Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Henry David Thoreau and Walden

Henry David Thoreau can fairly be said to be the progenitor of American nature writing. Walden, his masterpiece . . . learn more about Henry David Thoreau and Walden»

In this section are Thoreau's primary works, and some of the best criticism that looks at his impact on American writing and culture.

Recommended Nature Writing by Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

Cape CodCape Cod
Henry David Thoreau

Cape Cod, Thoreau's classic account of his meditative, beach-combing walking trips to Cape Cod in the early 1850s, was published by his admirers after he died. In the plants, animals, topography, weather, and people of Cape Cod, Thoreau finds "another world." Encounters with the ocean dominate this book, from the fatal shipwreck of the opening chapter to his later reflections on the Pilgrims' landing. Along the way, Thoreau relates the experiences of fishermen and oystermen, farmers and salvagers, lighthouse-keepers and ship captains, as well as his own intense confrontations with the sea. 2006,

Collected Essays and PoemsCollected Essays and Poems
Henry David Thoreau

America's greatest nature writer and a political thinker of worldwide impact, Henry David Thoreau's remarkable essays reflect his speculative and probing cast of mind. In his poems, he gave voice to his private sentiments and spiritual aspirations. The 27 essays gathered here vary in style from the ambling rhythm of "Natural History of Massachusetts" and "A Winter Walk" to the concentrated moral outrage of "Slavery in Massachusetts" and "A Plea for Captain John Brown.” 2001, Library of America

Faith in a SeedFaith in a Seed: The dispersion of Seeds and Other Late Natural History Writings
Henry David Thoreau

This study of plant ecology using Darwinian theory gives readers a fresh dose of all that makes Thoreau such a major figure in American letters. The Dispersion of Seeds, Thoreau's last major project, was dismissed by most of the scholars who even knew of it as being taxonomically suspect, uninterestingly concrete, and "best left unpublished." How wrong. It is, in fact, the book that latter-day Thoreau admirers have often wished he had written: sensual, acute, intricate, and altogether fascinating, a text that should cause scholars to reevaluate their assessment of an important writer. 1996, Island Press

The Maine WoodsThe Maine Woods
Henry David Thoreau

The Maine Woods is a characteristically Thoreau: a personal account of exploration, of exterior and interior discovery in a natural setting, conveyed in taut, workmanlike prose. Thoreau's evocative renderings of the life of the primitive forest--its mountains, waterways, fauna, flora, and inhabitants--are valuable in themselves. But his impassioned protest against despoilment in the name of commerce and sport, which even by the 1850s threatened to deprive Americans of the "tonic of wildness," makes The Maine Woods an especially vital book for our time. 2004, Princeton University Press

Walden, or, Life in the WoodsWalden, or, Life in the Woods
Henry David Thoreau

Walden is one of the best-known nonfiction books written by an American. Published in 1854, it describes Thoreau’s life in a cabin near Walden Pond, in woodland owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. His project was simple: “to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life…” While there he read classical literature, though warned against relying overly much on reading as a means of transcendence. He proclaimed the benefits of living alone and close to nature; he raised a crop of beans, which he sold in the fall, making $8.71; and he rambled about the countryside and wrote down his observations of the natural world. He criticized Americans’ constant rush to succeed and to acquire superfluous wealth. Much of Walden’s fine writing has entered our cultural consciousness: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” Thoreau urged his fellow Americans to be reflective, to appreciate Nature, and to be true to themselves. 2007, Castle Books

Walden: A fully annotated editionWalden: A Fully Annotated Edition
Henry D. Thoreau; ed. Jeffrey S. Cramer

Thoreau’s literary classic, an elegantly written record of his experiment in simple living, has engaged readers and thinkers for a century and a half. This edition of Walden is the first to set forth an authoritative text with generous annotations. Thoreau scholar Jeffrey S. Cramer has meticulously corrected errors and omissions from previous editions of Walden and here provides illuminating notes on the biographical, historical, and geographical contexts of Thoreau’s life.

In the editor’s notes to the volume, Cramer quotes from sources Thoreau actually read, showing how he used, interpreted, and altered these sources. Cramer also glosses Walden with references to Thoreau’s essays, journals, and correspondence. With the wealth of material in this edition, readers will find an unprecedented opportunity to immerse themselves in the unique and fascinating world of Thoreau. 2004, Yale University Press

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers / Walden / The Maine Woods / Cape Cod
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers / Walden, or, Life in the Woods / The Maine Woods / Cape Cod
Henry David Thoreau

Subtly interweaving natural observation, personal experience, and historical lore, these primary works by Thoreau reveal his brilliance not only as a writer, but as a naturalist, scholar, historian, poet, and philosopher. A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers is based on a boat trip taken with his brother. Walden, one of America's great books, is at once a personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, manual of self-reliance, and masterpiece of style. The Maine Woods and Cape Cod portray landscapes changing irreversibly even as he wrote. Thoreau’s essential works in one volume. 1985, Library of America

Wild FruitsWild Fruits: Thoreau's Rediscovered Last Manuscript
Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau was 44 years old when he died of tuberculosis in the early spring of 1862. We know him primarily as the contemplative resident of Walden. On the strength of this lost, and now published, final manuscript, Dean would have us think of him as a protoecologist, and for very good reason. In the last years of his life, Thoreau resolved to learn better the science behind nature, and in Wild Fruits he collected the lore and facts surrounding the plants around his home. This manuscript, cataloging dozens of species, affords a fascinating glimpse into Thoreau's method as an amateur student of nature. 2001, W. W. Norton

A Year in Thoreau's Journal: 1851
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

A Year in Thoreau's Journal: 1851
Henry David Thoreau

Many reader’s exposure to Thoreau's published works like Walden and The Maine Woods are intrigued enough to look deeper. Inevitably, you end up with the Journals. Thoreau's journal of 1851 reveals profound ideas and observations in the making, including wonderful writing on the natural history of Concord. This journal allows the reader to follow Thoreau through the cycle of the seasons he observed so closely. 1993, Penguin


Recommended Books about Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

The Cambridge Companion to Henry David ThoreauThe Cambridge Companion to Henry David Thoreau
Joel Myerson

Presenting essays by a distinguished array of contributors, the Companion is a valuable and illuminating resource for historical and contextual material, whether on early writings such as A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, on the monumental Walden, or on Thoreau's assorted journals and later books. It also serves as a biographical guide, offering new insights into his turbulent publishing career, and his brief but extraordinarily original life. 1995, Cambridge University Press

The Environmental ImaginationThe Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture
Lawrence Buell

The best writing about nature, literary scholar Buell suggests, has at its root an argument that humans are accountable to the environment. In the American literary canon, the work that best demonstrates this thesis is Thoreau's classic Walden, a memoir celebrating at once the virtues of voluntary simplicity and the quest for political liberty. It is from Walden that much contemporary writing about nature derives. In this study, Buell charts the growth of Thoreau's own environmental ethic and his lasting influence on writers of many kinds. 1996, Belknap Press

Henry Thoreau: A Life of the MindHenry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind
Robert D. Richardson, Jr.

Emerson described his friend Thoreau as "the bachelor of thought and nature," and in this absorbing and fresh biography, Richardson shows him to have been as much a reader and thinker as a saunterer in the woods. Thoreau read widely: Emerson; the Greek and Roman Stoics, ancient Hindu philosophy; contemporary German literature (particularly Goethe); Charles Darwin and other scientists. The result of Richardson’s composite portrait is that we see Thoreau perhaps more vividly than ever before, as traveler of the mind, significant thinker and likable man. 1988, University of California Press

 Natural LifeNatural Life: Thoreau's Worldly Transcendentalism
David M. Robinson

David M. Robinson tells the story of Thoreau’s mind at work, focusing on his idea of "natural life" as both a subject of study and a model for personal growth and ethical purpose. He traces Thoreau’s struggle to find a fulfilling vocation and his gradual recovery from his grief over the loss of his brother. Robinson emphasizes Thoreau’s development of the credo of living a "natural life,” which he practiced by living a contemplative life close to nature in Walden; by sauntering thoughtfully in the fields and forests around Concord, and by devoting himself to studying the natural world. 2004, Cornell 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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