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Poetry Prose and Other Words

by Ken Ingham

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Reading List

Here are the books I recommend
The one's I'd like to read again
(and to some extent I'm doing this,
even as I make this list)



Notes & Quotes

Our Choice: A plan to solve the climate crisis (2009) Gore, Al An honest detailed discussion of the pros and cons of all ways of producing energy and other subjects related to global climate change. reviewed by Bill McKibben
A Sand County Almanac
Leopold, Aldo An exploration of land ethics by a forester, ecologist and retired professor of game management at U of Wisconsin, written from the author's weekend farm and shack in Sand County, WI. "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." AldoLeopold.org
Apache ( 1931) Comfort, Will Levington Getting into the head of a true life Apache warrior who, in response to a broken treaty, became the most feared ruler of the fiercest Indians in the American west.
Green Hills of Africa (1936) Hemingway, Ernest Although it contains some philosophical reflections and a few pot-shots at fellow authors, this book is mostly about "Pursuit as Happiness", i.e., hunting big game in Africa, best conveyed with a quote: " It seemed the new country was a gift. Kudu came out into the open and you sat and waited for the more enormous ones and selecting a suitable head, blasted him over. Then there were sable . . . they were so unsophisticated that it was really a shame to topple them over". But they did anyway, along with teale, guinea, oryx, rhinos and many others. Wiki Review
Coming into the Country McPhee, John A three part tour of Alaska with one of America's best literary travel guides. Part political history, part wilderness adventure, part voyeurism, all good literature. Amazon Reviews
Far Away and Long Ago (1918) Hudson, W.H. Autobiographical account of a Brit growing up in the pampas region of Argentina. He went on to become a famous naturalist and writer, his most popular work being Green Mansions.
House Made of Dawn (1966) Momaday, N. Scott Pulitzer Prize winning fictional tragedy by a native American writer, about (from the jacket cover of the Harper Classic edition) "a young American Indian who returns from a foreign war and gets caught between two worlds, one his father's wedding him to the rhythm of the seasons and the harsh beauty of the land, and the other of industrial America, goading him into a compulsive cycle of dissipation and disgust" Wiki review
Winter World: The ingenuity of animal survival (2003) Heinrich, Bernd How does a tiny golden-crowned kinglet mysteriously survive a harsh winter in Maine? A master at translating natural science into elegant prose, Heinrich takes us on a wide ranging exploration of how birds, insects and other creatures survive the cold. NYT Review
The Snoring Bird: My family's journey through a century of biology (2007) Heinrich, Bernd

A natural scientist recalls his formative years with emphasis on the influence of his old-world scientist-father, a collector of ichneumon wasps. Nicely reviewed by David Barber in the NY Times

The God Delusion (2006) Dawkins, Richard A defense of atheism by an Oxford professor, one with a deep faith in the nonexistence of god and a growing lack of patience with those who claim to know the truth without evidence. He holds that to terrorize the minds of children with unsupportable notions of a horrible hell is a form of child abuse. With that I agree, although I would never claim to be an atheist.
The Language of God (2006) Collins, Francis S. A noted geneticist defends his Christianity and espouses "theistic evolution" as a scientifically consistent and spiritually satisfying basis for his faith.
The Winter Beach (1966) Ogburn, Charlton Jr. A southward journey down the Atlantic coast, following the onset of winter and contemplating the ultimate questions of existence.
Leaning Sycamores: Natural worlds of the upper Potomac (1996) Wennerstrom, Jack A personal perspective on the natural history of the Potomac River, its people, plants and creatures.
A Short History of Progress (2004) Wright, Ronald

"A bad smell of extinction follows homo sapiens around the world".

"The health of land and water - and woods, the keepers of water - can be the only lasting basis for any civilization's survival and success".

"Buffalo...could probably provide us with as much food as we get from farming if wild or semi-wild herds were efficiently managed".

Wild America (1955) Peterson, Roger Tory and Fisher, James The distinguished naturalist and author of numerous field guides takes his British colleage on a 30,000 mile road trip around North America, at a time when gasoline cost 29 cents per gallon and motel rooms could be had for $5 per night.
The River Why (1983) Duncan, David James A second generation fly fishing youngster who strikes out on his own to pursue his passion, taking up residence in a crude cabin on a remote river in the Pacific northwest. Increasingly troubled by the degradation of the natural world around him he embarks on an ultimately successful quest for self-discovery and meaning. It is also a touching love story, and has been made into a film by same title.
The Wilderness World of John Muir (1954) Teale, Edwin Way John Muir comes alive in these representative samplings of his writing, each with introductory comments by Teale. A pleasant way to get started with Muir.
North with the Spring (1951) Teale, Edwin Way Teale did what many of us would like to do: go south in Winter and follow the migrating warblers and blossoming flowers northward. He began in the Everglades and motored 17,000 miles over a period of 130 days, with his wife. Their adventures as detailed here constitute a "natural history of the season".
The Land of Little Rain (1903) Austin, Mary A short collection of poetic essays, or rather sketches, of the Owens Valley and its inhabitants, at the turn of the last century. Read it free at sunsite.berkeley.edu
The Wild Places (2007) Macfarlane, Robert Join the author for a tour of the remaining wild places on the British archipelago, rendered in elegant prose. "Rain fell ... mottling the smaller rocks so that they resembled curlew eggs". Reviewed in the Guardian
The Run (1959) Hay, John Already in 1741 there was concern about destruction of the central character of this book, the alewife, an anadromous herring-like fish that spawns in fresh water lakes and ponds, migrates to the ocean and returns to the stream of its birth four years later. John Hay founded the first Cape Cod Museum of Natural History and was largely responsible for convincing the town of Brewster to set aside vast stretches of salt marsh off Cape Cod Bay as conservation land. His writing is exceptional.
Darlilngton's Fall (2002) Leithauser, Brad A novel in verse about the life of a fictional early 20th C naturalist who chases butterflies and a woman with equal verve. A remarkable story told in a remarkable way, an "amazing merger of art and science".
The Lord's Woods (1971) Arbib, Robert This book, about a woods near the house where the author grew up, was given to me by Norbert and Elaine Kraich with an endearing inscription. It's beauty is best conveyed with a brief excerpt from page 137. .
The Golden Gate (1986) Seth, Vikram A novel in verse, some 300 pages, two sonnets to a page, set in San Francisco and surrounding valleys, about a young man and his friends looking for romance and meaning in an affluent environment. It really does read like a novel. More on wiki
Cadillac Desert: The American West and its disappearing water (1986) Reisner, Marc A well-researched moving history of the battle for water in the American West, from the earliest settlers to the Los Angeles developers, the Army Corps of Engineers vs. the Bureau of Reclamation, the dams and the reservoirs. Revised and updated in 1993, and made into a documentary film(s). Review
The Naturalist in La Plata (1892) Hudson, W.H. A very readable account of direct observations of animals, birds, insects and plants the late 19th century Argentinian Pampas. Of extinction Hudson said "when they perish, something of gladness goes out from nature, and the sunshine loses something of its brightness".
Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed (2005) Diamond, Jared Having already won the Pulitzer for his treatise on how Guns, Germs and Steel allowed Western civilizations came to dominate the world, author Jared Diamond here explores the causes of the collapse of earlier civilations: Easter Island, Anasazi, Mayans and Norse Greenland. He elaborates five contributing factors: overpopulation, environmental degradation, resource depletion, climate change and conflict. He follows up with an insightful analysis of portentious trends in current societies but ends on a hopeful note. See reviews in Grist, The New Yorker , and The Guardian.
Guns, Germs and Steel: The fates of human societies (1997) Diamond, Jared An in depth Pulitzer winning treatise of the origins of inequality between human societies as they developed in various places around the world. The advantages of some over others had nothing to do with intrinsic mental or physical superiority but rather with the availability of natural resources, especially domesticable plant and animal species that facilitated the development of agriculture and stationary societes. After 7 million years of nomadic hunting, people gradually began to settle down and large fractions of them were able to devote time to the development of tools and weapons. The concentration of people in urban communities led to epidemics whose survivors became immune to diseases that later played a role in the conquering of other societies that had not been exposed, especially in the Americas, where 95% of the native people were decimated by disease. This is a fascinating account that integrates knowledge gained through the studies of archaeology, paleontology, epidemiology, linguistics, ethnobiology and anthropology and history.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin (2011) Larson, Erik A year or so in the true life of Professor Dodd, reluctant ambassador to Germany during the rise of Hitler's regime. Living in Berlin in 1933-34 with his wife, son, and a flamboyant eyebrow-raising daughter, Dodd's associates include a few who recognized Hitler for what he was and many others who failed to do so. The story gives some insight into how an evil despotic regime can gain traction in an otherwise civilized society and how an emerging superpower (with some skeletons in its own closet) procrastinated on getting involved.
Angle of Repose (1971) Stegner, Wallace A fictionalized account based on the life and correspondence of a talented 19th C author and artist who leaves her comfortable and sophisticated east coast surroundings to follow her husband, a mining engineer, through a series of unsuccessful ventures in the west. The story is told by her imagined aging and disfigured wheel-chair bound grandson who makes use of extensive correspondence to which the author was given access. Pulitzer Prize.
Wolf Willow: A History, A Story and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier (1962) Stegner, Wallace An interesting approach to autobiography that includes a chapter in which the author puts some of himself into a fictional account of a cattle roundup during the brutal winter of 1906 that more or less ended the cowboy culture on the sparse prairie border land between Saskatchawan and Montana where he grew up.
Two in the Far North (1957) Murie, Margaret The author moves to the small town of Fairbanks as a young girl, grows up there, attends college in several places and becomes the first woman to graduate from U of Alaska. She marries Olaus Murie, a naturalist who is studying the life of caribou and other ceatures in the far north. She describes in exquisite detail the beauty of the land and shared many adventures including an extended trip up a river with their infant child.
An American Childhood
Dillard, Annie A thoughtful and humorous reminiscence about growing up in Pittsburg by the author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Teaching a Stone to Talk .
Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder (1997) Kaufman, Kenn A well-known writer of field guide books tells how he dropped out of high school at age 16 and hitch-hiked almost 70,000 miles all over the USA in an effort to break the record of the most bird species identified by one person in a single year.
A Naturalist in Costa Rica Skutch, Alexander An account of the author's life, work, observations, and reflections during thirty-five years in the southeastern Pacific section of Costa Rica. Nature writing at its best by the author of 30 books and hundreds of scientific papers on Costa Rica's biodiversity and orinthology.
This House of Sky (1978) Doig, Ivan Memoir of growing up in the rugged Montana widerness among sheep herders, a story in which the land itself is one of the main characters.
Organic Inc. :Natural Foods and how they Grow (2006) Fromartz, Samuel The story of how the organic food movement gets corrupted by big corporations who manipulate the system so that what we thought was meant by the 'organic' label can no longer be so assumed.
Nature and Culture - American Landscape and Painting, 1825-1875 (1980) Novak, Barbara An eminent art historian describes how the paintings of Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, Asher B. Durand, and others and the words of writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Frederich Wilhelm von Schelling influenced America's cultural attitudes toward nature.
Nature and the American - Three Centuries of Changing Attitudes (1957) Huth, Hans A schollarly yet very readable treatise on the evolution of American attitudes toward nature and its preservation.
Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made (2014) Gaia Vince A science writer travels far and wide documenting the ways in which the peoples of the world are reacting to and dealing with climate change in what is coming to be known as a new geologic era, the 'Anthropocene'.
Lab Girl (2016) Hope Jahren You don't have to be a botanist or even a tree lover to enjoy this memoir of a woman scientist with an eccentric but faithful lab partner.

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes within Us and a Grander View of Life

Ed Yong Must reading for anyone concerned about personal health and a challenge to those preoccupied with cleanliness..
Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World (2019) Glenn Albrecht

climate change, solastalgia and a vision for the future
Interview with Albrecht

A Climate Vocabulary for the Future Herb Simmens From Adaptation to Zone Creep -- it's all explained.

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest

Susanne Simard  
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
Robin Wall Kimmerer  
Guardians of the Trees Kinari Webb