Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Nature Writing Ecocriticism

Ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the natural environment . . . learn more about Ecocriticism»

The recommended books in this section trace the development of the ecocritical model in literary criticism. Several volumes in particular describe the history and development of nature writing. Rich in complexity and thoughtful critique, these works will deepen our understanding of literature and the natural world.

Recommended Books on Nature Writing: Ecocriticism

American Indian Literature, Environmental Justice, and EcocriticismAmerican Indian Literature, Environmental Justice, and Ecocriticism: The Middle Place
Joni Adamson

This book is one of the first to examine the intersections between literature and the environment from the perspective of the oppressions of race, class, gender, and nature, and the first to review American Indian literature from the standpoint of environmental justice and ecocriticism. By examining such texts as Sherman Alexie's short stories and Leslie Marmon Silko's novel Almanac of the Dead, Adamson contends that these works, in addition to being literary, are examples of ecological criticism that expand Euro-American concepts of nature and place. 2000, University of Arizona Press

American Nature WritersAmerican Nature Writers (2 Volume Set)
John Elder

For this encyclopedic survey of American nature writers, Elder selected 70 authors whose works include novels, poetry, letters, short stories, myths, children's literature, and scientific and literary essays. He added 12 topical essays that discuss such subjects as Native American literature, ecofiction, poetry, early romantic literature, bird-watching literature, and bioregionalism.The earliest writer treated is William Bartram (1739-1823); there are 22 nineteenth-century figures, including Emerson, Thoreau, Muir, and Leopold. Many women authors are included, among them Anna Botsford Comstock of Cornell University. One-third of the essays are on contemporary authors, who include such well-known writers as Annie Dillard, William Least-Heat Moon, John McPhee, and Lewis Thomas. 1996, Scribners

Conserving WordsConserving Words: How American Nature Writers Shaped the Environmental Movement
Daniel J. Philippon

How did American nature writers shape the environmental movement? To answer this difficult question, Daniel Philippon looks at five authors of seminal works of nature writing who also founded or revitalized important environmental organizations: Theodore Roosevelt and the Boone and Crockett Club, Mabel Osgood Wright and the National Audubon Society, John Muir and the Sierra Club, Aldo Leopold and the Wilderness Society, and Edward Abbey and Earth First! Integrating literature, history, biography, and philosophy, this ambitious study explores how "conserving" words enabled narratives to convey environmental values as they explained how human beings should interact with the nonhuman world. 2005, University of Georgia Press

Early American Nature WritersEarly American Nature Writers: A Biographical Encyclopedia
Daniel Patterson, editor

Global warming, pollution, and other issues have made the environment a topic of constant discussion these days. Many environmental concerns were treated by early American nature writers, who recognized the beauty of the natural world in an age of commercial expansion. Some of the most famous writers of the 18th and 19th centuries wrote about nature, and their works are stylistic masterpieces. This book gives a welcome introduction to early American nature writers. The volume begins with an introductory essay on the history of early American nature writing and its anticipation of present day concerns. The book then provides alphabetically arranged entries on 52 writers, including: Elizabeth Agassiz, John James Audubon, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, Edith M. Thomas, Henry David Thoreau, Bradford Torrey, and Mabel Osgood Wright. 2007, Greenwood Press

The Ecocriticism ReaderThe Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology
Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, editors

Environmental ideas have been shaping politics and writing for many years now, and the literary critics are catching on. This wide-ranging anthology follows Wallace Stegner's notion that an environmentally based criticism should be "large and loose and suggestive and open," and it includes work from many fields, from historian Lynn White's landmark 1962 essay "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis" to literary scholar Michael McDowell's recent article "The Bakhtinian Road to Ecological Insight." Fortified by critical notes and reading lists, this collection is useful to readers seeking a broad introduction to literary studies of environmental writing. 1996, University of Georgia Press

EcopoetryEcopoetry: Critical Introduction
Scott Bryson

In his comprehensive introduction, Bryson traces the trajectory of nature as a theme in Western poetry, noting how it dominated in the centuries between Beowulf and Blake, took a dive in the age of Darwin, suffered at the hands of Frost and the other anti-Romantics, and eventually made a comeback thanks to Gary Snyder and the Beats. A subset of nature poetry, ecopoetry recognizes the interdependence of all creatures, views humbly the relation between human and nonhuman life, and cultivates skepticism toward the hyperrational, overtechnologized mindset that dominates present-day culture. The book includes poetry by well-known poets and critical essays on important themes in their work. 2002, University of Utah Press

The Environmental Imagination
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The 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

Father Afield in the Study of Nature-Oriented LiteratureFarther Afield in the Study of Nature-Oriented Literature
Patrick D. Murphy

Professor Murphy establishes a taxonomy of nature-oriented literature - "nature writing, nature literature, ecofiction, environmental literature, and whatever other terms critics use to label literary attention to the relationship of humanity to the rest of nature." He does this through discussions of bias, ecofeminism, and postmodernism and through an examination of genre, mode, and critical orientation in specific literary works. A good bibliography provides a supplementary reading list. 2000, University of Virginia Press

The Future of Environmental CriticismThe Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination
Lawrence Buell

In this book, written by one of the world's leading theorists in ecocriticism, Buell provides a critical summary of the ecocritical movement. He traces the history of the ecocritical movement from its roots in the 1970s through the present, noting its diversification and proliferation today. Taking account of different ecocritical positions and directions, he describes major tensions within the movement, addresses major criticisms of the movement, and looks to the future of ecocriticism, proposing that discourses of the environment should become a permanent part of literary and cultural studies. 2005, Wiley-Blackwell

The Greening of Literary ScholarshipThe Greening of Literary Scholarship: Literature, Theory, and the Environment
Steven Rosendale, editor

A collection of thirteen original essays by leaders in the emerging field of ecocriticism, Greening is devoted to exploring new and previously neglected literatures, theories, and methods in environmental-literary scholarship. New historicism, postcolonialism, deconstructionism, and feminist and Marxist theories are all utilized to evaluate and gain new insights into environmental literature. 2002, University of Iowa Press

Imagining the EarthImagining the Earth: Poetry and the Vision of Nature
John Elder

A landmark work in the burgeoning field of literary ecology, Imagining the Earth explores the ways in which our attitudes toward nature are mirrored in and influenced by poetry. In the work of some of our most widely read poets, says John Elder, one can discern a resurgent vision of humanity in harmony with the rest of the natural order. To show us the power of poetry to identify, interpret, and celebrate a wide range of issues related to nature and our place in it, Elder uses numerous examples of poems by diverse authors, illuminating the relationships between culture and wilderness, imagination and landscape, and science and poetry. Elder's commentaries are interlinked with two remarkable essays in which he describes his own moments of recognition with nature - moments engendered by, and in turn engendering, meditations on literature. 1996, University of Georgia Press

This Incomparable LandThis Incomparable Land: A Guide to American Nature Writing
Thomas J. Lyon

Nature writing has flourished in America, steadily extending its scope in direct proportion to the complexity of the environmental issues that arise as technology magnifies our species' effect on the planet. A form of communion with the natural world and expression of the "ecological way of seeing," that is, the perception of pattern and interconnection that makes life on Earth possible, nature writing combines science and philosophy, romanticism and spirituality, ethics and autobiography. Lyon covers it all in his succinct yet specific and enlightening survey, offering a unique and revealing naturalist's chronology of American history, a taxonomy of nature writing that identifies an array of subgenres from field guides to "rambles" and accounts of "solitude and backcountry living," and a vital discussion of the evolution of environmental thought. 2001, Milkweed Editions

A Natural History of Nature Writing
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A Natural History of Nature Writing
Frank Stewart

In this well-documented and well-written volume essayist and poet Stewart has attempted to capture the mystery as well as the history of nature writing. Without transgressing biographical or historical certainties, Stewart has created full-bodied characters in his interwoven portraits of the genre's most important practitioners. In doing so, the reader approaches an empirical understanding of that ephemeral "in-betweenness" with nature that is often left behind when reading the work of such disparate figures as Gilbert White, John Muir or Edward Abbey. It is, however, the towering figure of Henry David Thoreau to whom Stewart repeatedly returns as a touchstone for his historical understanding of the genre's ceaseless appeal. Interweaving biography, history, and literary criticism, his book is a highly readable summary of the nature writing genre. 1994, Island Press

Nature WritingNature Writing: The Pastoral Impulse in America
Don Scheese

In this comprehensive study of the genre, Don Scheese traces its evolution from the pastoralism evident in the natural history observations of Aristotle and the poetry of Virgil to current American writers. He documents the emergence of the modern form of nature writing as a reaction to industrialization. Scheese's personal observations of natural settings sharpen the reader's understanding of the dynamics between author and locale. His study is further informed by ample use of illustrations and close readings of core writers such as Thoreau, John Muir, and Mary Austin showing how each writer's work exemplifies the pastoral tradition and celebrates a "spirit of place." 2002, Routledge

Practical EcocriticismPractical Ecocriticism: Literature, Biology, and the Environment
Glen A. Love

Practical Ecocriticism is the first book to ground environmental literature firmly in the life sciences, particularly evolutionary biology, and to attempt to bridge the ever-widening gulf between the "Two Cultures." Glen Love - himself one of the founders of ecocriticism - argues that literary studies has been diminished by a general lack of recognition for the vital role the biological foundation of human life plays in cultural imagination. Love presents with great clarity and directness an invaluable model for how to incorporate Darwinian ideas - the basis for all modern biology and ecology - into ecocritical thinking. 2003, University of Virginia Press

Seeking Awareness in American Nature WritingSeeking Awareness In American Nature Writing
Scott Slovic

In this study of the writings of Henry Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, and Barry Lopez Slovic argues that they were preoccupied not only with eternal nature, but with the psychological phenomenon of awareness itself. Being attuned with nature led them to a better understanding of the human mind, thus achieving a heightened attentiveness to their own place in the natural world. According to Slovic, "Nature writing is a 'literature of hope' in its assumption that the elevation of consciousness may lead to wholesome political change, but this literature is also concerned, and perhaps primarily so, with interior landscapes, with the mind itself." 1998, University of Utah Press

The Song of the EarthThe Song of the Earth
Jonathan Bate

This ambitious, erudite critical study seeks to recast Romantic poetry from the Wordsworthian "egotistical sublime" to an ecological one. Romantic literature's love of nature, its fierce individualism and its political radicalism make it a plausible candidate for planting the seeds of the Green movement. As Bate observes, Wordsworth and Coleridge published their seminal Lyrical Ballads in the same year that Thomas Malthus sounded his (premature) warnings of overpopulation. Likewise, he notes how changed global weather patterns resulting from a volcanic eruption could inspire both Byron's "Darkness" and Keats's "To Autumn." Drawing upon his close reading of the Romantic poets, Bate formulates his idea of "ecopoesis," a poetics of human habitation within nature. 2002, Harvard University Press

The Truth of EcologyThe Truth of Ecology: Nature, Culture, and Literature in America
Dana Phillips

The Truth of Ecology explores topics as diverse as the history of ecology in the United States; the distortions of popular environmental thought; the influence of Critical Theory on radical science studies and radical ecology; the need for greater theoretical sophistication in ecocriticism; the contradictions of contemporary American nature writing; and the possibilities for a less devotional, "wilder" approach to ecocritical and environmental thinking. 2003, Oxford University Press

Visions of the LandVisions of the Land: Science, Literature, and the American Environment from the Era of Exploration to the Age of Ecology
Michael A. Bryson

Visions of the Land explores how our environmental attitudes have influenced and been shaped by various scientific perspectives from the time of western expansion and geographic exploration in the mid-nineteenth century to the start of the contemporary environmental movement in the twentieth century. Bryson offers a literary-critical analysis of how writers of different backgrounds, scientific training, and geographic experiences represented nature through various kinds of natural science, from natural history to cartography to resource management to ecology and evolution, and in the process, explored the possibilities and limits of science itself. 2002, University of Virginia Press

Wilderness and the American Mind
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Wilderness and the American Mind
Roderick Nash

Roderick Nash's classic study of America's changing attitudes toward wilderness has received wide acclaim since its initial publication in 1967. The Los Angeles Times has listed it among the 100 most influential books published in the last 25 years; Outside Magazine has included it in a survey of "books that changed our world;" and it has been called the "Book of Genesis for environmentalists." Now a fourth edition of this highly regarded work is available, with a new preface and epilogue in which Nash explores the future of wilderness and reflects on its ethical and biocentric relevance. 2001, Yale University Press

Writing for an Endangered WorldWriting for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment in the U.S. and Beyond
Lawrence Buell

Buell is godfather to the academic field of ecocriticism, which argues that acts of the imagination are crucial tools in the battle over America's remaining, revived, or paved-over green spaces. This new book examines how a vast array of U.S. texts reveal a sense of place in disparate ways. Buell's revisionist literary history successfully shifts our focus to the imagination's role intoday's acute environmental battles, and he shows that green is an important color in the multihued American canon. 2003, Belknap Press

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