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 Sally Carrighar (1898-1985)

Icebound SummerIcebound Summer
Sally Carrighar

In Icebound Summer (1953), naturalist Carrighar recounts a summer she spent in the Arctic. Intense and brief, the season brings the seemingly frozen and lifeless tundra to life, as wildlife abounds. This edition is illustrated with numerous black-and-white drawings. 2000, The Derrydale Press


One Day on Beetle RockOne Day on Beetle Rock
Sally Carrighar

One Day on Beetle Rock is an elegant and lively depiction of nine animals spending a spring day on Beetle Rock, a large expanse of granite in Sequoia National Park. Drawing on seven years of close observation and inspired by the work of natural scientists, Sally Carrighar wrote with exquisite detail, bringing readers to an exhilarating consciousness of the search for food and a safe place to sleep, the relationship between prey and predator, the marvelous skills and adaptations of nature. 2002, Heyday Books


One Day at Teton MarshOne Day at Teton Marsh
Sally Carrighar

One Day at Teton Marsh descibes the activities of a series of creatures living in a marsh at Jackson's Hole, Wyoming. Sally Carrighar weaves together the tales of these individual animals with scientific accuracy and a style that draws the reader in and makes them care about each animal. She shows how each life is connected to other lives in the marsh, the individual lives forming an interdependent web of life. 1966, Panther

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by David M. Carroll

Swampwalker's JournalSwampwalker's Journal: A Wetlands Year
David M. Carroll

David Carroll knows swamps better than most of us know our backyards, out hometowns, our best friends. He has stayed in touch with individual turtles for twenty years, watching them dig into hibernation for the winter, greeting them as they emerge in the spring, following them as they breed, feed, & roam through the warmer, wetter months. He knows frogs & snakes, bears, & beavers, muskrats, & minks, dragonflies, caddis flies, birds, water lilies, pickerel weed, cattails, sedges - everything that swims, flies, trudges, slithers, or sinks its roots in swamp, marsh, or bog. In Swampwalker's Journal, Carrol shares his knowledge & passion with the rest of us, taking us on a miraculous year - long journey through the wetlands, revealing why they are so important to his life, to ours, to all life on Earth.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 2001
2001, Mariner Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Rachel Carson (1907-1964)

"Rachel Carson was one of the reasons why I became so conscious of the environment and so involved with environmental issues. . . . Her picture hangs on my office wall among those of political leaders, presidents, and prime ministers. It has been there for years—and it belongs there. Carson has had as much or more an effect on me than any of them, and perhaps all of them together." - Al Gore

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

The Edge of the SeaThe Edge of the Sea
Rachel Carson

The Edge of the Sea was Rachel Carson’s third book in her sea trilogy, first published in 1955. An excerpt: “The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place. All through the long history of Earth it has been an area of unrest where waves have broken heavily against the land, where the tides have pressed forward over the continents, receded and then returned. For no two successive days is the shore line precisely the same… Today a little more land may belong to the sea, tomorrow a little less. Always the edge of the sea remains an elusive and indefinable boundary.”
1956 National Book Award Finalist
1999, Peter Smith Publishing


Lost WoodsLost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson's many fans will take much pleasure in this anthology of her work, which collects journal entries, speeches and articles by one of the pioneers of the modern environmental movement. Pieces on the destruction of unique island eco-systems, the connection of music to nature and environmental "managed care" of waterfowl refuges offer sad testament to Carson's range, never to be further explored due to her early death from breast cancer, in 1964. The careful gathering of fragments by Lear (author of the 1997 biography Rachel Carson) gives rare glimpses of Carson's personal vulnerability and of her strange fusion of restraint and fervor, offering a frequent sense of being in Carson's company. 1999, Beacon Press


The Sea Around UsThe Sea Around Us
Rachel L. Carson

The Sea Around Us is a spiritual and at times quite emotional hymn to the mysteries and magic of the sea, within which scientific information is seamlessly interwoven. Rachel Carson’s fine prose style carries us along: from the beginnings of all life out of the synthesis of minerals and elements within the sea, we are taken to its wind-driven surfaces, thence to its sunless depths, where we meet its many exotic inhabitants, gigantic and microscopic. We learn how islands are born, how mountain ranges rivaling any on land parade between continental masses, how sediments of every conceivable variety coat the floor of the sea, how the shape of one continent mirrors the face of another, how tides come and go pushed by the immense power of the sun and the moon, how the Gulf Stream makes its restless journey to and fro in the Atlantic.
National Book Award 1952
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1952

2003, Oxford University Press


Silent SpringSilent Spring
Rachel Carson

Silent Spring, first released in 1962, offered the first shattering look at widespread ecological degradation and touched off an environmental awareness that still persists. Rachael Carson focused on the use of dangerous chemicals in the environment that found their way into the food supply. Carson argued that those chemicals were more dangerous than radiation and that for the first time in history, humans were exposed to chemicals that stayed in their systems from birth to death. This landmark work was a major milestone in creating public awareness of modern ecological thinking.
National Book Award Finalist 1963
2002, Mariner Books


Under the Sea-WindUnder the Sea-Wind
Rachel Carson

Celebrating the mystery and beauty of birds and sea creatures in their natural habitat, Under the Sea-Wind, Rachel Carson's first book and her personal favorite, is the early masterwork of one of America's greatest nature writers. Evoking the special mystery and beauty of the shore and the open sea - its limitless vistas and twilight depths - Carson's astonishingly intimate, unforgettable portrait captures the delicate negotiations of an ingeniously calibrated ecology. 2007, Penguin


Courage for the EarthCourage for the Earth: Writers, Scientists, and Activists Celebrate the Life and Writing of Rachel Carson
Peter Matthiessen, editor

Rachel Carson is remembered as a hero for raising the alarm over ocean pollution and pesticides, and she is cherished for the sheer beauty of her writing. Courage for the Earth gathers 13 essays from leading writers, activists, and scientists such as biographer Linda Lear, biologist Edward O. Wilson, Vice President Al Gore, and nature writer Terry Tempest Williams. These and more tell how their lives have been changed by Rachel Carson's pioneering Silent Spring and by her earlier, lyrical nature writing on the sea. 2007, Mariner Books


Rachel Carson: Witness for NatureRachel Carson: Witness for Nature
Linda Lear

Environmental historian Linda Lear does justice to the tragic dimensions of Rachel Carson's life in her prologue, which shows the author of Silent Spring, even as she was dying of cancer, testifying calmly before a congressional subcommittee whose investigation of the dangers of pesticides were prompted by her book. Lear portrays Carson with affection and discernment as a remarkable woman who overcame prejudice against female scientists and aroused post-World War II America to the beauties of nature and the technological threats against it in a series of deservedly popular books. 2009, Mariner Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Douglas H. Chadwick

A Beast the Color of WinterA Beast the Color of Winter: The Mountain Goat Observed
Douglas H. Chadwick

Resourceful, belligerent, and unbelievably sure-footed, the mountain goat is a white-coated survivor from the Ice Age. Oreamnos americanus shares its dizzying alpine world with elk, eagles, bighorn sheep, and grizzlies. A Beast the Color of Winter offers a superbly written portrait of its life, habits, and environment. Douglas H. Chadwick tracked mountain goat herds for seven years, and his observations are richly textured and replete with fascinating and dramatic details. We learn of the mountain goats' lives from birth to adulthood, their feeding habits, unique social behavior and courtship rituals, and their long history. 2002, Bison Books


The Fate of the ElephantThe Fate of the Elephant
Douglas H. Chadwick

Chadwick spent most of two years observing elephants in American zoos and throughout Africa, India and southeast Asia. He also followed the ivory trade, visiting carvers and shops in Tokyo, Delhi, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Chadwick visits an elephant reserve and a training camp in India; an expert on white elephants takes him to see the King's herd in Bangkok; in Malaysia, he watches a rescue team capture and relocate a wild elephant. In addition to telling many fascinating stories, Chadwick reminds us that the elephant's future is bleak: too many people, too little land and unstable goverments all threaten the animal's survival. In the 19th century, Africa boasted more than 10 million of the giant pachyderms; there are fewer than half a million today. 1994, Sierra Club Books


The Grandest of LivesThe Grandest of Lives: eye to Eye with Whales
Douglas H. Chadwick

In this compelling book wildlife biologist Chadwick records what he has learned and observed of five whale species, including the humpback, described by Melville as "the most gamesome and light-hearted of all the whales"; the bottlenose, an exceptionally intelligent whale that can dive to great depths; and the orca, misnamed the "killer" whale, a very social whale that does not attack humans. Whales have such a complex assortment of lifestyles, cultures and social relationships, it's hard to avoid anthropomorphizing them, especially since they seem to be as curious about humans as humans are about them. Chadwick makes a powerful case for increased efforts to preserve the whales’ underwater environment. 2008, Sierra Club/Counterpoint


True GrizzTrue Grizz: Glimpses of Fernie, Stahr, Easy, Dakota, and Other Real Bears in the Modern World
Douglas H. Chadwick

In True Grizz Chadwick turns his attention to the precarious future of the grizzly bear. These large mammals are on the list of endangered species in the lower 48 states. As wild land dwindles, grizzlies, who need to consume 20,000-30,000 calories daily in autumn to get them through a winter of hibernation, have encroached on human territory, helping themselves to quick meals from garbage cans and livestock feed. Portrayed in legend as exceptionally dangerous, grizzlies have had their numbers drastically reduced by hunters, frightened landowners and collisions with trains and cars. Chadwick introduces the reader to individual bears he has come to know and describes a successful project to help these grizzlies learn to avoid their most dangerous enemy – human beings. 2006, Sierra Club Books


Yellowstone to YukonYellowstone to Yukon
Douglas H. Chadwick and Raymond Gehman

Crossroads of wild nature and a rapidly growing human presence, Yellowstone to Yukon - Y2Y for short - is both a biogeographical region and a conservation initiative. It encompasses nearly half a million square miles along the craggy Northern Rockies, most of it above 3,500 feet. Y2Y's limited lowlands provide prime winter range for numerous wildlife species -- as well as prime ranchland and prime building sites for vacation homes. Wildlife biologist Douglas H. Chadwick takes you on a voyage of personal discovery as he chronicles the burgeoning threats that face this region -- and the promise embodied by the Y2Y Conservation Initiative. 2006, National Geographic

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Craig Childs (1967- )

The Animal DialoguesThe Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild
Craig Childs

Each of the 40 brief, compelling narratives in The Animal Dialogues focuses on the author's personal encounter with a particular species and is replete with astonishing facts about the species' behavior, habitat, breeding, and lifespan. But the glory of each essay lies in Childs' ability to portray the sometimes brutal beauty of the wilderness, to capture the individual essence of wild creatures, to transport the reader beyond the human realm and deep inside the animal kingdom. 2009, Back Bay Books


House of RainHouse of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest
Craig Childs

The Anasazi, who flourished in the region now known as New Mexico, vanished without a trace. Now, eight centuries after their thriving, 2,000-year-old civilization disappeared as though it had never existed, naturalist and adventurer Childs undertakes to find out where the Anasazi went and why. His investigation relies heavily on scholarly literature, oral tradition, and lots of reading between the lines of history. There are no definitive answers here, but Childs asks plenty of tantalizing questions as he takes the reader along on a fascinating tramp through the arid and beautiful Southwest. 2008, Back Bay Books


The Secret Knowledge of WaterThe Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert
Craig Childs

In this vivid, hypnotic narrative, naturalist Childs tells of his travels in the deserts of America, in search of random waterholes, rare creeks, waterfalls, springs, shrimp-filled pools and sudden, furious floods. He mingles personal obsrvations with a cosmic perspective: "Most, if not all, water on this planet came from countless small comets thumping against the atmosphere . . . " By turns travelogue, ecological treatise, and meditative essay, Childs' book will speak to anyone who has spent time under desert skies, wondering when the next drop of rain might fall. 2001, Back Bay Books


Soul of NowhereSoul of Nowhere
Craig Childs

From the labyrinthine slot canyons of Utah to the deserted island beaches in the Sea of Cortes, the arid lands of the Southwest speak to the acclaimed naturalist Childs. Possessing an extraordinary sense of harmony with these forbidding landscapes, Childs translates their primal voices into a taut and unsentimental narrative of exploration. Step by arduous step, readers follow Childs into the desert's severe mysteries, penetrating deep into regions once home to the cliff dwellers of Salado pre-history and the giants of Seri legend. But ultimately we yield to the stark monoliths, the startling waterfalls, and the bleak crevices of a timeless land that embraces and then overshadows all who fall under its spell. 2003, Back Bay Books


The Way OutThe Way Out: A True Story of Ruin and Survival
Craig Childs

In this taut, intensely dramatic narrative - the record of a perilous excursion into a remote and unmappable labyrinth of canyons in the American Southwest - two men confront immutable forces of nature and the limits of their own sanity. As a chronicle of adventure, as emotionally charged human drama, as confessional memoir, The Way Out is a transcendent look deep into wilderness. 2006, Back Bay Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Michael P. Cohen (1944- )

A Garden of BristleconesA Garden of Bristlecones: Tales of Change in the Great Basin
Michael P. Cohen

Professor Cohen’s latest book focuses on a species of tree, the bristlecone pine, that is thought to be this planet's oldest living thing; these trees may live for up to 5000 years. But this is also a story of the relationship between humans and bristlecones, from their discovery well over a century ago to the tree-ring and radiocarbon dating studies done by individual scientists in recent times. Millenia of environmental history told through the story of a single organism. 1998, University of Nevada Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Christopher Cokinos (1963- )

Hope Is the Thing with FeathersHope Is the Thing with Feathers: A personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds
Christopher Cokinos

In recounting the histories of six extinct North American birds, along with stories of the people who killed them off and those who tried to save them, Cokinos transforms each extinction into a deeply disturbing tragedy--both for the species itself, and for human civilization. Relentless, wanton hunting, more than ecosystem pressures, obliterated the Carolina Parakeet; the hardy Passenger Pigeon, flying in endless flocks before it vanished around 1900; the exquisite Labrador Duck; and the Heath Hen, a holdout on Martha's Vineyard until 1932. Cokinos weighs the "fantastically remote" possibility of using DNA cloned from extinct birds to resurrect these vanished species, but the real hope engendered by this extraordinary saga lies in its insistent plea to restore ecological sanity. 2009, Tarcher

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Frank C. Craighead Jr.

During the 1950s and '60s, twin brothers John and Frank Craighead outfitted 29 grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park with radio collars and tracked them across an area the size of Vermont. They documented what the bears ate, how they bonded, and where they prowled, showing that Yellowstone grizzlies roamed far beyond the park's boundaries. The Craigheads' pioneering research helped save grizzly bears from extinction in the lower 48 states, and also brought the ecosystem concept to the fore of conservation.

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

Track of the GrizzlyTrack of the Grizzly
Frank C. Craighead Jr.

Track of the Grizzly is the culmination of one of the most ambitious wildlife studies ever undertaken - the Craighead field study of the grizzly bear, carried out in Yellowstone National Park and the huge ecosystem, spanning three states, in which it lies. Over a period of thirteen years, Frank and John Craighead and colleagues used sophisticated scientific techniques to track hundreds of grizzlies, to discover the bears' social organization and seasonal movements, their breeding and feeding habits, and their lifespans. This fascinating book illuminates the shortcomings of America's current system of wildlife management and provides an intimate, detailed, and definitive portrait of the greatest carnivore in our hemisphere. 1982, Sierra Club Books

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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