Gilbert White: A Biography of the Author of the Natural History of Selborne

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With more than two hundred editions, Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne is one of the most published books in the English language. An environmental study of the eighteenth-century Hampshire parish where White was born and later served as curate, the book is distinguished by the author’s meticulous observations of plant and animal life—the "minute particulars"—and his uncanny sense of their interdependence. His book is both the definitive expression of the English ...

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2007 Paperback New Originally published in 1986, this edition coincides with a new BBC documentary on White, for which Mabey is a featured commentator.

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Overview

With more than two hundred editions, Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne is one of the most published books in the English language. An environmental study of the eighteenth-century Hampshire parish where White was born and later served as curate, the book is distinguished by the author’s meticulous observations of plant and animal life—the "minute particulars"—and his uncanny sense of their interdependence. His book is both the definitive expression of the English love for countryside and a cornerstone of all environmental writing.

In this Whitbread Prize-winning biography, Richard Mabey—whom the Times has called "Britain’s foremost nature writer"—looks at the life from which the celebrated work grew. This is not an easy task. Although White’s findings did not go unnoticed in his own time (much of the Selborne book’s contents are in fact letters to Thomas Pennant, one of the era’s leading zoologists), relatively little is known about this minor clergyman, who made twenty pounds a year and rarely ventured outside his parish. Mabey visits not only the public and private records but the environs of Selborne, which survive to this day and are remarkably unchanged. A portrait of exceptional detail emerges, and we begin to see very clearly this singular man whose superb scientific eye was complemented by a patient curiosity (he valued observing over collecting) and an emotional investment in his work that still speaks to us. White typifies the eclectic but intense engagement that has nearly vanished in our era of scientific specialization. We recognize in his work a crucial shift in the human perception of nature—as something benign rather than as an adversary.

The first U.S. edition of this classic biography coincides with a new BBC documentary on Gilbert White, for which Mabey is a featured commentator. These are only the latest reminders of the fascination White’s book has exercised upon readers for two centuries.

University of Virginia Press

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Editorial Reviews

Sunday Times
PRAISE FROM THE U.K.Enthralling.... [A]n excellent evocation of White and his times which certainly deserves a place beside the original work.

— Alan Sillitoe

Sunday Telegraph
"Gives us much to reflect on—not just on White, but on our place in the world about us.
Sunday Times - Alan Sillitoe
PRAISE FROM THE U.K.Enthralling.... [A]n excellent evocation of White and his times which certainly deserves a place beside the original work.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813926490
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press
  • Publication date: 3/16/2007
  • Pages: 252
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Mabey is the author of numerous books on Britain’s ecology, including the best-selling Flora Britannica and Nature Cure (Virginia).

University of Virginia Press

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgements     ix
Map of Selborne     xii
Introduction: Legacies and Legends     1
'A place of responses or echoes'     15
Widening Horizons     33
The Home Ground     51
Green Retreats     77
A Man of Letters     103
'Watching narrowly'     137
A Parish Record     169
Epilogue     217
Notes and References     219
Index     233
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