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8 Books to Take You Back to Nature


As the temperature drops to an autumn chill and fall cocktails make their annual appearance, who isn’t looking for a good book to curl up with and enjoy? There’s a plethora of nature-themed books out there; check out one of these if you want to laugh, ponder, or get motivated to do something positive for mother nature.

1. Walden; or, Life in the Woods – Henry David Thoreau (Ticknor and Fields: Boston, 1854).

Obligatory on any nature-themed book list is this classic by Henry David Thoreau. It’s as if Ron Swanson gave up his government job in Pawnee and decided to write a book while living out his dreams as an off-the-grid individualist (and was also transported to the mid-1800’s).

In Walden, Thoreau documents his spiritual quest while living for two years, almost completely self-reliant on Walden Pond in Massachusetts.During this time, he reflects on what he truly needs to survive and be happy, which it turns out, is not much.

I imagine Thoreau would be exasperated at our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and preoccupation with social media (just like Ron Swanson), but it’s interesting to get inside the head of a man who is so completely different from our generation but who we can relate to all the same.

2. Isaac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History – Erik Larson (Vintage: New York, 2000).

Before Irene, before Katrina, and even before hurricanes received handy monikers, there was the 1900 hurricane that hit a tiny island, Galveston, off the coast of Texas. It was the deadliest hurricane ever to hit the U.S. leaving up to 12,000 dead. Compare that to Katrina, which left 1,800 dead. With improved weather reporting and infrastructure to protect us, we are less vulnerable to natural disasters and often do not realize their full potential.

Isaac’s Storm tells the story of the fateful storm from the perspective of Issac Cline, the chief meteorologist of the U.S. Weather Bureau at the time, who shrugged off the threat of the hurricane just before it took out the entire island. Today, at a time when there are heightened concerns about climate change and looming disasters, this page-turner reminds us that the power of nature should never be underestimated.

3. Silent Spring – Rachel Carson (Houghton Mifflin, 1962).

If you are under the impression that concerns about environment are a relatively new trend, Rachel Carson’s environmental science book will snatch that notion right out of your head. Silent Spring brings to light the effects of pesticides on the environment, and on birds in particular. After its release, it was met by harsh criticism by chemical companies, but spawned a movement that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. In a theme much different from Isaac’s Storm, it shows that humans also pose a major threat to the environment.

4. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail – Bill Bryson (HarperCollins, 1998).

It’s not common to come across a nature themed book that can also make you laugh, but Bill Bryson accomplished just that when he documented his trek on the Appalachian Trail. Although it mostly reads like a series of beautifully written complaints, Bryson does manage to bring to light the differences between our “civilized” world and the wild, untamed woods.

It is easy for us to think of the woods as a romantic getaway to spend time eating s’mores by the campfire, but there are also uncomfortable, frustrating, and scary aspects to the wilderness that are not captured in those beautiful Pinterest camping photos. The combination of quiet wonder and pure exhaustion is clear when he notes:

When, after ages and ages, you finally reach the tell-tale world of truly high ground, where the chilled air smells of pine sap and the vegetation is gnarled and tough and wind-bent, and push through to the mountain’s open pinnacle, you are, alas, past caring (36).

Bryson paints a less-than-ideal picture of the wilderness, yet you will come away from this book strangely craving adventure, even with its many discomforts and inconveniences.

5. Talking with Nature – Michael Roads (New World Library: Novato, California, 1987).

This is one of those books that you must read to believe. In “Talking with Nature,” Roads shares his experiences of communicating with the natural surroundings of his Australian backyard, including a river, the wind, and various plants and animals. This book documents his journey as he lets go of fear, and lives guided by the words of wisdom that nature provides him.

Even for skeptics, this is a wondrous read, filled with delightful descriptions of the Australian landscape, and complimented by some fine illustrations.

6. American Primitive – Mary Oliver (Back Bay Books: New York, 1983).

This collection of poems by Mary Oliver comments on both beautiful and unsavory aspects of nature. Nature is both profound and cruel, and this collection prompts the reader to accept both realities. In “The Fish,” the speaker catches her first fish, then later skins and eats it. Of the experience, she notes:

…Out of pain,and pain, and more pain we feed this feverish plot, we are nourished by the mystery (56).

It is necessary to take life from another being in order to sustain your own. This collection by Oliver depicts nature as it is—beautiful and cruel—and entices the reader accept and ponder various aspects of natural life.

7. Jonathon Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach (Avon Books: New York, 1970).

A delightful novella set against the backdrop of an ocean, an ever-changing sky, and distant cliffs, “Jonathon Livingston Seagull” tells the story of a bird who wishes more for his life than scrounging for chum. By perfecting his form and working tirelessly on his ability to fly higher and faster, Jonathon Seagull is able to experience natural wonders, flying through both clear skies and sea-fog

“…in the very times when every other gull stood on the ground, knowing nothing but mist and rain” (41).

This quick read doesn’t just encourage readers to get outside and feel the fresh air; it is a message to stand out and follow your passions, wherever they may take you.

8. Poems by Robert Frost – A Boy’s Will and North of Boston (Signet Classics: New York, 2001).

Many of the poems in Frost’s first two books depict a pastoral lifestyle and the natural landscape that surrounds it. The poem “October,” is especially appropriate, as the speaker begs time to slow down. The poem reads,

The crows above the forest call;To-morrow they may form and go.

O hushed October morning mild,

Begin the hours of this day slow… (59).

Soon, winter will arrive, so go outside and experience the crispness of fall while it is here for us to enjoy.

Whether you like nonfiction nature tales, motivational novellas, or classic poetry, there are plenty of great books to take you back to nature. A book might just inspire you to take a stroll and enjoy the great outdoors, or even call you to action to preserve earth’s natural beauty. This fall, pick up a great read and see where it takes you.

What nature-themed books do you plan on reading this fall? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author

Natalee Desotell

Natalee graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013 with a triple major in Political Science, International Politics & Economics, Languages & Cultures of Asia, and a minor in Global Public Health. After a couple years in the working world, she recently returned to her alma mater to study Cartography and Geographical Information Systems. A self-proclaimed public health nerd, her dream job is to communicate epidemiological information visually through beautiful interactive maps and graphics. She enjoys iced black coffee, punk rock music, and surprising people.

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