Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900
Page 9

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Ellen Meloy (1946-2004)

The Anthropology of TurquoiseThe Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky
Ellen Meloy

In this invigorating mix of natural history and adventure, artist-naturalist Ellen Meloy uses turquoise—the color and the gem—to probe deeper into our profound human attachment to landscape. From the Sierra Nevada, the Mojave Desert, the Yucatan Peninsula, and the Bahamas to her home ground on the high plateaus and deep canyons of the Southwest, we journey with Meloy through vistas of both great beauty and great desecration. Her keen vision makes us look anew at ancestral mountains, turquoise seas, and even motel swimming pools.
Pulitzer Prize Finalist 2003
2003, Vintage

Eating Stone

Nature and Environmental Book Review

Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild
Ellen Meloy

Meloy sat on sandstone ledges and watched desert bighorn sheep through a telescope for a year. In this record of her study she is a keen observer of the landscape and the habitat it provides. The band of bighorns, just back from the brink of extinction, clings to the edges of the cliffs suspended in what Meloy calls "an island" of "deep landscape." She is concerned with the impact of the loss of the wild on humans' ability to exist, once wondering if losing species will "leave us brain damaged."
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 2007
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 2005

2006, Vintage

The Last Cheater's WaltzThe Last Cheater's Waltz: Beauty and Violence in the Desert Southwest
Ellen Meloy

The Last Cheater’s Waltz is an eloquent account of Meloy’s travels throughout the 200 square miles surrounding her remote southeastern Utah home on the Colorado Plateau. She felt driven to explore what she calls "a map of the known universe" because of a persistent feeling of alienation from the breathtaking scenery surrounding her. Her explorations took her to the Trinity National Historic Landmark in New Mexico, site of the first A-bomb test, where Meloy contrasts the stark beauty of the area with the test's cost to vegetation and animal life. She also meditates on the irony that current wildlife recovery programs are managed by the military at White Sands Missile Range. Meloy's sadness and anger over human predations on the landscape are heartfelt and moving. 2000, University of Arizona Press

Raven's ExileRaven's Exile: A Season on the Green River
Ellen Meloy

Each summer Meloy and her husband raft Utah's Green River through the 84-mile-long gorge at Desolation Canyon. In this scintillating account of one season on the river, she uses rich and sensuous language to convey the breathtaking beauty of the region--the play of color and light on steep canyon walls, the force of spring windstorms and the mystery of abandoned Indian cliff dwellings. This paean to the beauty of desert wilderness includes the author's drawings of ancient petroglyphs found on the canyon walls. 2003, University of Arizona Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by W. S. Merwin (1927- )

William Stanley Merwin is one of the most influential American poets of the latter 20th century. He made a name for himself as an anti-war poet during the 1960's. In the 80's and 90's, Merwin's interest in Buddhist philosophy and deep ecology influenced his writing. He continues to write prolifically, though he also dedicates significant time to the restoration of rainforests in Hawaii, the state where he lives. Merwin has received many honors, including a Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award for poetry, and a Tanning Prize, one of the highest honors bestowed by the Academy of American Poets.

Orion Society Johy Hay Award 2001

The Ends of the EarthThe Ends of the Earth: Essays
W. S. Merwin

In his poetry, distinguished man of letters Merwin is profoundly attentive to the sensuousness of place and to the way places change over time. These keen interests also inform his essays, and in The Ends of the Earth he adroitly interleaves natural and human history. The ocean seems to shape Merwin's gloriously rolling and rhythmic sentences as he profiles his late friend George Kirstein, as well as Sydney Parkinson--an artist onboard Captain James Cook's first circumnavigation of the earth who inspires Merwin to reflect on our attempts to name and order the natural world--and the French explorer Jean-Francois Galaup de La Perouse, the first European to explore Hawaii. 2005, Shoemaker & Hoard

MigrationMigration: New & Selected Poems
W. S. Merwin

Merwin has migrated far from his boyhood home in Scranton, Pennsylvania. After Princeton, Merwin left for Europe, became an adept and prolific translator, and eventually settled in Hawaii, where he cultivates endangered palm trees and works to restore and preserve the wild, endeavors that deepen his already profound rapport with nature, the soul of his work. Merwin has migrated within the universe of poetry, too, moving from solidly constructed, tactile, and dramatic works to airy, abstract, unpunctuated, and contemplative poems, a journey beautifully mapped here in selections from 15 previous collections, capped by a gathering of new poems. Complex, spiritual, and evocative, Merwin is a major poet, and this is a sublime measure of his achievements.
National Book Award 2005
2007, Copper Canyon Press

Rain in the TreesThe Rain in the Trees
W. S. Merwin

Merwin's poems are densely imagistic, dream-like, and full of praise for the natural world. His recent poetry, to borrow the words of Robert Frost, may be thought of as "the tribute of the current to the source." He is possessed by an intimate feeling for landscape and language and the ways in which land and language interflow. In The Rain in the Trees the intentions of Merwin's poetry are as broad as the biosphere yet as intimate as a whisper. He conveys in the sweet simplicity of grounded language a sense of the self where it belongs, floating between heaven, earth, and underground. 1988, Knopf

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Enos A. Mills (1870-1922)

The Spell of the RockiesThe Spell of the Rockies
Enos A. Mills

Enos A. Mills was known as the Snow Man. He snowshoed the upper slopes of the Rocky Mountains from Wyoming to New Mexico, back and forth across the Continental Divide to measure snow depths to predict how much water would be available for agriculture in the summer. He was insatiably curious and seemed to have little concern for his own comfort and safety. He hiked in the mountains for days with only the clothes on his back and a pocket full of raisins or peanuts to eat. He wrote The Spell of the Rockies about some of his adventures. 2009, Lee Press

Wild Life on the RockiesWild Life on the Rockies
Enos A. Mills

First published in 1909, Mills described his purpose in the Preface: “This book contains the record of a few of the many happy days and novel experiences which I have had in the wilds. For more than twenty years it has been my good fortune to live most of the time with nature, on the mountains of the West. I have made scores of long exploring rambles over the mountains in every season of the year, a nature-lover charmed with the birds and the trees.” 2007, Kessinger Publishing

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by John Hanson Mitchell (1940- )

Ceremonial TimeCeremonial Time: Fifteen Thousand Years on One Square Mile
John Hanson Mitchell

Mitchell goes far beyond "reading the landscape" of his town. He analyzes the history, anthropology, architecture, agriculture, geology, botany, and zoology of an area northwest of Littleton, Massachusetts, called "Scratch Flat." As if that's not enough, he goes one step further by investigating and uncovering the "ancestral spirit" of the place. This book is an easy, enlightening read that will not only have you looking differently at your own neighborhood but also contemplating our traditional notions of time. 1997, Counterpoint

TrespassingTrespassing: An Inquiry into the Private Ownership of Land
John Hanson Mitchell

A Thoreauvian ramble through English common law, American history, the New England landscape, and much else. Mitchell takes a sidelong look at our tenure on the American land, contrasting communal-property ideas of the continents indigenes with imported ideas of might and right. How do you determine where the boundaries lie exactly while you are out walking, and if you happen to cross an imaginary line filed in a registry of deeds, what does it matter? he asks while roving in the Yankee woods of Massachusetts. It matters plenty, he answers, to his good-fences neighbors, who jealously guard their domains with shotguns, writs, and pot-bellied pigs. A thoughtful, beautifully written addition to environmental and regional literature. 1999, Counterpoint

Walking Towards WaldenWalking Towards Walden: A Pilgrimage in Search of Place
John Hanson Mitchell

Observing that pilgrimage to spiritual centers is not Anglo-Saxon Protestant America's thing, Mitchell and two companions set off from their Massachusetts homes on Columbus Day 1994 on what they consider a sacred journey to Concord, ending in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and the Alcotts are buried. Avoiding most roads the friends investigate a wide variety of topics, including natural history of the area, mythology, and related literature. Through telling the story of this symbolic/actual journey, Mitchell shares his acute ideas on the resonant levels of meaning of ‘place.’ 1997, Counterpoint

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Bernard Moitessier (1925-1994)

The Long WayThe Long Way
Bernard Moitessier

The Long Way recounts the incredible story of French yachtsman Moitessier's solo, seven-month non-stop circumnavigation in the 1968 Golden Globe Race. Nearing the finish with victory in hand, he pulled out of the race and sailed on to Tahiti, 37,455 miles altogether. Moitessier sailed in the company of spirits and frequently communicated with them in their incarnations as dolphins, birds, the sun, wind and sky, and the sea itself. In The Long Way it is clear that Moitessier achieved what so many sailors have vainly sought; to be one with the sea. He wrote: "I listen to the sails talking with the rain and the stars amid the sounds of the sea . . . the silences full of secret things between my boat and me, like the times I spent as a child listening to the forest talk.” 1995, Sheridan House

Recommended Nature Writing Books by N. Scott Momaday

Houaw Made of DawnHouse Made of Dawn
N. Scott Momaday

"A new romanticism, with a reverence for the land, a transcendent optimism, and a sense of mythic wholeness . . . Pushes the secular mode of modern fiction into the sacred mode, a faith and recognition in the power of the world."
Pulitzer Prize 1969
2000, McGraw-Hil College

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Bradley John Monsma

The Sespe WildThe Sespe Wild: Southern California's Last Free River
Bradley John Monsma

A hundred miles northwest of Los Angeles, Sespe Creek flows through some of the wildest territory in California, a mostly roadless expanse of chaparral and mixed forest. In The Sespe Wild, Monsma’s attention ranges from the physical Sespe, examined on foot or by kayak, to the subsurface geology that shaped it, the Chumash people who first occupied it, and the impact of Spanish and then American settlers. The Sespe, existing at the intersection of ecological processes and human ideals of wilderness, reminds us that nature and culture have always intermingled, and that the past and present, animal and human, “natural” and “unnatural” are ultimately and irrevocably inseparable. 2007, University of Nevada Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Adolph Murie (1899-1973)

The Grizzlies of Mount McKinleyThe Grizzlies of Mount McKinley
Adolph Murie

For twenty-five years, Adolph Murie spent his summers in Denali National Park tracking, recording, and interpreting the lives of these magnificent animals in one of their few remaining strongholds. Murie observed the grizzlies as they moved throughout their range, noting how families were formed, how they found food, and describing in detail how they related to other animals with whom they came in contact, including man. Often he followed a bear family for days as it traveled through the park. Even though their behavior could be quite unpredictable, Murie was able to distinguish, through careful observation, the individuals who made up many distinct families. Classic natural history. 1985, University of Washing Press

A Naturalist in AlaskaA Naturalist in Alaska
Adolph Murie

In the 1930's Adolph Murie and his brother Olaus were among the first men to study wildlife in Denali National Park. They looked at all the species whose lives intertwined: wolves, Dall sheep, arctic foxes, coyotes, caribou, grizzly bears, black bears, wolverine, lynx, snowshoe hares, even gulls and mice. In contrast to Grizzlies and Wolves, his more scientific works, in A Naturalist in Alaska Murie expresses his admiration for these creatures and for the land they inhabit. While never stinting on his objective observations, Murie interweaves his objectivity with a sense of wonder, and his descriptive writing is nearly as good as a camera lens for portraying the rolling tundra, the meandering glacial rivers, the rocky spires of the Alaska Range, and, of course, the creatures that live and die in this magnificent setting.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1963
1990, University of Arizona Press

The Wolves of Mount McKinleyThe Wolves of Mount McKinley
Adolph Murie

First published in 1944, this book is a careful record of observations made by an astute naturalist bent upon discovering how the animals live, what they eat, where they range, when they give birth, and, most importantly, how they maintain a healthy and natural population balance. Not a few myths about prey and predator are dispelled by Murie's objective observations, which include examining the contents of scats and stomachs. 1985, University of Washington Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Margaret E. Murie (1902-2003)

Margaret (Mardy) Murie is fondly called the Grandmother of the Conservation Movement. For her lifelong commitment to conservation, Margaret Murie was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President William Clinton in January 1998. She married naturalist Olaus Murie, who was director of The Wilderness Society from 1945 to 1962. Together they wrote letters and articles, travelled and lectured, and spent most of their time promoting legislation that would protect the last of the wild places from the developers, the bulldozers and the oil rigs.

Raised in Alaska and spiritually nourished in the wilderness, Mardy Murie has lived for more than 70 years in the Rocky Mountains, near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Her books -- among them Two in the Far North -- inspired several generations of wilderness lovers, and she pioneered new concepts in environmental education with the Teton Science School. Her husband, Olaus, was a longtime director and president of the Wilderness Society; she served on its governing council since 1977.

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

Two in the Far NorthTwo in the Far North
Margaret E. Murie

Two in the Far North is the life story of Margaret Murie, who grew up in Alaska before it was a state, tramped its wild lands before they were mapped, and has worked hard to preserve its wild places. When she graduated from college she married - at three a.m., just before the Arctic sun rose - a young biologist named Olaus Murie. Together they spent the next fifty years exploring and mapping the wilderness of Alaska, researching, studying, and counting its wildlife by dogsled, snowshoe, skis, boat, and floatplane - sometimes with a baby in tow. All of these adventures she shares in buoyant, lively prose. 2003, Alaska Northwest Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Gary Paul Nabhan (1952- )

Gary Paul Nabhan is Director of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University and one of the founding scientists of the Amazon Conservation Team. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and won the John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing in 1986.

Cultures of Habitat\Cultures of Habitat: On Nature, culture, and Story
Gary Paul Nabhan

Cultures of Habitat is a collection of essays on plants, animals, wild places, and human interactions with them all. Nabhan, a research scientist at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and a MacArthur fellow, has for many years worked to promote the conservation of plants that are culturally and economically important to various indigenous peoples around the world. He writes of the sense of wonderment that comes from a knowledge of the natural world, and of the important work of learning what might be called "natural literacy'' as a cultural skill. 1998, Counterpoint

The Desert Smells Like RainThe Desert Smells Like Rain: A Naturalist in O'Odham Country
Gary Paul Nabhan

Longtime residents of the Sonoran Desert, the Tohono O'odham people have spent centuries living off the land—a land that most modern citizens of southern Arizona consider totally inhospitable. Ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan has lived with the Tohono O'odham, long known as the Papagos, observing the delicate balance between these people and their environment. Bringing O'odham voices to the page at every turn, he writes elegantly of how they husband scant water supplies, grow crops, and utilize wild edible foods. Woven through his account are coyote tales, O'odham children's impressions of the desert, and observations on the political problems that come with living on both sides of an international border. 2002, University of Arizona Press

Enduring SeedsEnduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation
Gary Paul Nabhan

This unusual book presents the history of and the principles behind Native American farming methods. Those generally forgotten methods, still observable in scattered locations, are fading as the people and cultures that have maintained them through the centuries dwindle. With their demise we are losing the plants themselves: cultivated plants adapted to local conditions, together with their wild relatives (allowed to grow in and near the fields) with which they occasionally cross and gain genetic diversity. Nabhan's readable account explains how and why we have arrived at this point. 2002, University of Arizona Press

The Forgotten PollinatorsThe Forgotten Pollinators
Stephen L. Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan

In The Forgotten Pollinators, Buchmann and Nabhan delve into the little-known and fascinating world of pollination, the insect-plant interaction which provides the world with one-third of its food source. Using colorful examples--including a moth that rappels down cliffs to pollinate a plant in Hawaii--they also explain how modern developments are threatening this essential process and emphasize that wildland protection is fundamental to sustaining agricultural productivity. 1997, Island Press

Gathering the DesertGathering the Desert
Gary Paul Nabhan

Nabhan, a naturalist specializing in arid lands, seeks in this book to popularize his field. He believes a better informed general public would prevent abuse to long-standing desert ecology. With a judicious mixture of ethnobotany, folklore, history, sociology, and nutrition he creates a "persona" for 12 Sonoran Desert plants: the creosote bush, palm, mescal, sandfood, organpipe cactus, amaranth, tepary bean, chile, devil's claw, panicgrass, and wild gourds. The result is a series of essays that are informative, readable and enlightening.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1986
1987, University of Arizona Press

The Geography of ChildhoodThe Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places
Gary Paul Nabhan and Stephen Trimble

More than half of American children get their environmental information from the media. The authors, both seasoned naturalists, earnestly convey their love of the land and their experiences in imparting that love to their young children. They clearly show the necessity of wild places for childhood exploration and adventure. 1995, Beacon Press

Singing the Turtles to SeaSinging the Turtles to Sea: The Comcáac (Seri) Art and Science of Reptiles
Gary Paul Nabhan

Singing the Turtles to Sea vividly describes the desert of Sonora, Mexico, its phantasmagoric landforms, and its equally fantastic animals. This book contains important new information on the origins, biogeography, and conservation status of marine and desert reptiles in this region. Nabhan also discusses the significance of reptiles in Seri folklore, natural history, language, medicine, and art. This book is a magnificent ethnobiology that also succeeds in linking the importance of preserving ecological diversity with issues such as endangered languages and human rights. Singing the Turtles to Sea ultimately points the way toward a more hopeful future for the native cultures and animals of the Sonoran desert and for the preservation of indigenous cultures and species around the world. 2003, University of California Press


Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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