A Natural History Of Nature Writing

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A Natural History of Nature Writing is a penetrating overview of the origins and development of a uniquely American literature. Essayist and poet Frank Stewart describes in rich and compelling prose the lives and works of the most prominent American nature writers of the19th and 20th centuries, including:

  • Henry D. Thoreau, the father of American nature writing.
  • John Burroughs, a schoolteacher and failed businessman who found his calling as a writer and elevated the nature essay to a loved and respected literary form.
  • John Muir, founder of Sierra Club, who celebrated the wilderness of the Far West as few before him had.
  • Aldo Leopold, a Forest Service employee and scholar who extended our moral responsibility to include all animals and plants.
  • Rachel Carson, a scientist who raised the consciousness of the nation by revealing the catastrophic effects of human intervention on the Earth's living systems.
  • Edward Abbey, an outspoken activist who charted the boundaries of ecological responsibility and pushed these boundaries to political extremes.
Stewart highlights the controversies ignited by the powerful and eloquent prose of these and other writers with their expansive – and often strongly political – points of view. Combining a deeply-felt sense of wonder at the beauty surrounding us with a rare ability to capture and explain the meaning of that beauty, nature writers have had a profound effect on American culture and politics. A Natural History of Nature Writing is an insightful examination of an important body of American literature.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The task at hand in this well-documented, well-written volume is no less arduous than Henry David Thoreau's hopes for his extended stay at Walden Pond. 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. Abbey's anarchic activism may have given him a cult following among renegade naturalists, but it is Thoreau to whom Stewart repeatedly returns for his historical understanding of the genre's ceaseless appeal. ``They make us aware of a kind of knowing that is potential in us but that we are apt to ignore or suppress, as though asleep,'' Stewart writes of his subjects and their work. Rigorous research and engaging prose make this study a useful secondary text for the academic and the general nature enthusiast alike. The book's extensive bibliography of further readings points the interested reader down any number of new paths. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Stewart (English, Univ. of Hawaii) focuses on the development of nature writing, arguing that "whatever forms it takes, nature writing at its best is a literary art as rigorous as natural science." Interweaving biography, history, and literary criticism, his book is a highly readable summary of what could otherwise have been a broad and complex topic. The authors featured are Englishman Gilbert White and Americans Henry David Thoreau, John Burroughs, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and Edward Abbey, with mentions of others such as Mary Austin and Bill McKibben, with his disturbing message for our time. Stewart shows the relationship of each author to the previous one(s) and the social or historical context in which he or she was working, e.g., Leopold finally came to see that preserving the natural world is highly practical, not sentimental, but Americans returning from World War II did not want to hear his message. The director of Share Our Strength, a nonprofit agency that fights world hunger, editor Shore requested the essays in his volume as donations to the agency's fund-raising efforts. Such a formula doesn't automatically assure excellence, but in this case it has. Nearly all of the 28 essays are excellent examples of nature writing and of the essay form. Many well-known names are included here, such as McKibben, Peter Matthiessen, David Raines Wallace, Thomas Eisner, Sue Hubbell, Diane Ackerman, Janet Lembke, and Vice President Al Gore, who wrote the introduction. There is a wide variety in the topics and approaches, from a scientist excited about what electron microscope reveals to a bird watcher observing nature's reaction to rain after a drought. Nearly all the authors write with humor or enthusiasm or power or all three. This collection, like Stewart's, will be of interest to public and academic libraries.-Nancy Shires, East Carolina Univ., Greenville, N.C.
Nature writers have long combined the rigors of science with the beauty of art to reconcile the feeling in Western society of being neither entirely at one with our fellow creatures, nor entirely separate. Poet and essayist Stewart examines the origins and development of this uniquely American literature by telling the stories of 19th and 20th century writers from Thoreau to Barry Lopez. Of interest to high school and college literature students or anyone interested in nature or nature writing. Paper edition (unseen), $16.95. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559632782
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/1994
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 302
  • Product dimensions: 5.77 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Frank Stewart is an acclaimed writer and port, winner of the prestigious Whiting Writer's Award, and is a professor of English at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1. A Hound, a Bay Horse, and a Turtledove
Chapter 2. Timothy the Tortoise
Chapter 3. The Pout's Nest and the Painter's Eye
Chapter 4. The Labor of The Bees
Chapter 5. The Woodcock's Leg
Chapter 6. Mountain Self
Chapter 7. In the Eye of the Wolf
Chapter 8. Small Winged Forms above the Sea
Chapter 9. The Moon-Eyed Horse
Chapter 10. Writing the Wild
Bibliography And Further Readings

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