Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900
Page 4

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Lois Crisler(1896-1971)

Arctic WildArctic Wild: The Remarkable True Story of One Couple's Adventures Living Among Wolves
Lois Crisler

Lois Crisler's 1956 memoir vividly recalls her 18 months in Alaska’s Brooks Range and the wolves that would help her work earn a place among the classics of natural history. There to film the caribou migration, she and her husband adopted two orphaned wolf pups, a male and a female. Assuming their human companions to be part of the pack, the pups go about the business of growing quite naturally into adult wolves. The couple observed, filmed, and noted every nuance of the wolves' change from playful pups to fully grown wolves. Revealed is a highly developed social mammal rather than the bloodthirsty murderer of popular accounts. Arctic Wild's fame derives from its place as one of the first narratives to explore wolf habits in an accessible manner that is free of cant and politicization. 1996, The Lyons Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Jan DeBlieu (1955- )

Wind: How the flow of Air has shaped life, myth, and the landWind: How the Flow of Air Has Shaped Life, Myth, and the Land
Jan DeBlieu

DeBlieu says of the wind: "Few other forces have so universally shaped the diverse terrains and waters of the Earth or the plants and animals scattered through them." In Wind she uses her powers of observation and lyrical writing to beautifully communicate the windy myths and stories of cultures worldwide, the hardcore science of air movements and meteorology, and engaging stories of people whose lives are forever changed by hurricanes, typhoons and tornadoes.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1998
2006, Shoemaker & Hoard

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by William deBuys

Enchantment and ExploitationEnchantment and Exploitation: The Life and Hard Times of a New Mexico Mountain Range
William deBuys

William deBuys writes with a deep and intimate knowledge of the people of northern New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the place they call home. He integrates the changing cultural and ecological history of the mountains, thus providing a natural history of land use. The book’s final chapters provide a solid ecological framework on which to build a future that will meet the needs of the residents and the mountains themselves. 1985, University of New Mexico Press

River of TrapsRiver of Traps: A New Mexico Mountain Life
William deBuys and Alex Harris

New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains are a place where two cultures — Hispanic and Anglo — meet. When Harris and deBuys move to New Mexico in the 1970s, Jacobo Romero is an old farmer who befriends them and becomes their teacher. With the tools of simple labor — shovel and axe, irony and humor — he shows them how to survive, even flourish, in their isolated village. A remarkable look at modern life in the mountains, River of Traps also magically evokes the now-vanished world in which Romero tended flocks on frontier ranges and absorbed the values of a society untouched by cash or Anglo America. His memories and wisdom, shared without sentimentality, permeate this absorbing story of three men and the place that forever shaped their lives.
Pulitzer Prize Finalist 1991
2007, Trinity University Press

The WalkThe Walk
William deBuys

On a small farm in northern New Mexico, William deBuys has married, raised children, cared lovingly for horses, and learned the ways of water and earth, grass and elk. He contemplates the follies of pesticide use and wildfire policies, and takes measure of his painful solitude after the demise of his marriage and the death of friends. What is there to do, but to walk the land as he has for 27 years? After all, "walking helps the mind go out and the world come in, and brings us to our senses." A supple and silvery book, The Walk defines hope in terms of mountain and sky, river and pine, mindfulness and love. 2007, Trinity University Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Vincent G. Dethier

Crickets and Katydids, Concerts and SolosCrickets and Katydids, Concerts and Solos
Vincent G. Dethier

Known for his ability to present complex scientific information clearly and entertainingly, Dethier introduces crickets, katydids, and grasshoppers (locusts), whose sounds, though familiar, are largely ignored by all but specialists. He takes us on an informative and entertaining summer's tour of insects in the Franklin, New Hampshire area and acquaints us with their habits and songs. Crickets and Katydids reminds us to attend to the world around us; to listen to its jubilant songs, breathe in the 'winey evanescence' of fallen apples and savor the caress of cool air flowing from the fringes of a shady hardwood forest.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1993
1992, Harvard University Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Annie Dillard (1945- )

An American ChildhoodAn American Childhood
Annie Dillard

In this intoxicating account of her childhood, Dillard climbs back inside her 5-, 10-, and 15-year-old selves with apparent effortlessness. "Everywhere, things snagged me," she writes. "The visible world turned me curious to books; the books propelled me reeling back to the world." From her parents she inherited a love of language--her mother's speech was "an endlessly interesting, swerving path"--and the understanding that "you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself," not for anyone else's approval or desire. And one would be mistaken to call the energy Dillard exhibits in An American Childhood merely youthful; "still I break up through the skin of awareness a thousand times a day," she writes, "as dolphins burst through seas, and dive again, and rise, and dive."
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 1987
1988, Harper

Holy the FirmHoly the Firm
Annie Dillard

Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Dillard spent two years in a cabin on an island in Puget Sound, asking herself questions about time, reality, sacrifice, death, and the will of God. In Holy the Firm she writes about a moth consumed in a candle flame, a seven-year-old girl burned in an airplane accident, a baptism on a cold beach. But behind the moving curtain of what she calls "the hard things - rock mountain and salt sea," she sees, sometimes far off and sometimes as close by as a veil or air, the power play of holy fire. 1998, Harper Perennial

Pilgrim at tinker CreekPilgrim at Tinker Creek
Annie Dillard

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is about Annie Dillard’s experiences at Tinker Creek, located in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. She records her observations and thoughts on solitude, writing, religion, and the flora and fauna of the area. A breathtaking book of being with nature, described by Dillard as a “book of theology.”

"The book is a form of meditation, written with headlong urgency, about seeing. A reader's heart must go out to a young writer with a sense of wonder so fearless and unbridled...There is an ambition about her book that I like...It is the ambition to feel." -- Eudora Welty, New York Times Book Review
Pulitzer Prize, 1975
2007, Harper Perennial Modern Classics

Teaching a Stone to TalkTeaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters
Annie Dillard

"This little book is haloed and informed throughout by Dillard's distinctive passion and intensity, a sort of intellectual radiance that reminds me both Thoreau and Emily Dickinson." -- Edward Abbey, Chicago Sun-Times
"The natural world is ignited by her prose and we see the world as an incandescent metaphor of the spirit...Few writers evoke better than she the emotion of awe, and few have ever conveyed more graphically the weight of silence, the force of the immaterial." --Robert Taylor, Boston Globe 1988, Harper

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by J. Frank Dobie (1888-1964)

The voice of the coyoteThe Voice of the Coyote
J. Frank Dobie

In The Voice of the Coyote, J. Frank Dobie melds natural history with tales and lore in articulating the complex and often contentious relationship between coyotes and humans. Based on his own life experiences in Texas and twenty-five years of research, Dobie forges a sympathetic and nuanced picture of the coyote prefiguring later environmental and conservation movements. He recognizes the impact of human action on the coyote while also examining the prominent role of the coyote in the myths and legends of the West. 2006, Bison Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998)

Marjory Stoneman Douglas forever changed the way Americans view the Florida Everglades with her book The Everglades: River of Grass, which distilled the 6,000-square-mile marsh into its fierce and elemental beauty. "The clear burning light of the sun pours daylong into the sawgrass and is lost there, soaked up, never given back," she wrote. "Only the water flashes and glints. The grass yields nothing."

For much of this century, Douglas has been associated with the Everglades. In the 1920s she wrote editorials opposing its draining and urging its protection; in the 1930s and 1940s she served on a committee seeking to form a Florida national park, and she lobbied the federal and state governments for its creation. In 1947, the year she wrote River of Grass, she sat on the dais with President Harry S. Truman during the dedication of Everglades National Park. However, despite her previous efforts, Douglas once said that she did not become truly involved with the Everglades and the effort to save it until 1967, when, at the age of 78, she wrote Florida: The Long Frontier and became one of the country's leading environmental activists.

In 1969 Douglas founded Friends of the Everglades, now a 5,000-member group pledged to the protection and restoration of the South Florida wetland. She traveled all over the state speaking on behalf of the Everglades and railing against its enemies: foot-dragging politicians, land-hungry developers, the sugar industry, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In 1994, at the age of 104, when she felt that the state was retreating from its commitment to restore the Everglades, and to the dismay of Florida legislators, she publicly demanded that her name be stricken from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas-Everglades Forever Act of 1994.

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

Everglades River of GrassThe Everglades River of Grass
Marjory Stoneman Douglas

First published in 1947, River of Grass awakened residents and visitors to the notion of the Everglades as a vast, flowing river. Her descriptive, fluid prose portrays the strange beauty of the region and diversity of its wildlife; recounts the history of the native peoples, explorers, and conquerors who traveled here; explains its importance as the region's watershed; and addresses modern civilization's impact on this fragile ecosystem. 2007, Pineapple Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by David James Duncan

My Story as Told by WaterMy Story as Told by Water: Confessions, Druidic Rants, Reflections, Bird-Watchings, Fish-Stalkings, Visions, Songs and Prayers Refracting Light, from Living Rives, in the Age of the Industrial Dark
David James Duncan

Part memoir, part activist treatise, My Story As Told by Water is Duncan's love song to wild places and the creatures which inhabit them. The book's highlight is his powerfully convincing essay "A Prayer for the Salmon's Second Coming," in which he argues that saving salmon is crucial to both man and fish alike: "A 'modern Northwest' that cannot support salmon is unlikely to support 'modern Northwesterners' for long," he writes. In this elegant demand for the removal of four Snake River dams (out of 221 on the Snake/Columbia system), Duncan declares the wild salmon "a holiness, a divine gift," a role model rather than a resource: "Salmon are a light darting not just through water, but through the human mind and heart. Salmon help shield us from fear of death by showing us how to follow our course without fear, and how to give ourselves for the sake of things greater than ourselves."
National Book Award Finalist 2001
2002, Sierra Club Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Gretel Ehrlich (1946- )

This Cold HeavenThis Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland
Gretel Ehrlich

Greenland, unlike its name, is 95 percent ice--a landscape of deep rock-walled fjords, glaciers, narwhal whales swimming among icebergs the size of football fields, walruses busting through shifting ice. Ehrlich traveled extensively there in all seasons, befriending the polar Inuit, who still dress in bear and seal skins, and hunt walrus, polar bears, and whales with harpoons. The only constant is weather and the perilous movements of ice, the only transport is dogsled, and the closest village may be a month and a half-long dogsled journey away. Ehrlich learns that the landscape of Greenland is "less a description of desolation than an ode to the beauty of impermanence." 2003, Vintage

Island, the Universe, HomeIsland, the Universe, Home
Gretel Ehrlich

Islands begins and ends in Wyoming, but goes beyond, to the Channel Islands off the California coast and to mountain Shinto temples in Japan, where the author made a pilgrimage. Her essays, however, are not tied to place, and thus these leaps enlarge, rather than jar, her writing; she uses place as a point of departure for her images and explorations of architecture, anthropology, a golden eagle, the Yellowstone fire, physics, time, astronomy, and much more. Loss and recovery, isolation and connectedness are themes running through this powerful, idiosyncratic collection of naturalistic essays. 1992, Penguin

John MuirJohn Muir: Nature's Visionary
Gretel Ehrlich

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread," wrote Muir who walked away from the hubub of humanity and immersed himself in the wild until an "evangelistic urge" induced him to come down from his beloved Sierras and share his belief in the sanctity of wilderness. By focusing on Muir's unquenchable appetite for life and learning and quoting with great discernment from his works, including unpublished journals, nature writer Ehrlich beautifully captures Muir's essence and clearly defines the ongoing significance of his accomplishments. 2000, National Geographic

The Solace of Open SpacesThe Solace of Open Spaces
Gretel Ehrlich

Like many before her, poet Gretel Ehrlich discovered the therapeutic qualities of the West. In 1976, a time of personal crisis, she moved from the East to a small farm in Wyoming where she ultimately found peace of mind and inspiration. Originally, she had gone west to make a film for PBS; she returned to work with neighbors at cattle- and sheep-ranching, taking pleasure in open spaces. Ehrlich writes with sensitivity and affection about people, the seasons and the landscape. Whether she is enjoying solitude or companionship, her writing evokes the romance and timelessness of the West. 1986, Penguin

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Loren Eiseley (1907-1977)

The Firmament of TimeThe Firmament of Time
Loren Eiseley

Firmament of Time examines what we as a species have become in the late twentieth century. Eiseley’s illuminating and accessible discussion skillfully synthesizes hard scientific theory, factual evidence, personal anecdotes, haunting reflection, and poetic prose.

"Dr. Eiseley describes with zest and admiration the giant steps that have led man, in a scant three hundred years, to grasp the nature of his extraordinary past and to substitute a natural world for a world of divine creation and intervention. . . . An irresistible inducement to partake of the almost forgotten excitements of reflection."-New Yorker
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1961
National Book Award Finalist 1961

1999, Bison Books

the Immense JourneyThe Immense Journey: an Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature
Loren Eiseley

As Eiseley begins his account of the mysterious and immense journey of life on the planet, he is wedged in a sandstone crack on the edge of a western prairie where he is on a fossil hunt. "Staring straight out at me, as I slid farther and deeper into the green twilight was a skull,,,It was not, of course, human. I was deep, deep below the time of man in a remote age near the beginning of the reign of mammals. I squatted on my heels in the narrow ravine, and we stared a little blankly at each other, the skull and I." The Immense Journey draws upon anthropology, archeology, paleontology, biology, geology, and chemistry: Eiseley’s ultimate concern is that, through wonder, we allow Nature to conquer the human heart. 1959, Vintage

The Night CountryThe Night Country
Loren Eiseley

Toward the end of his life, Loren Eiseley reflected on the mystery of life, throwing light on those dark places traversed by himself and centuries of humankind. The Night Country is a gift of wisdom and beauty from the famed anthropologist. It describes his needy childhood in Nebraska, reveals his increasing sensitivity to the odd and ordinary in nature, and focuses on a career that turns him inward as he reaches outward for answers in old bones. 1997, Bison Books

The Star ThrowerThe Star Thrower
Loren Eiseley

A collection of the author’s favorite essays and poems. This volume includes selections that span Eiseley’s entire writing career and provide a sampling of the author as naturalist, poet, scientist, and humanist.

“Loren Eiseley’s work changed my life.” - Ray Bradbury 1979, Harvest Books

The Unexpected UniverseThe Unexpected Universe
Loren C. Eiseley

“Nature,” Eiseley wrote in The Unexpected Universe, “contains that which does not concern us, and has no intention of taking us into its confidence.” But nature, Eiseley intuited, had also left us signs, messages embedded in strata or scattered among the stars. “Some of the messages cannot be read, but man will always try. He hungers for messages, and when he ceases to seek and interpret them he will no longer be man.” 1972, Harcourt

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Michael Engelhard

Where the Rain Children SleepWhere the Rain Children Sleep: A Sacred Geography of the Colorado Plateau
Michael Engelhard

Cultural anthropologist Engelhard spent a year hiking and writing in the desert canyons of southern Utah and northern Arizona, an area he has explored for two decades. His poetic descriptions of "wet canyons," ancient pictographs, and sandstone cliffs grace every page, along with the Navajo and Hopi mythology that explains how this unique geography was formed. He laments the harm done by off-road vehicles to animal habitats, the loss of fish species due to the damming of the Green and Colorado Rivers, and the defacement of Native burial sites and pictographs. Yet Engelhard completes his compelling and thought-provoking journey by urging readers to get out of their comfort zone and "entrust your life to a trail." 2010, Bison Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Robert Finch (1943- )

Common GroundCommon Ground: A Naturalist's Cape Cod
Robert Finch

This is a book about beginnings, or landfalls, in a place by the sea that has been explored, settled, visited, studied, and written about more than almost any other stretch of the North American coastline. The focus of these essays is a personal response to the changing face of this curved peninsula, keeping in touch with the place where one lives. Beautifully illustrated. 1994, W.W. Norton

The Iambics of NewfoundlandThe Iambics of Newfoundland: Notes from an Unknown Shore
Robert Finch

Well-known nature writer Finch presents his impressions of Canada's most remote island, drawing a detailed portrait of a harsh but beautiful world and the hardscrabble people who populate it. And a quirky world it is: Newfoundlanders have a language all their own, wherein everyone is addressed as "boy" and towns have names like "Squid Tickle"; visitors are "almost invariably treated with hospitality, though still referred to as a stranger," and even "if a stranger takes up residence in a village, he is a CFA, or come from away.” 2007, Counterpoint

OutlandsOutlands: Journeys to the Outer Edges of Cape Cod
Robert Finch

Robert Finch, Cape Cod naturalist, returns to the Outer Beach and to the fragile peninsula he's made his own. In Outlands, he demonstrates his profound willingness to ask essential questions. These essays recognize our need for both the human and the nonhuman in our lives; they probe the ambiguities in our response to the terror and beauty of the natural world and the love and aggression we struggle with in our associations with one another. Robert Finch's remarkable prose offers high entertainment, but also gives us new sympathies for and understanding of both nature and ourselves. 2001, David R Godine

The Primal PlaceThe Primal Place
Robert Finch

From acclaimed author and naturalist Robert Finch, a richly detailed observance of Cape Cod's seemingly vanished natural and human past, as it clings to its present landscape. This is a voyage of discovery, a personal odyssey into the nature of a single Cape Cod neighborhood. It is a rich portrait, beautifully drawn, of a landscape and a community whose essential character lies in their penetrating interface with the sea. But it is also an individual quest, a journey of the heart and mind in which the author seeks "entrance, or rather re-entrance" into "that vast living maze stretching out beyond my lines of sight." 2007, Countryman

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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