Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900
Page 5

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Collin Fletcher (1922-2007)

The Man Who Walked Through TimeThe Man Who Walked Through Time: The Story of the First Trip Afoot Through the Grand Canyon
Colin Fletcher

In 1963 Colin Fletcher became the first man to walk the length of the Grand Canyon, below the Rim. It began with a dream, when he and a friend detoured from a cross-country trip to take a hurried look at the great natural wonder. Standing on the Rim, surrounded by the profound and almost mystical silence, Fletcher knew that something had happened to the way he looked at things. He also knew that the Canyon, with its depths and distances, cliffs, buttes, and hanging terraces, beckoned to him, calling him on a journey that would challenge both his body and his mind. 1989, Vintage

RiverRiver: One Man's Journey Down the Colorado, Source to Sea
Colin Fletcher

From its sources in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming to its union with the Gulf of California, Fletcher traces the Colorado in an entertaining and often quite funny travelogue. Traveling by raft when possible and backpacking the nonnavigable stretches, he embraced six months of solitude in spectacular scenery and gained an appreciation of the river. He ponders his own life's passage, musing on lost loves, the experience of war, the onset of old age, and impending mortality. 1998, Vintage

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by David R. Foster (1954- )

Forests in TimeForests in Time: The Environmental Consequences of 1,000 Years of Change in New England
David R. Foster

This seminal book, based on innovative research at Harvard Forest, describes the dramatic natural and human-induced changes in the land and environment of New England over the past 1000 years. It addresses challenges to the environment as diverse as invasive exotic pests and pathogens, nitrogen dynamics, and climate change. 2006, Yale University Press

New England Forests Through TimeNew England Forests Through Time: Insights from the Harvard Forest Dioramas
David R. Foster and John F. O'Keefe

Over the past three hundred years New England's landscape has been transformed. The forests were cleared; the land was farmed intensively through the mid-nineteenth century and then was allowed to reforest naturally as agriculture shifted west. Today, in many ways the region is more natural than at any time since the American Revolution. In New England Forests through Time these historical and environmental lessons are told through the world-renowned dioramas in Harvard's Fisher Museum. 2006, Harvard University Press

Thoreau's CountryThoreau's Country: Journey Through a Transformed Landscape
David R. Foster

In 1977 ecologist Foster traveled to northern Vermont to build a cabin in the woods. He reflects upon the journals of Henry David Thoreau, who had constructed his own cabin at Walden Pond well over a century before. Much of the New England landscape that Thoreau knew has since been naturally reclaimed by forest owing to social change and population shifts from country to city as well as changes in agriculture and industry. Foster discusses the region’s cultural landscape, woodlands, forests, and wildlife in Thoreau’s time and now. More than an analysis of Thoreau, this is a commentary on change and the role humans play in shaping the landscape. 2001, Harvard University Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by James Galvin (1951- )

The MeadowThe Meadow
James Galvin

In discrete disclosures joined with the intricacy of a spider's web, James Galvin depicts the hundred-year history of a meadow in the arid mountains of the Colorado/Wyoming border. Galvin describes the seasons, the weather, the wildlife, and the few people who do not possess but are themselves possessed by this terrain. The Meadow evokes a sense of place that can be achieved only by someone who knows it intimately. 1993, Owl Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Jane Goodall (1934- )

Orion Society John Hay Award 1999

Chimpanzee CulturesChimpanzee Cultures: With a Foreword by Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall and Richard Wrangham,, eds

This volume, which creates the discipline of cultural primatology by using the tools of the cultural sciences and encouraging the use of ethnography in comparing chimpanzee populations, presents the best up-to-date collection of the current state of knowledge of most aspects of chimpanzee behavior, and it spells out the dangers facing these apes and their threatened environments. 1996, Harvard University Press

In the Shadow of ManIn the Shadow of Man
Jane Goodall

In the Shadow of Man, first published in 1971, remains one of the most extraordinary observations of chimpanzee behavior in the wild. Goodall learned to recognize individual chimpanzees and came to know their distinctive personalities, describing in compelling detail the smallest of moments that illuminate who these great animals are. Unlike most scientists of the time, Goodall documented emotions and complex political behavior, the social hierarchy and parenting abilities, the aggression and the bonds formed between chimps that can only be described as friendships. In eloquent prose, Goodall tells the stories of these chimps. 2010, Mariner Books

Reason for HopeReason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey
Jane Goodall and Phillip Berman

Reason for Hope is a smoothly written memoir that does not shy away from facing the realities of environmental destruction, animal abuse, and genocide. But Goodall shares her antidote to the poison of despair with specific examples of why she has not lost faith. For instance, she shares her spiritual epiphany during a visit to Auschwitz; her bravery in the face of chimpanzee imprisonment in medical laboratories; and devotes a whole chapter to individuals, corporations, and countries that are doing the right thing. But most of all Goodall provides a beautifully written plea for why everyone can and must find a reason for hope. 2000, Grand Central Publishing

Jane GoodallJane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man
Dale Peterson

In 1960, at age 26, Goodall was sent by paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey to the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in Tanzania to study the chimps. With no scientific training and no precedents to follow, but with plenty of courage and the conviction that chimpanzees have individual personalities, she lived with the animals. Patiently observing them, she discovered that they eat meat, engage in warfare and use tools—a revelation that persuaded Leakey that it was necessary to redefine "man," because the use of tools had always been thought to be uniquely human. Peterson provides colorful descriptions of Goodall's interaction with the chimps, and ably portrays her relationship with Leakey, her two marriages, her reaction to her celebrity and her ventures as an activist for the well-being of chimpanzees in captivity and the wild. 2008, Mariner Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002)

Stephen Jay Gould, a professor of science at Harvard University, was the author of more than twenty books. He received the National Book Award for The Panda’s Thumb and the National Book Critics Circle award for The Mismeasure of Man.

Ever Since DarwinEver Since Darwin: Reflections on Natural History
Stephen Jay Gould

Some of Gould’s favorite subjects are the purposeless, non-progressive nature of evolution (and why we like to deny this fact), the unconscious reflection of social and political ideas in scientific theories, the explanatory power of Darwin's theory, and the peculiar details of the history of science. Throughout this wonderful collection of essays, Gould highlights the human side of science, and the human creativity involved. For him, science is not a "mechanical collection of facts and induction of theories, but a complex process involving intuition, bias, and insight from other fields". 1992, W.W. Norton

The Flamingo's SmileThe Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History
Stephen Jay Gould

The Flamingo's Smile gives a glimpse at the big picture, as Gould arranges these essays for contrast and complementarity. His essay on the extinction of dinosaurs is placed next to a consideration of humanity's possible extinction through nuclear war. The discussions of evolutionary biology include new pieces from recent research and revisions in previously held beliefs, as well as a surprisingly relevant essay on the decline in batting averages in major league baseball. 1987, W.W. Norton

The Mismeasure of ManThe Mismeasure of Man
Stephen Jay Gould

The Mismeasure of Man is Stephen Jay Gould's masterful demolition of the IQ industry. Gould's brilliant, funny, engaging prose dissects the motivations behind those who would judge intelligence, and hence worth, by cranial size, convolutions, or score on extremely narrow tests. How did scientists decide that intelligence was unipolar and quantifiable, and why did the standard keep changing over time? Gould's answer is clear and simple: power maintains itself.
National Book Critics Circle Award 1981
National Book Award Finalist 1982

1996, W.W. Norton

The Panda's ThumbThe Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History
Stephen Jay Gould

In The Panda's Thumb Gould delights and instructs while deepening and extending his examination of evolution, a centerpiece of modern science. Were dinosaurs really dumber than lizards? Why are roughly the same number of men and women born? What do the panda's magical "thumb" and the sea turtle's perilous migration tell us about imperfections that prove the evolutionary rule?
"These questions of life lie on a continuum that touches us all. Seldom have their mysteries been explained with such wit, beauty and elegance."
National Book Award, 1981
1991, W.W. Norton

Time's Arrow, Time's CycleTime's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time
Stephen Jay Gould

In Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle Gould’s subject is nothing less than geology's signal contribution to human thought--the discovery of "deep time," the vastness of earth's history, a history so ancient that we can comprehend it only as metaphor. He shows how the influence of popular and strongly-held beliefs, more than the empirical observation of rocks in the field, provoked the supposed discovery of deep time by early geologists Hutton and Lyell - and highlights the work of Burnet, whose rich reconstruction of earth history emphasized the need for both time's arrow (narrative history) and time's cycle (immanent laws).
Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award 1987
1988, Harvard University Press

Wonderful LifeWonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
Stephen Jay Gould

The Burgess Shale of British Columbia "is the most precious and important of all fossil localities," writes Stephen Jay Gould. These 600-million-year-old rocks preserve the soft parts of a collection of animals unlike any other. Just how unlike is the subject of his book. Gould describes how the Burgess Shale fauna was discovered, reassembled, and analyzed in detail; even though many scientists disagree with him about the radical oddity of the Burgess Shale animals, his argument that the history of life is profoundly contingent has become more accepted. And Gould's loving, detailed exposition of the labor it took to understand the Burgess Shale remains one of the best explanations of scientific work around.
Pulitzer Prize Finalist 1990
1990, W.W. Norton

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Wallace Byron Grange

Those of the ForestThose of the Forest
Wallace Byron Grange

From one of America’s pioneer ecologists, a classic story and remarkable portrayal of forest wildlife dramatized through the lives of a succession of woodland creatures. “Like Sand County Almanac, …this book has a timeless quality that will capture the attention of anyone interested in the outdoors.”
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguised Nature Writing 1955
2003, Willow Creek Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by John Graves

From a Limestone LedgeFrom a Limestone Ledge: some Essays and Other Ruminations About Country Life in Texas
John Graves

From A Limestone Ledge is a collection of the writings of Texas author and freelance writer John Graves. His subjects range from caring for animals such as cows, goats, bees, dogs, and chickens to growing grapes and making wine, smokeless tobacco ponderings, the day-to-day issues that face a countryman, and much more. The book reverberates with the wholehearted appreciation for Texas country life, and offers an open window into profound treasure of simple daily joys.
National Book Award Finalist 1981
2004, Southern Methodist University Press

Goodbye to a RiverGoodbye to a River: a Narrative
John Graves

In the 1950s, a series of dams was proposed along the Brazos River in north-central Texas. John Graves decided to visit the stretch of the river, which he had known intimately as a youth. Goodbye to a River is his account of that farewell canoe voyage. As he braves rapids and fatigue and the fickle autumn weather, he muses upon old blood feuds of the region and violent skirmishes with native tribes, and retells wild stories of courage and cowardice and deceit that shaped both the river’s people and the land during frontier times and later.
National Book Award Finalist 1961
2002, Vintage

Recommended Nature Writing Books by Bill Green

Water, Ice and StoneWater, Ice and Stone: Science and Memory on the Antarctic Lakes
Bill Green

Ostensibly an account of a season in the field in Antarctica, Water, Ice and Stone explores the nature of science in addition to portraying the rigors of research on the frozen continent. In evocative language, Green successfully moves between arresting natural history and sophisticated but accessible philosophy of science. He tells how he and his colleagues came to be fascinated with exploring the natural world. With gripping accounts of a number of near-death experiences, the whole is a thoroughly enjoyable and remarkably informative exposition of the life of a field scientist.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1996
2008, Bellevue Literary Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Jay Griffiths

WildWild: an Elemental Journey
Jay Griffiths

Griffiths narrates her seven-year exploration of the wildest places left on the globe—the Amazon rain forest, the Arctic and New Guinea, among others. The book is divided into five sections representing the "elements": earth, ice, water, fire and air. Her search for what remains wild, though strenuous, is as much a linguistic and spiritual journey as it is a physical one. Griffiths's central thesis—that by developing and destroying our last wildernesses we are impoverishing our lives—is not an original one, but she brings fierce conviction and impressive scholarship to her work.
Orion Book Award 2007
2006, Tarcher

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by John A. Haines (1924- )

The Stars, the Snow, the FireThe Stars, the Snow, the Fire: Twenty-Five Years in the Alaska Wilderness
John A. Haines

This book is a collection of previously published essays by poet/nature essayist Haines on life in the Alaskan wilderness. Haines's pervading theme is of a wilderness that is both unchanging and changed greatly over the centuries. Snow, the trees, and the animals are records of what has happened before. Haines is a poet who crafts each sentence piece by piece as if he were building a harpsichord slowly, carefully, each word examined meticulously for rightness before being slid into place. 2000, Graywolf Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Gunnar Hansen

Islands at the Edge of TimeIslands at the Edge of Time: A Journey to America's Barrier Islands
Gunnar Hansen

Gunnar Hansen takes readers on a trip that no one seems to have thought of before: a 2,700-mile journey along America's sandy barrier islands from the Mexican border to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. These islands separate ocean from lagoon, saltwater from freshwater, sea bird from shore bird, and--until many were developed for tourism--sea-goer from landlubber. The barrier islands are young, Hansen tells us, formed in the last ice age only a few thousand years ago; they are also extremely vulnerable to damage and reshaping by tropical storms. 1996, Island Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by John Hay (1915- )

The Bird of LightThe Bird of Light
John Hay

In Bird of Light Hay writes about terns. Relatives of gulls, these birds are unbelievably buoyant, graceful fliers whose food is small fish, caught by plunge-diving head first into water. Set in Cape Cod, Hay's book centers on the spring arrival of terns, their courtship, breeding, feeding habits, fall departures, and winter life. For Hay, the world of terns is an effective microcosm, good for musings and philosophy on the health of the biosphere, the state of the world, and the human condition. 1993, W.W. Norton

In the Company of LightIn the Company of Light
John Hay

In a series of musings on observations of nature, from his boyhood home in New Hampshire to the shore of Cape Cod, Hay reflects on a theme common in his writings: people's loss of connection to the natural world. His prose is filled with poetic imagery: "[the swallows] join thousands of others, flitting fast through the fiery lungs of air, at times landing, relocating and feeding, dipping and rising." 1999, Beacon Press

In Defense of NatureIn Defense of Nature
John Hay

Originally published in 1969, In Defense of Nature is an eloquent and prescient plea on behalf of the natural world. Devoid of sentimentality yet lyrical and deeply moving in its portrayals of our despoliation of nature, Hay has written an extended meditation on the environment and our place in it. "Here, for the first time, the passionate lyricism of his earlier books is combined with anger and outrage at the carelessness and arrogance with which human beings have been treating the earth." - Robert Finch 2007, University of Iowa Press

The Great BeachThe Great Beach
John Hay

Cape Cod's vast outer coast is little changed since the Pilgrims' first landfall almost 350 years ago. Today a plane can skim its fifty miles in a matter of seconds, and in the summer bathing areas are so crowded with cars and people they take on a continental flavor. In these unforgettable pages a noted naturalist and author brings to life a breathtakingly vivid world of sand, wildlife, sun, shipwrecks, and sea.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1964
1980, W.W. Norton

The RunThe Run
John Hay

John Hay ponders one of the great curiosities of nature: the annual migration of the alewife, a kind of herring that moves at infancy from the freshwater lakes of New England into the cold Atlantic Ocean and thence back to the waters of its birth. The journey, Hay writes, is oddly heroic, and it comes at great cost: some 90 percent of the adult alewives do not survive the arduous move from ocean to stream. Hay describes the alewife as "a life that shone with vibrant persistence, one of nature's particularized energies, a wild texture as old as the animal world.” The migration of this intriguing fish, he concludes, "is not only a matter of routes or seasonal behavior. It has to do with an internal response to this spinning globe and its unendingly creative energies." 2008, Beacon Press

The Way to the Salt MarshThe Way to the Salt Marsh: A John Hay Reader
John Hay

"Life on earth springs from a collateral magic that we rarely consult," observes John Hay, naturalist, essayist, sage, and inveterate walker of byways. This collection from the 50-year long career of America's preeminent nature writer illustrates the full range of Hay's work. An elegant and lyrical stylist, he is, in Merrill's words, "the nature writer's writer.” In the migratory movements of the terns and the green turtles past his beloved Cape Cod Hay sees the mystery and magnificence of homing: "To know your direction and return through outer signs, is as new as it is ancient. We are still people of the planet, with all its original directions waiting in our being." Hay encourages us to enlarge our inner universe by observing, appreciating, and preserving the outer one we so often ignore. 1998, University Press of New England

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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