Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900
Page 6

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Bernd Heinrich (1940- )

Bumblebee EcomonicsBumblebee Economics
Bernd Heinrich

Bumble-bee queens (which are not accompanied by a swarm of workers as are Honey-bees), must by themselves select and furnish a nest site, lay eggs and brood the resulting larva and then forage for pollen and nectar - whose sugar provides the energy needed for flying and nest warming. Heinrich brilliantly contrasts the foraging strategies of the bumble-bees with those of the plants which provide nectar and pollen and are in return cross-pollinated.
National Book Award Nominee
2004, Harvard University Press

Mind of the RavenMind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds
Bernd Heinrich

Biology professor Heinrich has observed startlingly complex activities among ravens, including strong pair-bonding, use of tools, elaborate vocal communication, and even play. Ravens are just plain smart, and we can see much of ourselves in their behavior. They seem to be affectionate, cranky, joyful, greedy, and competitive - just like us. Mind of the Raven offers inspiring insight into both the lives of ravens and the mind of a truly gifted scientist.
John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing, 2000
2007, Harper Perennial

The Trees in My ForestThe Trees in My Forest
Bernd Heinrich

Zoologist Heinrich lives in a 300-acre Vermont forest which he bought 20 years ago. He creates detailed portraits of his forest's life, from sex among the trees to ants herding aphids to a history of the majestic white pine, giving readers the full view of life in a healthy forest ecosystem. Heinrich has the ability to engage the reader instantly and to transform common settings into meaningful and educational experiences. 1998, Harper

Winter WorldWinter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival
Bernd Heinrich

Winter World tells the fascinating story of how different animals survive winter. Voles, for example, stay awake all winter in tunnels and grassy nests built under the snow. Chipmunks and ground squirrels spend winter hibernating. Some insects supercool through chemicals in their blood that inhibit freezing, while others do the opposite and survive by promoting self-freezing. Many other animals remain active all winter and retire to warm nests or dens when not seeking food. Heinrich is a graceful writer, taking the reader along as he uncovers aggregations of wintering bugs, follows a weasel's tracks in the snow, or watches the tiny kinglets fluff their feathers for insulation as they search for wintering caterpillars. 2003, Harper

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Edward Hoagland (1932- )

African CalliopeAfircan Calliope
Edward Hoagland

Open this book and enter into a richly detailed landscape and an exotic society. Follow Hoagland's travels, from equatorial mountain forests to the Sahara desert; from small Sudanese towns in the south and west to short stays in the capital, Khartoum. Hoagland's eye for detail presents the reader with electrifying images of life in the Sudan - rotten diets, disease, coups and civil war, the traders, poachers, tribal headmen, and those who come to help.
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 1979
National Book Award Finalist 1982

1995, The Lyons Press

Hoagland on NatureHoagland on Nature: Essays
Edward Hoagland

This collection of Hoagland’s essays is drawn from over 35 years of intense observation, dedicated exploration, and open-hearted inquiry. Each essay is "an ardent love letter to life," whether lived on the streets of New York, the mountains of New England, the coast of Antarctica, or the Okefenokee Swamp. Hoagland writes with knowledge and astounding empathy about turtles, bears, mountain lions, penguins, tigers, and elephants and profiles people with respectful affection even as he fumes over our careless and destructive ways. 2005, The Lyons Press

Notes from the Century BeforeNotes from the Century Before: A Journal from British Columbia
Edward Hoagland

In 1966, Edward Hoagland made a three-month excursion into the wild country of British Columbia and encountered a way of life that was disappearing even as he chronicled it. Showcasing Hoagland’s extraordinary gifts for portraiture—his cast runs from salty prospector to trader, explorer, missionary, and indigenous guide—Notes from the Century Before is a breathtaking mix of anecdote, derring-do, and unparalleled elegy from one of the finest writers of our time. 2002, Modern Library

Walking the Dead Diamond RiverWalking the Dead Diamond River
Edward Hoagland

The nineteen essays in this important collection explore the New England wilderness including the Green and White Mountains and Maine - and also such a far-flung diversity of subjects as assassinations, dogs, jury duty, mountain lions, power, fame, women's liberation, life in New York City, boxing, freight cars, and much more.
National Book Award Finalist 1974
1985, North Point Pr

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Helen Hoover (1910-1984)

The Gift of the DeerThe Gift of the Deer
Helen Hoover

One Christmas Eve an emaciated deer stumbled across the yard of Helen Hoover's remote cabin in northern Minnesota. Gaunt from starvation, blind in one eye from a hunting wound, she and her husband named this deer Peter and nursed him back to health, setting out cedar branches, corn, and carrots. From that Christmas on, the Hoovers observed Peter and his growing clan for four years. Hoover relates the story of these deer with love and great insight. 1998, University of Minnesota Press

A Place in the WoodsA Place in the Woods
Helen Hoover

Helen Hoover and her husband were trailblazers in the American back-to-the-land movement. They left their professional lives in Chicago and plunged into the wilds of northern Minnesota. A Place in the Woods, first published in 1969, is a tale of starting out, of the pitfalls of beginning a new life-one punctuated by near disasters but also by moments of rare beauty. The book is enlivened by warm, humorous anecdotes showing both the struggle and reward involved in joining this small community of rabbits, deer, and distant neighbors. 1999, University of Minnesota Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Tom Horton

Bay CountryBay Country
Tom Horton

Bay Country chronicles changes in the lands and waters of the Chesapeake Bay. During the past century, human influence has decreased the populations of geese, eels, crabs, and trees. As Horton points out, we no longer miss these living things because they have never been abundant in our lifetimes - a tragedy of both ecological and human dimensions. His lyrical and understandable prose will convince doubters of the need to consider the diverse consequences of their actions.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1988
1994, The Johns Hopkins University Press

An Island Out of TimeAn Island Out of Time: A Memoir of Smith Island in the Chesapeake
Tom Horton

Lying 10 miles off Maryland's eastern shore, Smith Island has been a fishing community for more than 300 years. It is a tightly knit, highly religious, hardworking Protestant community with a population of fewer than 500. Horton, a former environmental reporter for the Baltimore Sun, lived on the island for two years. He tells an eloquent story of people intimately connected to the island who live by catching crabs (100 million pounds of blue crabs annually), oysters, terrapin and rock bass. He notes that boats are to the islanders what the horse was to the cowboys of the Old West. Horton writes about "progging" (foraging), a cat roundup, hunting and poaching, the seasons on the island. 2008, W.W. Norton & Company

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Sue Hubbell (1935- )

A Country YearA Country Year: Living the Questions
Sue Hubbell

An invasion of spring peepers, a young indigo bunting at song practice, a parade of caterpillars - these are integral parts of Hubbell's environment. She lives alone on a 100-acre farm in the Ozarks, where she tends 200 beehives and produces honey. A Country Year takes us into her world, and a life attuned to nature.  This is a book for those who enjoy natural history and the questions that arise from it. Rain, snow, and mud; countless harbingers of each season; and Hubbell's bees and how they fare all make fascinating reading for anyone who appreciates the beauties and intricacies of the natural world. 1999, Mariner Books

Waiting for AphroditeWaiting for Aphrodite: Journeys into the Time Before Bones
Sue Hubbell

When Sue Hubbell moved to the rocky coast of Maine, the first thing she did was investigate the living things in her new environment to ease the loneliness of a new place. She peered under rocks, in dark crevices, and beneath mounds of leaves, looking for members of nature's secretive ruling class-the invertebrates. The thing that binds all animals is the constant search for the necessities of life. For Hubbell, a sense of place and knowledge of her neighbors is as crucial as food or shelter. She searches for a glimpse of the elusive sea mouse, Aphrodite aculeata, a small, soft-bodied sea creature with a velvety, iridescent coat. While waiting for Aphrodite, she finds gorgeous bits of life all around her and begins to feel at home. 2000, Mariner Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Cynthia Huntington (1951- )

The Salt HouseThe Salt House: A Summer on the Dunes of Cape Cod
Cynthia Huntington

Poet Huntington and her artist husband spent three seasons in a single-room "dune shack" on a remote Provincetown beach she describes as "a place of such wild austere beauty that at first I had no word for its spaces, its dusty heat, the thrilling clarity of its air." Her exquisitely written journal is full of rich observations of the stars, birds, sea, vegetation, dunes, of time itself. Her words resonate with a poet's sensibility: she describes fish as "vital, immaculate bodies of streaming light, each one shining fire." 2003, Dartmouth

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Florence Page Jaques (1890-1972)

Canoe Country and Snowshoe CountryCanoe Country and Snowshoe Country
Florence Page Jaques

A well-traveled New York sophisticate, Florence Page Jaques fell in love with northern Minnesota, and recounted her early travels in Canoe Country and Snowshoe Country. She writes of the excitement of traveling by foot, canoe, snowshoe, and dogsled. Weeks of solitude canoeing through the Boundary Waters are interrupted by encounters with the denizens of the North Country: Native Americans preserving the vestiges of traditional culture, colorful and sometimes eccentric lumberjacks and trappers, and hard-working homesteaders.
John Burgess Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1946
1999, University of Minnesota Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Josephine Winslow Johnson (1910-1990)

The Inland IslandThe Inland Island
Josephine Winslow Johnson

In 1967, Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Johnson wrote The Inland Island about her family’s 34-acre nature preserve in Ohio, an island of wildness in the midst of the Cincinnati suburbs, including her commentary on war and the state of the world. The book has twelve sections, one for each month, and it records her observations of the family’s preserve over the course of the year. Edward Abbey praised the book in the New York Times, with its “delicate marvels, compassionate observations and – strangest and loveliest of all – passionate denunciations.” 1996, Story Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Kenn Kaufman (1956- )

Kingbird Highway

Nature Book Review

Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder
Kenn Kaufman

In Kingbird Highway,“the story of a natural obsession that got a little out of hand,” ornithologist Kenn Kaufman recounts his quest in 1973 to capture the record for most bird species spotted in a single year. 19 years old, armed with binoculars and notebook and a few dollars in his pocket, he hitchhiked from Alaska to Florida and back again, racking up a lifetime’s worth of adventures on the road. He sighted 666 species, just short of the record. 2006, Houghton Mifflin

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Rockwell Kent

N by EN by E
Rockwell Kent and Edward Hoagland

Artist, writer, and adventurer Rockwell Kent published N by E in 1930, his account of a voyage on a 33-foot cutter from New York to the rugged shores of Greenland. He wrote movingly of "the feeling of wind and wet and cold, of lifting seas and steep descents, of rolling over as the wind gusts hit," and the sound "of wind in the shrouds, of hard spray flung on a drum-tight canvas, of rushing water at the scuppers, of the gale shearing a tormented sea." When the ship sinks in a storm-swept fjord within 50 miles of its destination, the story turns to the stranding and subsequent rescue of the three-man crew, salvage of the vessel, and life among native Greenlanders. Kent’s magnificent wood-block illustrations bring the story to life. 1996, Wesleyan

Rockwell Kent

Salamina combines Kent's pen and ink chapter-heading sketches, full-length portraits of native friends, and engaging text that transport the reader through the icy climes of Greenland in a year-long adventure beginning in 1931. Along the way, Kent describes the hospitality of Greenlanders, which he found humbling and at times frustrating. Salamina "has in it a moving sense of wonder of the virgin universe, the dignity of mountains and of sea, and a rarely intimate picture of Greenlanders at play." - New York Herald Tribune 2003, Wesleyan

VoyagingVoyaging: Southward from the Strait of Magellan
Rockwell Kent

"An account of Mr. Kent's attempt in a tiny sailboat to steer a course from the Strait of Magellan south and west through the mountainous-islanded channels of Tierra del Fuego around Cape Horn. ...Mr. Kent has caught the wild beauty of this ominous region -- iron crags ringed with the froth of blown surf, wind-tortured trees, distant peaks incrusted with dazzling snow; but out of the very heart of this bewildering beauty emanates a sense of unseen presences appallingly, implacably hostile to man." - The Nation 2000, Wesleyan

WildernessWilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska
Rockwell Kent

In August 1918 Rockwell Kent and his 9-year-old son settled into a primitive cabin on an island near Seward, Alaska. Kent was seeking time, peace, and solitude to work on his art and strengthen ties with his son. Wilderness chronicles their 7-month sojourn, what Kent called "an adventure of the spirit." He discovered how deeply he was "stirred by simple happenings in a quiet world" as man and boy faced both the mundane and the magnificent: satisfaction in simple chores like woodchopping or baking; the appalling gloom of long and lonely winter nights; hours of silence while each worked at his drawings; crystalline moonlight glancing off a frozen lake; killer whales cavorting in their bay. Richly illustrated with Kent's drawings. 1996, Wesleyan

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Lawrence Kilham

On Watching BirdsOn Watching Birds
Lawrence Kilham

On Watching Birds will appeal not only to those who share the author's avian enthusiasm, but to all who thrill at the chance to observe the behavior of any wildlife in its natural habitat. Dr. Kilham is a patient and detailed observer, and has observed many previously unknown behavior patterns, even in common species. For instance, he repeatedly saw nuthatches vigorously sweeping the immediate area around their nesting sites. After many observations, he learned that their preferred "brooms" were blister beetles which exude an oily irritant. The probable purpose of this housekeeping, he believes, is to keep away their chief competitors: tree squirrels. He encourages the investigation in depth of what is readily at hand as opposed to seeking the rare and accumulating a long list of sightings.
John Burroughs Medal for distinguished Nature Writing 1989
1997, Texas A & M University Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books Robin Wall Kimmerer

Gathering MossGathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses
Robin Wall Kimmerer

Living at the limits of our ordinary perception, mosses are a common but largely unnoticed element of the natural world. Gathering Moss is a beautifully written mix of science and personal reflection that invites readers to explore and learn from the elegantly simple lives of mosses. Drawing on her experiences as a scientist, a mother, and a Native American, Kimmerer explains the stories of mosses in scientific terms as well as in the framework of indigenous ways of knowing. In her book, the natural history and cultural relationships of mosses become a powerful metaphor for ways of living in the world.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 2005
2003, Oregon State University Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Gilbert C. Klingel

The BayThe Bay
Gilbert C. Klingel

The Bay, published in 1951, describes the Chesapeake as Klingel had known it all the way back to his childhood decades earlier. In his adult career as a naturalist he studied every aspect of this marvelous ecosystem. He developed a diving chamber – the Bentharium – so he could be lowered to the bottom of the Chesapeake to make observations there. The Bay is filled with sparkling, detailed descriptions of the life cycles of familiar wildlife such as ospreys, eagles and great blue herons, and the ubiquitous Maryland blue crabs and jellyfish. A spellbinding chapter on the Chesapeake marshes rounds out this superbly written tribute to one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1953
1984, The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Donald Kroodsma

The Singing Life of BirdsThe Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong
Donald Kroodsma

Professor Kroodsma shares what he's learned from more than three decades of recording and analyzing the songs of birds in this intriguing, instructional book. Using sound spectrograms, he illustrates the songs of 30 birds from the familiar American robin to the exotic three-wattled bellbird of Costa Rica. He considers how birds acquire their songs, what makes the songs unique, what functions they serve, and how they've evolved. No two species sound alike; groups of birds within each species have their own dialects; and individual birds have their own repertoires as well. This warm and encouraging guide to the world of birdsong includes a CD of the birds' songs discussed.
John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing, 2006
2007, Houghton Mifflin


Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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