Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

 

 

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

Since 1900 American nature writing has flourished, encompassing natural history, travel narratives, nature essays, "rambles," wilderness adventuring, sea voyaging, poetry, fiction, calls to environmental action and many more sub-genres . . . learn more about Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900»

The books and writers celebrated here have won many awards for scientific merit and quality of writing, including the Nobel prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the John Burgess Medal for Natural History. Browse . . . and enjoy. Thanks for stopping by.

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Edward Abbey (1927-1989)

Sometimes as sweet as a cactus strawberry, often as stinging as a saguaro needle, Edward Abbey's prose defined a way of thinking about "the New West." Desert Solitaire was his elegy -- the book that critics include in the pantheon of literature of the American West -- but a later work, The Monkey Wrench Gang, represented his call to arms, inspiring friends to found the radical environmental group Earth First! Wherever Abbey traveled, he carried a résumé that listed "saving the Earth" as his primary career objective.

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

Abbey's RoadAbbey's Road
Edward Abbey

Curmudgeon, environmental brawler, and literary desert rat, Edward Abbey nursed dreams of one day walking out into the wild "to become one with the landscape. To just... disappear." He made valiant efforts to make good on that dream of escape in sometimes harebrained, often dangerous expeditions to difficult places, adventures some of which are recounted in this lively collection of essays. 1991, Plume


Beyond the WallBeyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside
Edward Abbey

Abbey takes the reader beyond walls and into his life and explorations as a self-proclaimed "desert rat". He walks through the canyonlands of Utah, hikes across the dunes of Northern Mexico, rafts the Colorado River through Glen Canyon and also rafts through the Alaskan wilderness. Abbey's tone throughout these ten essays is one of wonder at the harsh beauty of nature and a contained rage at those who destroy it with technological "progress."
"The Thoreau of the American West. " - Larry McMurtry 1984, Owl Books


Desert Solitaire
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

Desert Solitaire
Edward Abbey

This memoir by Edward Abbey recounts his years as a park ranger working at Arches National Park in Utah. Abbey's keen eye and sharp writing clearly impart the beauty of the desert and the importance of preserving our limited natural resources. His reflections and rants on American environmentalism, the auto and mining industries, and the impact they have on our national park system ring just as true today as when the book was first published in 1968. 1990, Touchstone

 

 


The Hidden CanyonThe Hidden Canyon: A River Journey
John Blaustein and Edward Abbey

Photographer Blaustein and environmental pioneer Abbey here document an 18-day 277 mile trip through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River in a wooden dory. The volume includes Blaustein's stunning photographs of rocks, whitewater and wildlife as well as Abbey’s journal of the trip. 1977, Penguin


The Journey HomeThe Journey Home
Edward Abbey

"I am not a naturalist. I never was and never will be a naturalist." So Ed Abbey opens The Journey Home, a collection of essays that turns every page or two to some aspect of the natural history of the desert West. Abbey had recently been compared to Henry Thoreau as a writer who had made a home both literary and real in the wild, and he was having none of it: he wanted to be thought of as a novelist and environmental activist, not as the author of gentle essays on self-sufficiency and the turn of the seasons. The Journey Home is thus full of politically charged, often enraged essays on such matters as urban growth, the gentrification of the small-town West, and wilderness preservation. 1991, Plume


The Monkey Wrench GangThe Monkey Wrench Gang
Edward Abbey

Ed Abbey called The Monkey Wrench Gang, his 1975 novel, a "comic extravaganza." The story centers on Vietnam veteran George Washington Hayduke III, who returns to the desert to find his beloved canyons and rivers threatened by industrial development. On a rafting trip down the Colorado River, Hayduke joins forces with feminist saboteur Bonnie Abbzug, wilderness guide Seldom Seen Smith, and billboard torcher Doc Sarvis, M.D., and together they wander off to wage war on the big yellow machines, on dam builders and road builders and strip miners. It's comic, yes, and required reading for anyone who has come to love the desert. 2006, Harper

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by David Abram (1957- )

The Spell of the SensuousThe Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World
David Abram

David Abram's writing casts a spell of its own as he weaves the reader through a meticulously researched work, gently addressing such daunting topics as where the past and future exists, the relationship between space and time, and how the written word serves to sever humans from their primordial source of sustenance: the Earth. "Only as the written text began to speak would the voices of the forest, and of the river, begin to fade." 1997, Vintage

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Diane Ackerman

Jaguar of Sweet LaughterJaguar of Sweet Laughter: New and Selected Poems
Diane Ackerman

Ackerman's lyrical voice and her feeling for detail and nuance are omnipresent in this work, assembled from prior books with ten new poems. One of today's love-bards, Ackerman can be full of admiration, as in her poem-letter to Loren Eiseley: "I feasted on the spellbinding fruit you grew--/ that way of beholding which is a form of prayer." Her poems are deeply respectful of the many dimensions of animal mysteries and the miracles of exotic landscapes from the Amazon to Antartica.
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 1991
1993, Vintage


The Moon by Whale LightThe Moon by Whale Light: And Other Adventures Among Bats, Penguins, Crocodilians, and Whales
Diane Ackerman

The Moon by Whale Light is a unique blend of poetic essay and scientific description. Ackerman writes with the precision of a scientist and the soul of a romantic, luring readers with provocative word pictures while educating them on the importance and necessity of these animals in the global scheme of nature. She maintains a near-perfect balance of animal lore, objective study, and conservation, and includes some downright hair-raising adventures such as riding an alligator bareback and swimming face-to-face with a right whale. Underscoring man's responsibility to protect these creatures, this is nonfiction storytelling at its best. 1992, Vintage


The Rarest of the RareThe Rarest of the Rare: Vanishing Animals, Timeless Worlds
Diane Ackerman

Diane Ackerman, a tireless explorer of the natural world, looks for answers about animal behavior among some animals that are fast disappearing as their native habitats are destroyed - creatures such as the monarch butterfly, the short-tailed albatross, and the wonderfully named golden lion tamarin. She writes of these animals with grace and compassion and with a considerable command of the science of animal behavior. 1997, Vintage

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Recommended Books by John Alcock

In a Desert GardenIn a Desert Garden: Love and Death Among the Insects
John Alcock

Zoologist Alcock’s specialty is desert ecology in the American Southwest. In a Desert Garden focuses on the author's own front yard in Tempe, Arizona, and its insect inhabitants. Several years ago, Alcock tore out his typical suburban lawn to recreate a miniature native desert habitat, complete with representative local desert vegetation. Readers will gain insights into how science is practiced as the author's lively, often humorous observations of assorted beetles, bugs, wasps, bees, caterpillars, and butterflies are related to broad concepts of animal behavior, ecology, and survival.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1998
1999, University of Arizona Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Durward L. Allen (1910- )

Wolves of MinongWolves of Minong: Isle Royale's Wild Community
Durward L. Allen

In Wolves of Minong noted wildlife biologist Allen describes the coexistence among wolves, moose, and other creatures on Isle Royal in Lake Superior. In a natural occurrence, wolves crossed frozen waters to the isle in 1949. The predators' self-introduction acted as a check on the burgeoning moose population, which had been slowly starving due to inadequate food sources to support their numbers. The wolves are complex, intelligent creatures that you come to admire even more as you read about their elaborate social rituals. 1994, University of Michigan Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965)

The Horn Island Logs of Walter Inglis AndersonThe Horn Island Logs of Walter Inglis Anderson
Walter Inglis Anderson

Heralded today as a major American watercolorist, Mississippi artist Walter Inglis Anderson made periodic sojourns to an undisturbed barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico where he observed and experienced the mysteries of nature. In this volume Anderson's visionary drawings and watercolors of the plants and wildlife enhance his narrative of his solitary time on Horn Island. From his reflections made over a period of twenty years, one discovers the secrets of a fragile and changing ecology and marvels at Anderson's exotic vision. 1985, University Press of Mississippi

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Homero Aridjis (1940- )

Eyes to See OtherwiseEyes to See Otherwise/Ojos De Otro Mira: Selected Poems
Homero Aridjis

“The task of poets, and of holy men,” Homero Aridjis has said, “is to tell this planet’s stories – and to articulate an ecological cosmology that does not separate nature from humanity.” The Earth provides the palette of his poetic landscape: “I remember…inexpressibly/ the old tongue that speaks/ with beasts and trees.” Growing up in the winter migration grounds of the Monarch butterfly in the central highlands of Mexico, Aridjis evokes not only the beauty of the “winged tiger” of his youth, but of the coming of the timber poacher’s chainsaw. He was “howling his needs and shoving fistfuls of butterflies into his mouth.” Turning to the gray whale, he evokes their Baja birth lagoon as the place where “God created the great whales/ and each creature that moves/ on the shadowy thighs of the waters.”
Orion Society John Hay Award 2000
2002, New Directions

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Mary Austin (1868-1934)

Mary Austin was a prolific writer who wrote novels, short stories, essays, plays and poetry. Austin became an early advocate for environmental issues as well as the rights of women and other minority groups. She was particularly interested in the preservation of American Indian culture.

The Land of Journey's EndingThe Land of Journey's Ending
Mary Austin

Mary Austin’s Land of Journey’s Ending is no ordinary travel book and she was no ordinary tourist. Her book goes beyond the descriptions of flora and fauna of the land between the Colorado River and the Rio Grande. It also covers the history, culture and customs of the area. Austin includes not only figures from the past but people she met on the trip. While the book is now decades old, it is a timeless and wonderful journey for the reader. 2007, Sunstone Press


The Land of Little RainThe Land of Little Rain
Mary Austin

Land of Little Rain (1903), a collection of 14 sketches, is considered by many to be Mary Austin’s masterpiece and a classic in the field of American nature writing. Traveling from the Mojave Desert to the Owens Valley in California she records her observations of the land and its inhabitants. Her credo: “Not the law but the land sets the limit.” In the book she focuses on detecting hints of the ways in which the land breeds qualities such as hardiness, adaptability and frugality into the various human, animal, mineral and vegetable inhabitants of the region. 1997, Penguin

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by J. A. Baker

The PeregrineThe Peregrine
J. A. Baker

From fall to spring, J.A. Baker set out to track the daily comings and goings of a pair of peregrine falcons across the flat fen lands of eastern England. He followed the birds obsessively, observing them in the air and on the ground, in pursuit of their prey, making a kill, eating, and at rest, activities he describes with an extraordinary fusion of precision and poetry. And as he continued his mysterious private quest, his sense of human self slowly dissolved, to be replaced with the alien and implacable consciousness of a hawk. It is this extraordinary metamorphosis, magical and terrifying, that these beautifully written pages record. 2004, New York Review Books Classics

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Rick Bass (1958- )

The Book of YaakThe Book of Yaak
Rick Bass

Rick Bass, a prolific writer of considerable merit, has crafted an elegant plea to save the ecosystem of the Yaak Valley in northwestern Montana. Bass argues that the Yaak deserves to be saved, both for its beauty and for its role in a biological system that stretches through much of North America. To enamor readers with the Yaak he describes it with reverence, and in doing so makes us care. "We are all complicit," he says. 1997, Mariner Books


Brown Dog of the YaakBrown Dog of the Yaak: Essays on Art and Activism
Rick Bass

In four essays, Bass ponders the relationship between literature and activism, organically fusing nature writing, environmentalism and the quest for meaning, leaping from the particular to the universal, from individual worries to planetary concerns, with breathtaking ease. As Bass discusses the difficulty of juggling the roles of writer and conservationist, his central theme emerges: art, which makes order out of chaos, and activism, which transforms the physical world, complement each other. The unifying thread in these reflections, oddly, is Colter, Bass's brown, German shorthaired pointer. 1999, Milkweek Editions


Caribou RisingCaribou Rising: Defending the Porcupine Herd, Gwich-'in Culture, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Rick Bass

This bittersweet account conveys Bass' profound appreciation for the immense, unblemished majesty of one of the few almost untouched landscapes on earth; an eye-opening understanding of the intimate spiritual and physical connection, stretching back 10,000 years between the scattered tribes and the migrant caribou; and an unexpected respect for how tribal elders and a young generation of activists in Arctic Village (pop. 150) have developed a media-savvy offense against predatory Alaskan politicians desperate to drill for a few month's worth of petroleum. 2004, Sierra Club Books


The Lost GrizzliesThe Lost Grizzlies: A Search for Survivors in the Wilderness of Colorado
Rick Bass

Grizzly bears had not been seen in the San Juan mountains of southern Colorado for almost 15 years when a small group of men set out to seek definitive evidence that the animals still existed there. They sought a tuft of fur, footprints, or best of all, photographs to convince wildlife officials that this habitat should be preserved. Bass eloquently describes the pristine mountain meadows, the icy streams, the old growth forests, and the men who seek to preserve them. 1997, Mariner Books


The New WolvesThe New Wolves: The Return of the Mexican Wolf to the American Southwest
Rick Bass

In The New Wolves, author Rick Bass turns his naturalist’s eye to the Mexican wolves that once roamed freely throughout the Southwest, until they were hunted to extinction when cattle came to the region. As in his other nature writings, Bass observes the often conflicted interaction between species preservation and ecological recovery. Bass’s passionate and beautifully written account of the wolves’ return is one that few readers will ever forget. 2007, The Lyons Press


The Ninemile WolvesThe Ninemile Wolves
Rick Bass

In 1989 two wolves appeared in a valley in northwestern Montana - the first known pair to den outside Glacier National Park in 60 years. Nature writer Bass, a champion of wolf reintroduction, follows the fortunes and misfortunes of the young wolves caught in a bureaucratic and political crossfire. The book describes the history of wolf eradication programs in the United States and debunks many myths associated with this much-maligned animal. 2003, Mariner Books


The Roadless YaakThe Roadless Yaak: Reflections and Observations About One of Our Last Great Wilderness Areas
Rick Bass

This collection of essays about the Yaak Valley in northwestern Montana brings to life the wilderness and isolation, exhilaration and trepidation that visitors (and residents) encounter here. The half-million-acre Yaak Valley is home to only 150 people but untold numbers of elk, deer, grizzly bears, cougars, and other critters, big and small. An astonishing 175,000 acres remain roadless in this remote territory near the Canadian border. You will learn about a teacher who is torn between the world beyond the Yaak and the life he has come to know: mountains, thick forests, snow, and bears. And you will learn why we as a people must protect wilderness like this for future generations. 2007, The Lyon Press


Wild to the HeartWild to the Heart
Rick Bass

Wild to the Heart is a lyrical exploration of wildness and freedom in nature and in ourselves. In these thirteen essays, Rick Bass is a man divided, a lover of wilderness tied to the city. On long weekends, in his Volkswagen Rabbit, he drives away from Jackson, Mississippi, and the job that confines him. His excursions which take him to southern rivers, southern swamps, and sometimes to conservation meetings also lead to musings about his favorite mountains, grizzly bears, and the wildness in all of us. 1997, W.W. Norton


WinterWinter: Notes from Montana
Rick Bass and Elizabeth Hughes

In this journal of a back-country winter, Bass is working in the tradition of Walden. Wishing to confront the essentials of nature and self, he heads for the most remote place he can find--the Yaak valley of Montana, with its 30 inhabitants and lack of electricity. The journal focuses on his adaptation to the harsh climate, stressing his growing knowledge of backwoods skills and lore. 1992, Mariner Books

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Keith H. Basso (1940- )

Wisdom Sits in PlacesWisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache
Keith H. Basso

Anthropologist Basso provides a fascinating scholarly study of the meaning and significance of the Apache place names found in the area surrounding the community of Cibecue, Arizona. Some Apache place names describe features of the landscape or climate, while others derive from historical or mythological events. All, however, are rich in descriptive imagery and depth of meaning for the Apache people of the area. With the help of several Apache informants, Basso explores the place worlds underlying the names of localities and through them lets the Apache express their own understanding of their history, identity, values, and morality.
Western States Book Award for Creative Nonfiction
1996, University of New Mexico Press

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Recommended Nature Writing Books by Roy Bedichek (1878-1959)

Adventures with a Texas NaturalistAdventures with a Texas Naturalist
Roy Bedichek

A classic since its first publication in 1947, Adventures with a Texas Naturalist distills a lifetime of patient observations of the natural world. Like Henry David Thoreau, Bedichek had an uncanny eye for the visible traces of human activity that shaped the land. The frontier that Bedichek knew as a boy had long since vanished, but he chose to focus on the connections that still existed between people and the natural world. In looking at those connections, he was able to reveal the nearly invisible push and pull of human activity and nature's response. A first-hand witness to the plundering of the frontier as settlers overtook the West, harnessed it for their own needs and abandoned it when it could no longer sustain their demands, Bedichek fully realized the impact humans have on the environment and the way that nature, whenever possible, demonstrates its resilience. 1975, University of Texas Press

Classic American Nature Writing Since 1900

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