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 Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970)

The Desert YearThe Desert Year
Joseph Wood Krutch

After moving to Arizona in 1950 for health reasons Joseph Krutch discovered and fell in love with the desert. The Desert Year (1952), which tells of his first year living in the Sonoran Desert, was the result. In the first chapter he says, "There is all the difference in the world between looking at something and living in it." Each chapter is an essay on some aspect of desert life that has touched his life. In a gentle, conversational style he integrates his vast philosophical and artistic knowledge with everyday life in the desert.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1954
2010, University of Iowa


The Forgotten PeninsulaThe Forgotten Peninsula: A Naturalist in Baja California
Joseph Wood Krutch

The Forgotten Peninsula, published in 1961, was one of the first natural history descriptions of Baja California. Krutch loved the area, struck by its wildness and its beauty. He visited it many times over the years. He wove together the natural and human history of the peninsula – all the more fascinating now since Baja has become developed/despoiled as a tourist destination. 1986, University of Arizona Press


The Measure of ManThe Measure of Man: On Freedom, Human Values, Survival and the Modern Temper
Joseph Wood Krutch

In The Measure of Man Krutch reassessed the gloomy fate he prophesied for mankind in his earlier book, The Modern Temper. Krutch still registered alarm at the predominance of science, which figures as the chief enemy in the book because it impinged on human autonomy and freedom. Yet this time the book concluded on a hopeful note: It was not too late for humans to alter their destructive habits and improve the quality of life on earth, and the humanities could bring about civilization's salvation. He articulated the minimal requirements with which nature has endowed the human species: the capacity to be at least sometimes a thinking animal, the ability sometimes to exercise some sort of will and choice, and the power of making individual value judgments.
National Book Award 1955
1962, Charter Books


The Voice of the DesertThe Voice of the Desert: a Naturalist's Interpretation
Joseph Wood Krutch

Voice of the Desert (1954) includes Krutch’s famous conservation essay, "Conservation is Not Enough." In this essay he says, "What is commonly called ‘conservation’ will not work in the long run because it is not really conservation at all but rather, disguised by its elaborate scheming, only a more knowledgeable variation on the old idea of a world for man’s use only." He argues that humans still see themselves as the reason for creation and as such have a right to subdue and use all that has been created. Real conservation, Krutch says, begins with delight in nature for its own sake. He quotes Thoreau, "This curious world which we inhabit...is more to be admired and enjoyed than it is to be used." 2007, Kessinger Publishing

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Dolores Lachapelle

Sacred Land,Sacred SexSacred Land, Sacred Sex: Rapture of the Deep: Concerning Deep Ecology and Celebrating Life
Dolores Lachapelle

A manual on deep experiential ecology, Sacred Land, Sacred Sex is part ethnography, part autobiography, part philosophy, part manifesto, and part prayer book - a Book of Common Prayer for the deep ecology movement, and for persons who wish to live in harmony with the world while constructively engaging in its health and growth. 1992, Kivak Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Ken Lamberton

Wilderness and Razor Wire

Nature and Environmental Book Review

Wilderness and Razor Wire: A Naturalist's Observations from Prison
Ken Lamberton

Wilderness and Razor Wire examines the flora, fauna and microecology of an Arizona prison while describing the author's life before and during his sentence. Lamberton is a former biology teacher who has now spent over a decade behind bars for his relationship with a teenage student. His measured and exemplary prose follows the interactions among the prisoners, their built environment and the birds and plants they encounter there, tracing connections disturbing and consoling, ecological and metaphorical. Africanized killer bees arrive and depart, as does a terroristic guard; brittlebrush and goldpoppy's tough seeds (adapted to Arizona droughts) imply Lamberton's own need for endurance.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 2002
2000, Mercury House

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Ronald M. Lanner (1930- )

Made for Each OtherMade for Each Other: A Symbiosis of Birds and Pines
Ronald M. Lanner

Lanner presents a documented account of the obligatory mutualism that exists between those species of pines having wingless seeds and birds such as nutcrackers and jays. He explains how the food dependency of the birds on the pines has interacted with the tree's reproduction to result in the coevolution of both, with the birds being the directing force. The importance of this bird-and- pine association in the plant and animal communities is discussed, as are the environmental threats that may destroy it. 1996, Oxford University Press


The Pinon PineThe Pinon Pine: A Natural and Cultural History
Ronald M. Lanner

This little tree produced the fuel, building materials, food, and medicines that enabled pre-historic Indians to establish their cultures on the Colorado Plateau -- and to survive into the present as Hopi, Zuni, Pueblo, and Navajo. It was the pinon that made the Great Basin the coarse-grained Eden of the pine-nut eaters who picked their winter sustenance from the treetops: the Washo, the Shoshones, the Paiutes. Lanner’s story traces a wavy line through time: geological, prehistoric, historic, and current. It documents a changing relationship between man and woodland, from one in which man's fate was determined by the bounty of the ecosystem to one in which man modifies, even destroys, that ecosystem for immediate profit. 1981, University of Nevada Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Gretchen Legler

On the IceOn the Ice: An Intimate Portrait of Life at McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Gretchen Legler

Legler received a grant to spend several months documenting the life of those at the Antarctic research facilities at McMurdo Station. She is a constant observer, whether she's sailing aboard an ice-ramming research ship, visiting the huts of great explorers like Scott and Shackleton, or enjoying a getaway with friends at an isolated camping station. Details scattered about subtly steer readers toward Ruth, a mechanic who works at McMurdo, and their romance comes to dominate the final sections. Legler's examination of her feelings after Ruth's earlier departure supplements a thoughtful study of the intense egalitarian bonds and compartmentalized sexual relationships that form among all Antarcticans during their time in isolation.
ASLE Best Book of Environmental Creative Writing 2007
2005, Milkweed Editions

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Aldo Leopold (1887-1948)

In 1948 Aldo Leopold suffered a fatal heart attack while fighting a fire on his Wisconsin pine plantation. His most enduring work, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, had not yet been published, but Leopold, a renowned game-management specialist and former Forest Service forester, had already distinguished himself as an environmental pioneer. He had been trained at the Yale Forest School in the utilitarian principles of Gifford Pinchot-style conservation, but in an article in the November 1921 Journal of Forestry, he startled his colleagues by questioning the traditional notion that "the policy of development . . . should continue to govern in absolutely every instance." Wasn't it possible, he asked, that "the principle of highest use" demanded that "representative portions of some forests be preserved as wilderness?"

In 1924, when Leopold was stationed in New Mexico, he persuaded his superiors to designate 500,000 acres of the state's national-forest land as the Gila Wilderness, the first designated wilderness area in American history. In 1935 he and Robert Marshall founded the Wilderness Society, which was instrumental in the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and in the subsequent growth of the national wilderness system to more than 104 million acres. Still, it is A Sand County Almanac, published in 1949, that gives Leopold immortality. An essay called "The Land Ethic," which is grafted onto a collection of artful and often wise seasonal observations, contains the philosophical heart of 20th-century environmentalism.

Its thesis, like most great ideas, is simply stated: "All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts . . . The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land . . . In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from that of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it." These words made Leopold's book a sacred text, at least for a movement hoping to achieve a moral universe that includes the needs of the land in its system of values.

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

For the Health of the LandFor the Health of the Land: Previously Unpublished Essays and Other Writings
Aldo Leopold

Those who worked the land, Leopold believed, were best equipped to protect it; his essays touch on such matters as providing safe havens for migratory waterfowl and predatory birds, weighing the merits of artificially planted windbreaks against those of natural fencerows, and arguing that farmers should take care not to plow over plants that provide food for wildlife. Always he urges that his readers think ahead to consider the natural implications of both feast and famine. "Conservation," he notes, "is keeping the resource in working order, as well as preventing overuse. Resources may get out of order before they are exhausted, sometimes while they are still abundant. Conservation, therefore, is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence or caution." 2001, Island Press


The River of the Mother of God and Other EssaysThe River of the Mother of God and Other Essays
Aldo Leopold

Leopold was a renowned conservationist whose classic work, Sand County Almanac, is still used as the conservationists' bible. Flader and Callicott have compiled a collection of Leopold's unpublished essays from the archives of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and published papers from a variety of periodicals covering the years 1904-47. The chronological arrangement of the 59 essays reveals the development of Leopold's beliefs over time. A short introduction describing the circumstances in which it was written and the intended audience precedes each essay. A biographical chronology and the introduction trace Leopold's life. 1992, University of Wisconsin Press


Round RiverRound River
Aldo Leopold

The journal entries included here were written in camp during his many field trips--hunting, fishing, and exploring--and they indicate the source of ideas on land ethics found in his longer essays. They reflect as well two long canoe trips in Canada and a sojourn in Mexico, where Leopold hunted deer with bow and arrow. The essays are drawn from the more contemplative notes which were still in manuscript form at the time of Leopold's death in 1948, fighting a brush fire on a neighbor's farm. Round River has been edited by Leopold's son, Luna, a geologist well-known in the field of conservation. 1972, Oxford University Press


A Sand County Almanac
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There
Aldo Leopold

A Sand County Almanac is a classic and beloved book, remaining in print over 60 years for the strength of its ideas, its compelling stories, and the quality of its prose. Leopold honored the land, believing it to be a community of living things, to be loved and respected, the deepest source of all our cultural harvests. These beliefs lead ultimately to his Land Ethic, presented in the last sections of the book. Sand County Almanac begins by taking the reader through the seasons on Leopold’s farmed-out farmstead in central Wisconsin, providing a rich and detailed picture of the rhythm of life on the land. Everything matters: the simple act of cutting a dead tree for firewood becomes a lesson in the interweaving of natural history and social history. Each bite of the blade into an earlier ring of the tree gives us a story, both human and natural. As the "fragrant little chips of history" fall, we see the complex and ongoing interrelationship between the tree, other trees, and the humans living around them.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1977
1989, Oxford University Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by David Leveson

A Sense of the EarthA Sense of the Earth
David Leveson

A Sense of the Earth is a celebration of the study of geology. Leveson believes that a geologist should be in tune with the Earth; he should be not just a scientist but have a spiritual connection too. He argues that the intimate, intuitive, or spiritual knowledge of places appeals to a fundamental human need for direct contact with the Earth: “With the geologist lies the special responsibility and opportunity of revealing the earth in all its beauty and power. … If geology and the geologist neglect interpretation of the earth to society, they are guilty of relinquishing what should be one of their major contributions.”
National Book Award Finalist 1972
1995, Doubleday

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Ted Levin

Liquid LandLiquid Land: A Journey Through the Florida Everglades
Ted Levin

The Everglades, long held as one of the toughest and most inhospitable environments on earth, has become one of its most threatened and fragile. Originally encompassing more than 14,000 square miles, today nearly half this incomparable wilderness is gone and the remainder is at serious risk, the result of nature's ravages and humanity's encroachment. Levin travels through the Everglades, reacquainting himself with its unique past, evaluating its unsettled present, and assessing its uncertain future. Writing with poetic sensitivity and pragmatic sensibility, He balances sympathy for even the most bothersome mosquito and fearsome alligator with a realistic appreciation not only for what is possible but also for what is necessary to save this beautiful and ecologically essential environment.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 2004
2004, University of Georgia Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Ann Linnea (1949- )

Deep Water PassageDeep Water Passage
Ann Linnea

Ecofeminist Linnea recounts her 1200-mile, 65-day kayak paddle around Lake Superior. More significant than the numbers and the athletic challenge, though, is her spiritual journey of personal growth. Linnea writes, "All my life, I have sought wild places for adventure, for my livelihood, and for good counsel," and this trip indeed supplied all three. At age 43, she felt at a turning point and undertook this challenge in order to prepare for life's second half. Through high fogs, huge obscuring waves, disorienting fog, bitter cold, and 12-hour paddling days, she emerges at a place where body and mind are united. 1997, Pocket

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by William Longgood (1917-2000)

The Queen Must Die and Other Affairs of Bees and MenThe Queen Must Die and Other Affairs of Bees and Men
William Longgood

William Longgood, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, in Queen Must Die describes the techniques of beekeeping and presents observations on the behavior of bees and the organization of activities in the hive. His thorough survey of the topic introduces all readers to the vast and complicated world of the hive.
“Longgood's enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. He supplies a fund of unfamiliar information about a changeless civilization buzzing about its business just outside our attention." - Newsweek 1988, W.W. Norton

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Barry Lopez (1945- )

Barry Lopez is the author of six works of nonfiction and eight works of fiction. His writing appears regularly in Harper's, The Paris Review, DoubleTake, and The Georgia Review. He is the recipient of a National Book Award, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and other honors. He lives in western Oregon.

Orion Society John Hay Award 2002

About This LifeAbout This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory
Barry Lopez

Lopez has always been interested in tearing down artificial divides between nature and culture, landscape and identity, and nowhere does he do so more powerfully than in About This Life. These essays cover ground from the remote to the familiar and the personal to the archetypal. Whether he's joyriding around the world with air cargo, performing burials for animals found dead by the side of the road, or lamenting the commodification of the American landscape, Lopez writes with a surgeon's precision, a musician's ear, and a painter's eye for beauty found in unexpected places. 1999, Vintage


Arctic DreamsArctic Dreams
Barry Lopez

Lopez offers a thorough examination of this obscure world-its terrain, its wildlife, its history of Eskimo natives and intrepid explorers who have arrived on their icy shores. But what turns this marvelous work of natural history into a breathtaking study of profound originality is his unique meditation on how the landscape can shape our imagination, desires, and dreams. Its prose as hauntingly pure as the land it describes, Arctic Dreams is nothing less than an indelible classic of modern literature.
Barry Lopez has created a “passionate paean to the Arctic and its cycles of light and darkness, its species of ice, its creatures and waters…” New York Times Book Review
National Book Award 1986
National Book Critics Circle Award 1986

2001, Vintage


Crossing Open GroundCrossing Open Ground
Barry Lopez

Crossing Open Ground is a collection of essays by nature writer Barry Lopez, who uses his strong observations of nature to reflect on the links human beings have to the land. In traveling through the American Southwest and Alaska, Lopez finds new, once hidden, meanings in natural phenomena--flocks of geese and Arctic fox tracks--and remnants of lost human cultures. The land and humans, he concludes, share a strong spiritual bond that echoes and impacts the universe's great rhyme of life. Elegantly told against a haunting and beautiful melodic backdrop, Crossing Open Ground propels us into a new posture--indeed a whole new relationship--with the world around us. 1989, Vintage


Home GroundHome Ground: Language for an American Landscape
Barry Lopez and Debra Swartney, editors

National Book Award-winner Lopez and co-editor Gwartney assemble 45 writers, known for their intimate connection to particular places, and challenge them to draw on the polyglot richness of American English to collectively create a unique dictionary. This marvelous book, treating such words as arroyo, muskeg, kiss tank, vly, graded shoreline, and revetment, enlivens readers to the rich diversity of language that captures our complex relationship to the land. 2010, Trinity University Press


The Rediscovery of North AmericaThe Rediscovery of North America
Barry Lopez

500 years ago an Italian whose name, translated into English, meant Christopher Dove, came to America and began a process not of discovery, but incursion — "a ruthless, angry search for wealth" that continues to the present day. This provocative and superbly written book gives a true assessment of Columbus's legacy while taking the first steps toward its redemption. Even as he draws a direct line between the atrocities of Spanish conquistadors and the ongoing pillage of our lands and waters, Barry Lopez challenges us to adopt an ethic that will make further depredations impossible. Rediscovery of North America is a ringingly persuasive call for us, at long last, to make this country our home. 1992, Vintage


Of Wolves and MenOf Wolves and Men
Barry Lopez

In this essential book about Canis lupus, first published in 1978, Barry Lopez writes, "The wolf exerts a powerful influence on the human imagination. It takes your stare and turns it back on you." Of Wolves and Men is a careful study of the way that wolves and humans have interacted over centuries, and the way that the wolf has become so central to our thinking about animals. Drawing on considerable personal experience with wolves and on an astonishing range of literature, Lopez argues for the necessity of wolves in the world, which would be much poorer without their howl. 1979, Scribner

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by John Madson (1923- )

Where the Sky BeganWhere the Sky Began: Land of the Tallgrass Prairie
John Madson

Originally published in 1982, Where the Sky Began introduced readers across the nation to the wonders of the tallgrass prairie – that’s what was here before the farms. A million square miles of prairie formed a vast expanse of grassland stretching roughly from the eastern border of Illinois to the Rocky Mountains. This history of the easternmost grasslands of North America covers its soils, weather, ecological complexity, and the impact of settlement and conversion. Madsen gives a compelling description of what the prairie is like, how it was formed, and the plants and animals that exist or existed there. 2004, University of Iowa Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Robert Marshall (1901-1939)

Alaska WildernessAlaska Wilderness: Exploring the Central Brooks Range
Robert Marshall

Exploring the great wilderness of Alaska's Brooks Range was Robert Marshall's joy and delight during the decade between 1929 and 1939. Marshall traveled this spectacular country, from the Upper Koyukuk drainage to the Arctic Divide, making maps, recording scientific data, and exalting in the beauty of that incredibly pristine landscape. Although his early death at thirty-eight ended an exceptional life too early, he left journals and letters to describe his favorite place on earth. These were edited by his brother George Marshall and were compiled to create this classic of environmental literature. 2005, University of California Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Anne Matthews

Where the Buffalo RoamWhere the Buffalo Roam: Restoring America's Great Plains
Anne Matthews

Where the Buffalo Roam is a colorful and lively look at the controversy surrounding the plan of Frank and Deborah Popper (a land-use planner and a geologist, respectively) to return vast sections of the American Great Plains to their original prairie state. The area was settled by hardy sod- busters late in the last century after the Indians and buffalo had been successfully removed; the newcomers' determined tilling of the prairie soil and heavy grazing by their livestock opened the door to dust-bowl conditions whenever drought occurred, while persistent water demands depleted the aquifer to a fraction of its preagricultural reserve. With the resulting ecological stress readily apparent today, Matthews indicates, radical action seems necessary. The Poppers' plan for a “Buffalo Commons''--to be created from dozens of distressed counties in ten Plains states--has created a big stir out west. This is a fascinating look at a provocative proposal that may herald a sea change in American land-planning.
Pulitizer Prize Finalist 1993
2002, University of Chicago Press

 

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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