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 William Beebe (1897-1962)

During a long career with the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society), William Beebe traveled the globe, doing first-rate scientific research on subjects ranging from rare pheasants in Asian forests to deep-sea creatures, and also writing about his experiences for general audiences. In some two dozen books he captured the popular imagination with accounts of odd animals in South American jungles and the undersea life that he observed while making dives in a bathysphere. Beebe introduced the public to the idea of biodiversity before that word was used, and to the importance of protecting it.

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

Galapagos: World's EndGalapagos: World's End
William Beebe

More than 100 splendid illustrations enhance this fascinating firsthand account of a 1923 expedition to survey the wildlife of the Galápagos Islands. Beebe, a renowned biologist and explorer, combines literary skill with careful research to produce an exceptionally readable book. "High romance, exact science, fascinating history, wild adventure." — Nation 1988, Dover Publications

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Thomas Berry (1914- )

The Dream of the EarthThe Dream of the Earth
Thomas Berry

Berry explores human - Earth relations and seeks a new, non-anthropocentric approach to the natural world. He says that our immediate danger is not nuclear war but industrial plundering. He urges movement and education toward a "biocracy" that will heal the earth. "This volume quite possibly is one of the ten most important books of the 20th century." Dr. Donald B. Conroy 2006, Sierra Club Books


Evening ThoughtsEvening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community
Thomas Berry

Noted cultural historian Thomas Berry opens our eyes to the full dimensions of the ecological crisis facing us, framing it as a crisis of spiritual vision. Applying his formidable erudition in cultural history, science, and comparative religions, he forges a compelling narrative of creation and communion that reconciles modern evolutionary thinking and traditional religious insights concerning our integral role in Earth's society. While sounding an urgent alarm at our current dilemma, Berry inspires us to reclaim our role as the consciousness of the universe and thereby begin to create a true partnership with the Earth community. 2006, Sierra Club Books


The Great WorkThe Great Work: Our Way into the Future
Thomas Berry

The future can exist only if humans understand how to commune with the natural world rather than exploit it. Berry says, "Already the planet is so damaged and the future is so challenged by its rising human population that the terms of survival will be severe beyond anything we have known in the past." Berry reveals why we need to adore our blessed planet, while also examining why we are culturally driven toward exploiting nature. 2000, Harmony/Bell Tower

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Wendell Berry (1934- )

Wendell Berry, philosopher and poet, has chronicled the decline of small farms in the United States and its spiritual and environmental impact on the nation. As growers of food, stewards of the soil, and vanguards of open space, farmers provide a literal connection between modern civilization and the primitive past, Berry says. His works, written from his farm in Henry County, Kentucky, include The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture and Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community.

Orion Society John Hay Award 1994

A Continuous HarmonyA Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural
Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry, a Kentucky farmer and poet, may look like a Southern gentleman of conservative bearing, but in truth he stands among the foremost radical writers of our time: opposed to the dominant order, but, more important, radical in the primary sense, one who advocates a return to the source, the root, the old ways, in this case, of farming and living on the land. Berry discusses how rural communities can be made and maintained, how an ethic of wise land use can replace the dominant thinking of our present food-as-commodity economics. 2003, Shoemaker & Hoard


The Gift of Good LandThe Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural & Agricultural
Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry here writes of the importance of good farming to a healthy culture. He emphasizes the importance of a balanced, nondestructive way of life; his essays on the Amish people of Pennsylvania and Ohio offer a model. "An economy of waste," Berry writes, "is incompatible with a healthy environment"--an environment that operates in balance, within bounds. Arguing for the primacy of family-based, local economies, and for the exercise of intelligence, reverence, and community values, Berry crafts a prose idyll celebrating the pastoral existence. 1982, North Point Press


The Long-Legged HouseThe Long-Legged House
Wendell Berry

This first collection of essays introduced many of the central issues that have occupied Berry over the course of his career. Three essays at the heart of this volume—“The Rise,” “The Long-Legged House,” and “A Native Hill”—are essays of homecoming and memoir, as the writer finds his home place, his native ground, his place on earth. As he later wrote, “What I stand for is what I stand on,” and here we see him beginning the acts of rediscovery and resettling that define the work of this remarkable cultural critic and agrarian, who is one of America’s greatest prose stylists. 2003, Shoemaker & Hoard


The Unsettling of America
short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

The 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

 

 

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Henry Beston (1888-1968)

The Best of BestonThe Best of Beston: A Selection from the Natural World of Henry Beston from Cape Cod to the St. Lawrence
Henry Beston

Henry Beston, whose Outermost House is considered an imperishable classic of nature writing, was a poet who just happened to write prose. He was a meticulous observer, an early (and unsung) conservationist, and a prolific writer of letters, essays, and poetry, as well as books. Here is a selection of his best from The Outermost House to lengthy pieces from Northern Farm, Herbs and the Earth, and American Memory. Beston was as close as this past century came to Henry David Thoreau. 2001, David R Godine


The Outermost HouseThe Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beqach of Cape Cod
Henry Beston

This is a work of unique and lasting beauty, surely one of the greatest nature books ever written. In detailing his year in his cottage at Eastham Beach on the Atlantic side of Cape Cod, Beston combines a Thoreauvian zeal for nature and the examined life with a Proustian ability to record exactly the sight, sound, feel and scent of the world around him. He is out to teach us how to slow down, to learn to live again according to the patterns and rhythms of nature. For those who are willing to read and understand, The Outermost House remains a haven of peace and beauty. Its final sentence: "For the gifts of life are the earth's, and they are given to all, and they are the songs of birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear, and dawn seen over ocean from the beach." 2003, Owl Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by John Blaustein

The Hidden CanyonThe Hidden Canyon: A River Journey
John Blaustein and Edward Abbey

Photographer Blaustein and environmental pioneer Abbey here document an 18-day 277 mile trip through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River in a wooden dory. The volume includes Blaustein's stunning photographs of rocks, whitewater and wildlife as well as Abbey’s journal of the trip. 1977, Penguin

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Marcia Bonta (1940- )

Appalachian AutumnAppalachian Autumn
Marcia Bonta

This sequel to Appalachian Spring continues Bonta's journal of her observations of birds, mammals, and insects on her land in Pennsylvania. She is at her best as an amateur botanist, lyrically describing the life cycles of "foliar fruits," or those understory, fruit-bearing trees and vines that change colors early and attract migratory birds. Bonta and her husband fight to keep loggers off land adjacent to theirs, a battle in which, Bonta says, "each falling tree pierced [me] to the bone.” 1994, University of Pittsburgh Press


Appalachian SpringAppalachian Spring
Marcia Bonta

This finely written journal details the natural history of the four months of “a typical Appalachian mountain spring'' in the author's central Pennsylvania home. Naturalist Bonta combines scientific accuracy with a lyrical sense of wonder and excitement as she describes her daily explorations around her 500-acre hillside home. Exhorting those who would preserve nature to “watch rather than manage the land,'' she observes and meticulously limns the mating rituals of all kinds of creatures, from earthworms to grouse; the activites of a myriad of birds, including American pipits and phoebes; and the blossoming of plants and shrubs such as trailing arbutus and Dane's rocket. This is a lively introduction to the pleasures and rituals of nature study. 1991, University of Pittsburgh Press


Appalachian summerAppalachian Summer
Marcia Bonta

Bonta records, in the form of a diary polished into little essays, the summertime natural history of her mountainside place in central Pennsylvania. Effectively isolated, even though interstate highways and new housing developments ever encroach, she reflects on the ways of woodchucks, foxes, woodpeckers, pewees, phoebes, wood buffaloes, squirrels, gray shrews, and mushrooms. Along the way she discusses the hows and whys of nature observation, noting the pleasures and occasional frustrations of fieldwork. 1999, University of Pittsburgh Press


Appalachian WinterAppalachian Winter
Marcia Bonta

Appalachian Winter offers acclaimed naturalist Marcia Bonta's view of one season, as experienced on and around her 650-acre home on the westernmost ridge of the hill-and-valley landscape that dominates central Pennsylvania. Written in the style of a journal, each day's entry focuses on her walks and rambles through the woods and fields that she has known and loved for over thirty years. Along the way she discovers a long-eared owl in a dense stand of conifers, tracks a bear through an early December snowfall, explains the life and ecological niche of the red-backed vole, and examines the recent arrival of an Asian ladybug. 2005, University of Pittsburgh Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Charles Bowden (1945- )

Blue DesertBlue Desert
Charles Bowden

In Blue Desert, Charles Bowden presents a view of the Southwest that seeks to measure how rapid growth has taken its toll on the land. Writing with a reporter's objectivity and a desert rat's passion, Bowden takes us into the streets as well as the desert to show us the Sunbelt's darker side as it has developed in recent times—where "the land always makes promises of aching beauty and the people always fail the land"—and defies us to ignore it. 1988, University of Arizona Press


Frog Mountain BluesFrog Mountain Blues
Charles Bowden

Frog Mountain Blues delineates the creeping environmental degradation that occurs when a boomtown pushes toward a wilderness. Bowden here explores the Santa Catalina Mountains (declared a Reserve in 1902) just outside of Tucson, Ariz., where he has lived for more than 40 years. Today, he writes, the city is "a living, crawling thing probing the desert with subdivisions, roads and machines." He makes an eloquent plea to "get the cattle, mines, houses, roads, ski runs, golf courses and towers off the range." He reminds us that the Catalinas are just a small part of the worldwide assault on wilderness areas. 1994, University of Arizona Press


Killing the Hidden WatersKilling the Hidden Waters
Charles Bowden

First published in 1977, and with a new up-to-date introduction, Bowden warns of the costs and limits of using water as if it is an infinite resource. He drives home the point that years of droughts, rationing, and even water wars have done nothing to slake the insatiable consumption of water in the American West. Killing the Hidden Waters is, according to Edward Abbey, "the best all-around summary I've read yet, anywhere, of how our greed-driven, ever-expanding urban-industrial empire is consuming, wasting, poisoning, and destroying not only the resource basis of its own existence, but also the vital, sustaining basis of life everywhere." 2003, University of Texas Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Bruce Brown (1950- )

Mountain in the CloudsMountain in the Clouds: A Search for the Wild Salmon
Bruce Brown

Originally published in 1981, Mountain in the Clouds combines vivid personal encounters with wild salmon and a sometimes white-hot analysis of the human factors responsible for their heart-wrenching decline. Brown engages the reader in the unique environment of the temperate rainforest of the Olympic Pennisula, where salmon still return from the ocean to spawn deep within the Olympic Mountains. This book first popularized the once-inconceivable idea of tearing out dams for fisheries restoration, and highlighted the two destructive and illegal dams built on the Elwha River. They are scheduled to be demolished in 2011. 1995, University of Washington Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Stephen L. Buchmann (1952- )

The Forgotten PollinatorsThe Forgotten Pollinators
Stephen L. Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan

In The Forgotten Pollinators, Buchmann and Nabhan delve into the little-known and fascinating world of pollination, the insect-plant interaction which provides the world with one-third of its food source. Using colorful examples--including a moth that rappels down cliffs to pollinate a plant in Hawaii--they also explain how modern developments are threatening this essential process and emphasize that wildland protection is fundamental to sustaining agricultural productivity. 1997, Island Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Alan Burdick

Out of EdenOut of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion
Alan Burdick

To be human is to change our habitat. Now that our habitat is global, creatures emigrate with us at an ever-accelerating pace, carried in ship ballast (a bivalve mollusk from England to Massachusetts), imported by nostalgic birders (once-native birds returning from disappearance) or crawling into airplanes on their own (the brown tree snake from Australia to Hawaii). Even NASA's space probes carry potential invaders. If these creatures make new homes for themselves, they may eat other species into extinction, infect them with new diseases, even reconfigure an entire ecosystem. Burdick's fascination with the science is contagious; he follows invasion ecologists—a lively bunch—as they do their gritty, often ambiguous research in Guam and Hawaii, along the margins of the San Francisco Bay and on the deck of an oil tanker.
National Book Award Finalist 2005
2006, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by David G. Campbell

The Crystal DesertThe Crystal Desert: Summers in Antarctica
David G. Campbell

In The Crystal Desert David Campbell weaves together travelogue gathered from his many visits to the wind-blasted continent of Antarctica, along with natural history, oceanography, and accounts of the tortured attempts of earlier exploratory missions "in an alien environment, beyond the edge of the habitable earth." He's a gifted writer with an especially fine hand at making his readers feel right at home in a place very few of us will ever get to see.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1994
2002, Mariner Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Christopher Camuto

Another CountryAnother Country: Journeying Toward the Cherokee Mountains
Christopher Camuto

Hiker, canoer, watcher, listener, and meditator, Camuto observes history and nature in the southern Appalachian Mountains, the former homeland of the expelled Cherokee Indians. He extols the magnificence of the land before European contact and laments its appearance today. With wildness hemmed into the upper reaches of the Great Smokies, Camuto heads for the heights, where he camps in winter and engages in a sensitive reflection on the land and the Cherokees' relationship with it. Earnest, wistful, and imbued with the poetry of nature, Camuto's work conveys the exhilaration of mountaintops, streams, and predators--and the naturalist's dismay at roads, dams, and tourist traps. 2000, University of Georgia Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Archie Fairly Carr (1909-1987)

Archie Carr, a herpetologist and the author of several popular books on natural history, including The Windward Road and So Excellent a Fishe, brought the plight of sea turtles to the world's attention. Almost nothing had been known about these "monsters of the deep" until Carr began investigating their life cycles, remarkable migrations, and fast-dwindling numbers. He and his wife, Marjorie, also fought to preserve some of Florida's most splendid rivers, including the Suwannee and the Oklawaha.

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

The Windward RoadThe Windward Road: Adventures of a Naturalist on Remote Carribbean Shores
Archie Fairly Carr

Archie Carr was the godfather of modern sea-turtle biology and an outspoken advocate of turtle conservation who did more than anyone else to bring our attention to these creatures. The Windward Road, first published in 1956, is a masterpiece of natural history writing, capturing a magical moment in time. Carr delves into the secret lives of the great green turtles and takes us with him on journeys to Caribbean islands as yet largely unspoiled by the wave of development that was to come.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1957
1979, University Press of Florida

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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