vintage

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by John Tallmadge

Meeting the Tree of LifeMeeting the Tree of Life: A Teachers' Path
John Tallmadge

Tallmadge was a child of the late sixties with a Yale doctorate in comparative literature under his arm and an empathy for nature in his soul. Meeting the Tree of Life is a graceful, erudite compendium of natural history, travel, literary interpretation, and personal adventure as Tallmadge recounts the years after he left the army at age 26, until he became a dedicated English professor at age 40. He takes us along on his hikes to the High Sierra, Katahdin, and the Deeps and Canyonlands where, like some knight-errant, he proves himself over and over. If his teaching tenure is denied, Tallmadge realizes he has learned nature's lessons: just as water overcomes through nonresistance and the jack pine needs fire to release its seeds, man endures through spirit and faith. 1997, University of Utah Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by John Teal (1920- ) and Mildred Teal (1928- )

Life and Death of the Salt MarshLife and Death of the Salt Marsh
John Teal and Mildred Teal

"At low tide, the wind blowing across Spartina grass sounds like wind of the prairie. When the tide is in, the gentle music of moving water is added to the prairie rustle.... " One of nature's greatest gifts is the string of salt marshes that edges the East Coast from Newfoundland to Florida — a ribbon of green growth, part solid land, part scurrying water. Life and Death of the Salt Marsh shows how these marshes are developed, what kinds of life inhabit them, how enormously they have contributed to man, and how ruthlessly man is destroying them. 1983, Ballantine Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Lewis Thomas (1913-1993)

Lewis Thomas was a physician, poet, etymologist, essayist, administrator, educator, policy advisor, and researcher. He wrote regular essays in the New England Journal of Medicine, and won a National Book Award for The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, the 1974 collection of those essays. He won a second National Book Award for The Medusa and the Snail.His autobiography, The Youngest Science: Notes of a Medicine Watcher is a record of a century of medicine and the changes which occurred. Many of his essays discuss relationships among ideas or concepts using etymology as a starting point. Others concern the cultural implications of scientific discoveries and the growing awareness of ecology.

The Lives of a CellThe Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher
Lewis Thomas

Elegant, suggestive, and clarifying, Lewis Thomas's profoundly humane vision explores the world around us and examines the complex interdependence of all things. Extending beyond the usual limitations of biological science and into a vast and wondrous world of hidden relationships, this provocative book explores in personal, poetic essays topics such as computers, germs, language, music, death, insects, and medicine. Lewis Thomas writes, "Once you have become permanently startled, as I am, by the realization that we are a social species, you tend to keep an eye out for the pieces of evidence that this is, by and large, good for us."
National Book Award 1975 in both Sciences and Arts and Letters
1978, Penguin


The Medusa and the SnailThe Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher
Lewis Thomas

The medusa is a tiny jellyfish that lives on the ventral surface of a sea slug found in the Bay of Naples. Readers will find themselves caught up in the fate of the medusa and the snail as a metaphor for eternal issues of life and death as Lewis Thomas further extends the exploration of a man and his world begun in The Lives of a Cell. Among the treasures in this magnificent book are essays on the human genius for making mistakes, on disease and natural death, on cloning, on warts, and on Montaigne, as well as an assessment of medical science and health care. In these essays and others, Thomas once again conveys his observations of the scientific world in prose marked by wonder and wit.
National Book Award 1981
Pulitzer Prize Finalist 1980

1985, Penguin

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Stephen D. Thomas

The Last NavigatorThe Last Navigator
Stephen D. Thomas

Thomas, an experienced deep-water sailor, had long been fascinated by Micronesian navigators who, without maps, compasses, or sextants, sailed hundreds of miles between the islands of Oceania. To discover how these men traveled with only natural signs for guidance, he apprenticed himself to Piailug, one of the few remaining navigators and lived with him on Satawal for many months. This autobiographical account describes his learning of navigation and the world view of a dying art. An anthropological account for the layperson (but with scholarly appendixes), this is also a story of personal relationships, of contrasting cultures, and of skills mostly unrecorded before now. 1997, International Marine

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Patrick Tierney

Darkness in El DoradoDarkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon
Patrick Tierney

Darkness in El Dorado details the tragic encounter between an archaic Amazon people, the Yanomami, and a culturally toxic conglomeration of ruthless social scientists, rapacious financial interests, amoral governments and pop-culture journalists. Tierney argues for an end to the arrogant exploitation of peoples outside of the classical Eurasian traditions. Tierney explains how the Yanomami's desire for steel implements in their Paleolithic world of hunting, gathering, fishing and rudimentary farming led to exploitation by the observers, who wielded the promise of tools and modern gadgetry to manipulate the native population. Tierney's indictment exposes the worst depredations of modern cultural imperialism.
National Book Award Finalist 2000
2002, W. W. Norton

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Tim Traver

SippewissetSippewisset: Or, Life on a Salt Marsh
Tim Traver

Traver, a third-generation Cape Cod salt marsh inhabitant, has the distinctive and wonderful perspective that comes from loving-and sometimes leaving-a place of true natural wonder. Spending near-idyllic boyhood summers in Sippewissett, MA, Traver grew up exploring the natural world around him. Revisiting those childhood memories, now tempered by marriage and fatherhood, he looks at many vital and potentially contentious issues from both sides of the proverbial coin-that of the scientist/environmentalist and the local-and speaks with understanding and empathy for both. In this wonderful blend of natural history and memoir, Traver details both the ecology and the history of Sippewissett, describing the people and creatures that he encounters, and chronicles the daily turning of the tides. 2008, Chelsea Green Publishing

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by James S. Trefil (1938- )

A Scientist at the SeashoreA Scientist at the Seashore
James S. Trefil

A noted physicist and popular science writer heads for the beach to answer common and uncommon questions about the ocean: why the sea is salty, how bubbles form on the water's surface, where waves come from, and other curiosities of the marine world. “Something as ephemeral and inconsequential as a bubble in the foam leads us to consider the forces that hold the nucleus of the atom together.” 2005, Dover Publications

 

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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