Sentiments voiced about the natural world have always veered widely from one view to its opposite. In a 1945 newspaper column, Eleanor Roosevelt suggested, "Perhaps nature is our best assurance of immortality." Seeking the California governorship exactly two decades later, Ronald Reagan pronounced in a stump speech, "A tree is a tree -- how many do you need to look at?" Nevertheless, as the 20th century expires, a widespread uneasiness prevails. Last April, American Demographics reported an Environmental Research Associates poll revealing that 87% of American adults were "concerned" about the environment and that 44% were "very concerned."
The ways in which writers address the wide breadth of relevant issues have evolved over the years. "In the '70s," remarks Counterpoint publisher Jack Sh maker, "a small number of important American writers turned their attention to the environment, people like Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry. In the '80s, another group of extraordinarily talented writers coming out of the p tic sensibility joined in, writers like Barry Lopez and Gretel Ehrlich, as well as scientists and naturalists like Terry Tempest Williams. An explosion of attention was paid to landscapes, and every bookstore had to have a natural history shelf that soon became filled with writers of lesser talent. People started predicting that this was a flash in a pan, and publishers backed away from rushing material into print that wasn't ready. Today, nature writing, what I call landscape writing, has grown into a mature genre." Counterpoint's 1999 list includes Encompassing Nature: Nature and Culture from Ancient Times to the Modern World (Apr.), an anthology edited by Robert Torrance, and The Selected P ms of Wendell Berry (Oct.).
"The whole nature category has become more scientific, more sophisticated," says Amy Murphy, McGraw-Hill trade science editor. "There was a time and place for emotional books, but we're beyond that now." Murphy is presently overseeing the launch of McGraw-Hill's trade science program, which introduces four books next spring. One is The Symbiotic Man: A New Understanding of the Organization of Life and a Vision of the Future (Apr.) by J l de Rosnay, "a pro-technical, pro-environment book," according to Murphy. "He g s beyond a simplistic dichotomy and says that if we can understand how our world works, our technology will help us protect it."
As Murphy suggests, it is no longer enough to wring one's hands and utter shrill warnings. In fact, Marci Krishnamoorthy, manager of the Nature Nook, a bookstore in Ellicott City, Md., says, "We used to sell a lot of environment books, but sales are down. People are tired of being bombarded with bad news. It's better if information is given in a gentle way rather than hitting people over the head."
"Readers do become numb to bad news," agrees Jonathan Cobb, editor-in-chief of Shearwater Books, the Island Press imprint. "We're very sensitive to that. At Island, our emphasis is: 'Okay, this is the situation, what do you do about it?' " Shearwater's May release, Requiem for Nature by ecologist John Terborgh, points to failing conservation efforts and proposes ways to make them work. One of Island's major projects this year is an October CD-ROM by E.O. Wilson, Conserving Earth's Biodiversity. Interestingly, next April, Counterpoint publishes Wendell Berry's Life Is a Miracle, in which he questions certain conclusions Wilson made in his 1998 title Consilience (Knopf).
Other recent and upcoming books seeking to awaken awareness include Watching, from the Edge of Extinction (Yale Univ. Press, Apr.) by Beverly and Stephen Stearns; Swift as a Shadow (Houghton Mifflin/Mariner, June) by Rosamond Purcell, whose 105 color photographs depict extinct and endangered species; Hope Is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds (Tarcher, Mar. 2000) by Christopher Cokinos; and last month's Living Planet: Preserving Edens of the Earth (Crown) by the World Wildlife Fund, a book of 225 color photographs of imperiled biodiverse regions around the world. French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand took an airborne journey across five continents to capture fragile ecosystems in nearly 200 color photographs for Earth from Above (Abrams, Nov.).
Now associated with Conservation International, photographer Paige Deponte similarly stands witness to endangered regions. A year ago, she created the nonprofit Global Art in Action to produce four books aimed at directing attention to what we are losing. "CI g s into smaller areas they define as biological 'hot spots,' where diversity is threatened," Deponte notes. "I wanted to go there, too, and use my art to make a statement." The photography for GAIA I: Journey into Vanishing Worlds (distributed by D.A.P., Nov.) took Deponte from the Amazon to Madagascar and beyond to record such hot spots in 154 black-and-white photos printed as four-color. Including Mark Berry's p ms, the book will have an ambitious 50,000 first printing.
Photography is also a primary element in a new gift series introduced last month by NorthWord Press, which includes Wilderness Explored, with essays by Karen Kane, and Voice of the Waters by Tom Klein. Photographer Jean Mohr trains his camera on natural sights in places as diverse as Lapland and Algeria in At the Edge of the World (Reaktion Books, distributed by Consortium, Feb. 2000), the latest entry in the London publisher's Topographic series.
A primary strain of environment books probes humanity's connection to nature past, present and future. The Human Relationship with Nature: Development and Culture (MIT Press, Aug.) by Peter H. Kahn Jr. assesses the ways in which children learn about nature in different cultures. Forces of Change: A View of Nature (Apr. 2000) is a joint effort by National Geographic Books and the Smithsonian Institution assembling 200 color photos with essays by Stephen Jay Gould, John McPhee and many others reviewing interactive earthly transformations. Norton inaugurates the Global Century series in January, which in April will offer Something New Under the Sun by J.R. McNeill, who examines the changing relationship between us and our world.
An invitation to reflect upon individual experience is Hannah Hinchman's A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place, recently reprinted by Norton. Editor Alane Salierno Mason remarks, "The books I look for deal with human relationships with nature in an intimate way. A Trail Through Leaves is full of Hannah's drawings and observations about everything from the color of a frog's throat to a porcupine bone she found on a walk. It proposes journal-keeping as a way of paying attention to the world around you."
Much nature publishing, of course, is about the human reaction to specific places. Hiking more or less from west to east, a sampling includes Green Alaska: Dreams from the Far Coast (Counterpoint, May) by Nancy Lord; Desert: The Mojave and Death Valley (Abrams, Nov.), with photos by Jack Dykinga; Glen Canyon: Images of a Lost World (Museum of New Mexico Press, Nov.) by 87-year-old photographer Tad Nichols; Grand Canyon: True Stories of Life Below the Rim (Travelers' Tales, Aug.), edited by Sean O'Reilly et al.; The Undying West: A Chronicle of Montana's Camas Prairie (Fulcrum, Sept.) by Carlene Cross; Recovering the Prairie (Univ. of Wisconsin Press, Nov.), edited by Robert F. Sayre; The Everglades: An Environmental History (June) by David McCally and The Wild East: A Biography of the Great Smoky Mountains by Margaret L. Brown (both Univ. Press of Florida, Mar. 2000); The Rivers of South Carolina (Westcliffe, Oct.) by Barry Beasley, with photos by Thomas Blagden Jr.; Salt Tide: Cycles and Currents of Life Along the Mid-Atlantic Coast (Countryman Press, June) by Curtis J. Badger; and Hands on the Land: A History of the Vermont Landscape (MIT Press, Oct.) by Jan Albers. The whole globe is seen from above in three-dimensional images in Atlas in the Round: Our Planet as You've Never Seen It Before (Running Press, Sept.) by Keith Lye.
The Spiritual Component
An often remarked-upon aspect of nature writing is spirituality. As baby boomers age and as urban spread diminishes contact with the natural world, nostalgia for a more meaningful life deepens. Readers with such longings will encounter one woman's experience of finding a higher purpose in life through nature in Warner's recently published Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey by Jane Goodall. The noted naturalist is also at the heart of Jane Goodall: 40 Years at Gombe (Stewart Tabori & Chang, Oct.), produced in association with the Jane Goodall Institute, and of Africa in My Blood: A Life in Letters (Houghton Mifflin, Apr. 2000), a collection of Goodall's correspondence edited by Dale Peterson. Dharma Rain (Shambhala, Jan. 2000), edited by Stephanie Kaza and Kenneth Kraft, is a collection of Buddhist environmental philosophy, and Green Psychology: Cultivating a Spiritual Connection to the Natural World (Inner Traditions/Park Street, Aug.) by Ralph Metzner advocates a renewed association with the earth. Barbara J. Scot undertakes a spiritual journey in the shadow of Mount Hood in The Stations of Still Creek published this month by Sierra Club Books.
"Nature and environmental writing is intensely focused on the spiritual or inspirational," says Beth Gibson, publishing director of Sierra Club Books. "I see a number of books that incorporate one's personal journey with nature into the story. In these accounts, connecting with the natural world has been transformative for the author. It is, in fact, the reason or need for the telling of one's story." Gibson adds, "It has been that way since the beginning. A lot of early writers like John Muir and John Burroughs were spiritual in their own way."
Muir, in fact, is among many sharing in a boomlet reviving classic nature writing. The Quotable Nature Lover (Lyons Press, Oct.), a Nature Conservancy Book edited by John Murray, includes writers from Homer to Wallace Stegner. Next month Norton serves up Wild Fruits (Nov.), previously unpublished writings by Henry David Thoreau, edited by Bradley P. Dean, while Houghton Mifflin has just launched an entire Thoreau. Interlink distributes Sacred Summits: John Muir's Mountain Days (Canongate Publishing Ltd., Sept.) by Muir and edited by Graham White. Last April, Beacon published Writing the Western Landscape by Mary Austin and John Muir, edited by Ann H. Zwinger, and last month released a paper edition of Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson, edited by Linda Lear. The Essential Aldo Leopold: Quotations and Commentaries (Univ. of Wisconsin Press, Dec.), edited by Curt D. Meine and Richard L. Knight, joins For the Health of the Land: Previously Unpublished Essays and Other Writings (Shearwater, Oct.) by Aldo Leopold, edited by J. Baird Callicott and Eric T. Freyfogle.
These are all examples of enduring worth, a virtue that of course remains an editor's quarry. "I got attracted to nature writing in the first place because a lot of strong nonfiction people write about nature," Deanne Urmy, Beacon executive editor, tells PW. "Actually, I've stopped calling it nature writing because that sounds old-fashioned and limited. We've published what I call a sense-of-place list, the Concord Library, for eight or nine years, and I'm always looking for new voices like Jane Brox, whose Five Thousand Days Like This One [Mar.] is both an elegiac family history and a history of her family's farm and its surroundings in Massachusetts that enlarge the category of nature writing. A more complex and more literary look at natural systems seems essential to grab people's imaginations today."
How D s Your Garden Grow?
Farming is certainly a paradigm of living with nature, as is gardening with a protective eye to the land itself. Rodale's extensive list of gardening books has long stressed organic methods. In January, Bantam publishes Gardening for the Future of the Earth (A Seeds of Change Book) by Howard-Yana Shapiro and John Harrisson, and February will bring The Landscaping Revolution: Garden with Mother Nature, Not Against Her (NTC/Contemporary) by Andy Wasowski with Sally Wasowski.
While some plant, others seek out plants, occasionally for health reasons. Medicine Quest: In Search of Nature's Healing Secrets (Viking, Mar.) is Mark J. Plotkin's look at botanical as well as animal cures. Living on the Earth (Villard, Apr.) by Alicia Bay Laurel includes herbs to treat stomach ailments; this title became a surprise hippie bestseller (300,000 copies sold) when it was originally published nearly 30 years ago. Nature's Medicines: Plants That Heal (National Geographic Books, Apr. 2000) by J l L. Swerdlow specifies and illustrates 100 of the most curative plants. On the lighter side of green, Falcon added a trio of new titles to its Wildflower Field Guides this year, including Ozark Wildflowers (Apr.) by Don Kurz. Preserved blooms are the subject of Janie Feldman Gross's The Afterlife of Flowers, out next month from Running Press. Among the new Wildlife Trust Guides published by HarperCollins U.K. and distributed in the U.S. by Trafalgar Square are Wildflowers of Britain and Europe by Peter Huekels and Trees of Britain and Europe by Keith Rushforth (both Jan. 2000). Indeed, trees make a forest of new and forthcoming books, including Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England (Countryman Press, June) by Tom Wessels; Forests to Fight Poverty (Yale Univ. Press, Aug.), edited by Ralph Schmidt and Joyce Berry; Encyclopedia of North American Trees (Firefly, Mar. 2000) by Sam Benvie; and The Urban Tree Book: An Uncommon Field Guide for City and Town (Times Books, Apr. 2000) by Arthur Plotnik, in consultation with the Morton Arboretum.
Yale University Press attracted a good deal of media attention in July with its Life in the Treetops: Adventures of a Woman in Field Biology by Margaret D. Lowman. Jean Thomson Black, the press's senior editor for science and medicine, recalls, "When I was hired a little over nine years ago, I was asked to develop a strong list in life and environmental sciences." She cites environmental historian Brian Donahue's Reclaiming the Commons: Community Farms and Forests in a New England Town (Aug.) as a recent example. "As the '90s have evolved, sustainable development issues have come forward," she explains. "People want to learn how to have an impact on their communities. Another key issue is the health of ecosystems, especially as it pertains to humans. Look at the outbreak of St. Louis encephalitis in New York City. As climate changes, mosquit s that were once subtropical move farther north."
(Health is also a consideration on the opposite coast. "The biggest thing for us now," says Diana Pop, manager of Ecology Center Bookstore in Berkeley, Calif., "is biotechnology as in biogenetically engineered food." A significant title for her is Cloning the Buddha: The Moral Impact of Biotechnology (Quest, Aug.) by Richard Heinberg.)
A Small World, After All?
Clay Morgan, acquisitions editor for environmental sciences at MIT Press, agrees with his colleague at Yale that localities have assumed greater importance. "When the issue is global, people may not feel a real connection to it," he notes. "That's why there's more focus on communities. Books that focus on a smaller area or group often do better."
An extremely small area comes under scrutiny in A Field Guide to Your Own Back Yard (Countryman Press, June) by John Hanson Mitchell. "Most of our books have a regional slant to them," says Countryman marketing manager Emily A. Webb. "That's what readers are looking for: personal accounts that don't span the globe. Of course, that can also present a challenge in selling a book that won't necessarily have national appeal."
Small beings prowling the backyard provide the basis for several new books such as Insect Lives: Stories of Mystery and Romance from a Hidden World (Wiley, Nov.), edited by Erich Hoyt and Ted Schultz. Stackpole helps capture these critters permanently in How to Photograph Close-ups in Nature (Oct.) by Nancy Rotenberg and Michael Lustbader. Want smaller? Even microcosmic organisms are on view in Secret Worlds (Firefly, Oct.) by Stephen Dalton.
To the layperson's eye, some insects are more beautiful than others, and among the most pulchritudinous is the butterfly. Stepping up with advice is Florida Butterfly Gardening: A Complete Guide to Attracting, Identifying and Enjoying Butterflies of the Lower South (Univ. Press of Florida, Sept.) by Marc C. Minno and Maria Minno, and in August Houghton Mifflin released Chasing Monarchs: Migrating with the Butterflies of Passage by Robert Michael Pyle. Beacon scores a literary coup next April with Nabokov's Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings by Vladimir Nabokov, newly translated by Dmitri Nabokov, which Beacon's Deanne Urmy calls "a thinly veiled autobiography of Nabokov's passion for butterflies."
To James Powell, co-owner of the Chickadee Nature Store in Houston, this concentration on butterflies is no surprise. "We don't do much with literary books, but sales of field guides hold fairly steady. There is one category that has grown in the last couple of years," he says, "and that's butterflies and gardening for butterflies. We have birders here who now watch butterflies. One place where publishers are a little behind is with books on dragonflies and damselflies. Those are growing in interest, too."
Strictly for the Birds
Butterflies may be on the wing, but nothing soars like the popularity of birds. "There are more and more books published on birds," says Judy Edison, manager of the Audubon Nature Shop in Tucson, Ariz. "Our inventory keeps expanding, and any time we get a new field guide or a new edition of a book, we get a large response. We carry all the guides -- Audubon [from Knopf], Stokes [Little, Brown] and Peterson's [Houghton Mifflin]. One of our bestsellers is the new third edition of National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America [by Jon L. Dunn]."
Among the many recent and forthcoming titles about our chirping pals are: Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh (Stackpole, May) by John Eastman; The Nest: An Artist's Sketchbook (Stewart Tabori & Chang, Sept.) by Maryjo Koch; Penguin (Taschen, Nov.), with text and photos by Frans Lanting; and Stokes Oriole Book (Little, Brown, Feb. 2000) by Donald and Lillian Stokes. For the literary set, try On Wings of Song: P ms About Birds (Everyman's Library, Apr. 2000), edited by J.D. McClatchy. Entice them closer with Hand-Feeding Backyard Birds (Storey, Sept.) by Hugh Wiberg, Backyard Birdfeeding for Beginners (Three Rivers Press, May) by Mathew Tekulsky and Birdhouses and Feeders You Can Make (Stackpole, June) by Paul Gerhards.
Although birders may not think so, there's more to wildlife than that which wings hither and thither. Ranging from the Appalachians to the Alaska Range, America's Mountains: Guide to Plants and Animals (Fulcrum, Apr.) by Marianne D. Wallace identifies more than 100 fauna and flora. Beasts from caribou to alligators show up in North American Wildlife (Graphic Arts Center, Oct.) by David Jones, while the best places to sight animals are identified in a Falcon series including West Virginia Wildlife Viewing Guide (May) by Mark Damian Duda. Animals, plants and natural environments are depicted in regional Audubon guides from Knopf, the newest of which are National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Southeastern States and ...Southwestern States (both Sept.). Wonders ranging from the aurora borealis to glaciers are portrayed by Robert Armstrong and Marge Hermans in the pocket guide Alaska's Natural Wonders: Natural Phenomena of the Far North (Alaska Northwest Books, May).
Individual animals (and other creatures) offer a menagerie of subjects. Parading crawlies in stereoscopic vision, Chronicle Books offers Amphibians & Reptiles in 3-D (Oct.) by Mark Blum. In July, Voyageur Press released Snakes, with close-up photos by John Netherton. "We try to be selective in what we do," says John Wilson, director of Gulf Publishing Book Division, which has a backlist of birding books and others on marine life, shells and reptiles. "We've done really well with our field guide to Texas snakes, so we decided to play to our strength." This month Gulf releases a very large project, a two-volume set with full-color photos of every species and subspecies of serpent in the U.S.: Snakes of North America: Western Region and ...Eastern and Central Regions, both by R.D. Bartlett and Alan Tennant. "Interest in nature is always high," adds Wilson. "A lot of it is driven by TV. You turn on any basic cable system and there's the Discovery Channel.
Those for whom snakes are not irresistible companions can turn to the Johnson Nature Series from Johnson Books, which now numbers five. "To date, our most popular volume has been Squirrels," says marketing director Richard Croog. "This animal can be observed both in rural and urban environments, which makes it the perfect subject for watchers of wildlife." Other houses take on larger beasts in Caribou: Wanderer of the Tundra (Graphic Arts Center, June) by Tom Walker and Whitetail Monarchs: Legends of Autumn (Willow Creek Press, Nov.), a portrait of whitetail deer by George Barnett. For a stroll on the wilder side, Terry D. DeBruyn g s Walking with Bears (Lyons Press, Oct.).
"Bears have been good for us," Lyons's chairman of the board, Nick Lyons tells PW. "We've sold upward of 150,000 copies of Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance [by Stephen Herrero]. We've always had a commitment to nature and the environment, and in recent years, we've been doing more. We've been getting better books because some of the bigger houses are not interested in serious essays about the natural world, or they allow them to go out of print and we pick them up." Falcon, too, has had good luck with bears. Mark of the Grizzly by Scott McMillion has sold more than 40,000 copies since it was published last year.
"Field guides are huge sellers for us," says Margaret Maupin, buyer at Denver's Tattered Cover, "but in this part of the country, people are also very interested in books about wolves and about grizzlies. People are attracted to any animal imbued with some kind of mythical quality and want to do more than just look at pictures. They want to read about them."
One possibly mythic consideration is whether animals have cognitive powers. In May, Holt published Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think by Marc Hauser. For Dutton, it's The Parrot's Lament: And Other True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence and Ingenuity (Sept.) by Eugene Linden. However, whether or not they think, they do fight to survive. The means of attack and defense developed over three billion years are presented in Evolutionary Wars: The Battle of Species on Land, Sea, and Air (W.H. Freeman, Oct.) by Charles Kingsley Levy and Trudy Nicholson.
A large sector of animal lovers decries the work of hunters, but those who stalk game often don the mantle of environmentalist. "Jim Posewitz sees himself as an heir to Aldo Leopold," says Max Phelps, director of sales and marketing at Falcon. "His latest, Inherit the Hunt, thoughtfully approaches the issue of hunting ethics." In the June book, Posewitz addresses political, social and environmental matters pertaining to access to public game at a time when private interests are increasingly exploiting game herds for profit. Another take on this arena is Wildlife Wars: The Life and Times of a Fish and Game Warden (Johnson Books, Sept.) by Terry Grosz, who has dealt with elk poachers, salmon snaggers and duck harvesters. Derrydale Press, now owned by Rowman and Littlefield and distributed by NBN, is reissuing titles it originally published decades ago, including, from the 1930s, British and American Game Birds (Oct.) by H.B.C. Pollard and Phyllis Barclay-Smith. 100 Years of Hunting is due from Voyageur in November as is The Waterfowler's World (Willow Creek Press) by Bill Buckley.
Sometimes the tables are turned, as William B. Karesh reports in Appointment at the Ends of the World: Memoirs of a Wildlife Veterinarian (Warner, June) when an enraged elephant targets the good doctor. Paul Rezendes tells, among other things, about learning compassion from a 750-pound bull moose in The Wild Within: Adventures in Nature and Animal Teachings (Berkley trade paper, Oct.). But then, adventure is a vital aspect of nature writing. Conquering the wild north country is necessary to win the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, a feat John Balzar records in Yukon Alone: The World's Toughest Adventure Race (Holt, Jan.). Stamina is similarly a prerequisite when challenging mountains, as portrayed in The Other Side of Everest: Climbing the North Face Through the Killer Storm (Times Books, May) by Matt Dickinson. "Natural forces become natural disasters only when they get in the way of human endeavor," writes McKay Jenkins in The White Death: Tragedy and Heroism in an Avalanche Zone (Random House, Feb. 2000), which recalls the catastrophe that befell five young climbers in Glacier National Park.
Before leaving the world of nature, commerce deserves an observation. Bill Rusin, Norton's v-p of trade sales, notes that he has "seen a significant expansion of the market for nature and environment books through the Discovery stores, Store of Knowledge, Nature Company and Learningsmith." "We signed on with a gift rep about nine months ago," says Countryman Press's Emily Webb. "We also sell to places like the Vermont Historical Society and to mail-order catalogues like Forest Shop Ltd." Webb adds that college environmental courses create sales. "Our publishing program has accelerated dramatically in recent years," says Falcon's Max Phelps. "Three or four years ago, we were publishing 40 titles a year. Now it's over 100. Far and away the best opportunity for selling outside the markets the books pertain to are bookstores, but other outlets proliferate as well, such as shops in national and state parks and Audubon educational centers. We also look a lot at visitor origins. For example, the best represented state for visitors at Yellowstone is Texas, so we use that to sell books on Yellowstone into Texas."
If the foregoing can't answer every question on nature and the environment, there's always The Old Farmer's Almanac: A Millennium Primer (Time-Life, Sept.), which would seem to be about as basic and timely as it is possible to get. But no. Marci Krishnamoorthy of the Nature Nook says, "We do well with most of the environmental writers -- Edward Abbey, John Muir, Thoreau -- but do you know what our bestselling books for the past year have been? Both are published by Kane/Miller and are translated from the Japanese. They're The Gas We Pass [by Shinta Cho] and Everyone Poops [by Taro Gomi]."