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Birch Browsings: A John Burroughs Reader

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
John Burroughs, one of America's most accomplished nature writers of the 19th century, has been resurrected in this enlightening, entertaining collection of 15 essays. McKibben ( The End of Nature ) explains how Burroughs helps us appreciate the ``middle kingdom'' that is neither urban nor wild by ``figuring out a language for making others treasure the small spectacles of nature.'' The essays are best read individually, as enthusiastic guides through Burroughs's intimate world. According to him, some scenery may be too grand for daily viewing, and Burroughs suggests that one build a house in ``a more humble and secluded nook.'' An observer of nature, he says, needs more than just the habit of attention: ``You must have the bird in your heart before you can find it in the bush.'' Eagerly offering transliterations of nature's sounds (`` Pthrung, pthrung, '' croaks a frog), Burroughs takes us on trips through the woods, a search for wild honey and an excursion for trout. His favorite companion is ``a dog or a boy, or a person who has the virtues of dogs and boys--transparency, good nature, curiosity, open sense.'' For the reader, Burroughs is such a companion. First serial to the New York Review of Books. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Readers unfamiliar with Burroughs and his work will find Birch Browsings adequate as an introduction to his writing and his life, since Burroughs, one of the fathers of American nature studies, inhabits mightily his essays about hiking and birding and fishing for trout. This upstate New York Renaissance man was a friend and biographer of Walt Whitman, a hugely popular essayist for magazines like the Atlantic , and a friend and colleague of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt. In short, he was a turn-of-the-century figure as prominent as he was prolific (the Riverside edition of his work goes to 20 volumes). Penguin's modest selection of 15 essays (unsourced, which should be illegal) gathers the most Burroughs-like of Burroughs's work, e.g., reflections on honeybees, ``tramps'' through the Adirondacks, and a nice piece about stalking the nightingale on a visit to England. Renehan's biography, the first since a botched and romanticized job in the 1920s, is a traditional high-point-of-the-month, cradle-to-grave portrait that hints at Burroughs's complexities but struggles when it tries to explain them. Renehan seems to know all there is to know about Burroughs, but it is startling how familiar his life is even to those who know only the few pieces in Birch Browsings . The revelations here are Renehan's frank discussions of Burroughs's unhappy marriage, a thorough examination of his friendship with Whitman, and an account, equally thorough, of Burroughs's political and social activism as a naturalist. Students of Burroughs will enjoy the biography; less avid Burroughs fans may find it heavier going.-- Mark L. Shelton, Athens, Ohio
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140170160
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/1/1992
  • Series: Nature Library, Penguin Series
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben is the author of ten books, including The End of Nature, The Age of Missing Information, and Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age. A former staff writer for The New Yorker, he writes regularly for Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Review of Books, among other publications. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and lives in Vermont with his wife, the writer Sue Halpern, and their daughter.
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