August 18, 2007 | By:

#14 Around the Campfire; Books of the Big Outside

As I became interested in conservation, I read the classic books of conservation and have been reading and collecting conservation books ever since. I began selling books in the early years of the Earth First! Journal with Michael Soulé and Bruce Wilcox’s Conservation Biology.

When I left Earth First!, I started a mail-order conservation book catalog, which my sister and I ran until 1995. This year I adapted the old catalog and its reviews as a section of the Rewilding website. I’ve just finished an expansion of the book list and have written a bunch of new reviews for books published after 1995. To acquaint more folks with the Books of the Big Outside feature, I’ve taken excerpts from the introduction and reviews of six recent conservation books of note for this issue of “Around the Campfire.”

I am weary of civilization’s madness and I yearn for the harmonious gladness of the woods and of the streams. I am tired of your piles of buildings and I ache from your iron streets. I feel jailed in your greatest cities and I long for the unharnessed freedom of the big outside.

–Will Dilg, founder of the Izaak Walton League, ca 1925


I’ve often argued that real understanding is out there—in the Big Outside, in the great loneliness; that wisdom is more likely to be found listening to goose music or watching the flow of a river than in books or classrooms. I believe that individuals can have direct and personal relationships to the natural world, to Aldo Leopold’s “wild things,” and need no go-betweens. Nevertheless, there are insightful and wise individuals who are able to eloquently articulate the wisdom from the wild, or who can draw profound lessons from human history that are in harmony with such wild wisdom. The books they have given us are a priceless resource for defenders of things natural.

I have become worried lately that many new conservationists, including some who work for conservation groups, do not read nearly enough. Without becoming familiar with classic conservation books, conservationists do not know the lore of our family; moreover, they can get their facts confused or just plain wrong when they speak in public or write articles. I don’t mean this as a put-down of folks who work their hearts out for the wild; it is a cold, hard fact of our overworked conservation community. Of course, there are exceptions—I’m often asked, “What books are most important for me to read?” Bringing back “Books of the Big Outside” is my answer to the problem, and to the question.

The purpose of this part of The Rewilding Website is to make important books known to the defenders of wild Nature. Many books included here are little known and cry out to be read. The great battles for wild Nature are here, as are the lessons learned from them. It’s also through these books that we can share the campfire with John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Bob Marshall, Rosalie Edge, Edward Abbey, Celia Hunter, Dave Brower, and Olaus and Mardy Murie. Also here is essential information about wild Nature: conservation biology, conservation ethics, and how conservation is done on the ground. The many threats to the diversity of life and the quiet of wilderness are described in the books reviewed here. I hope that my descriptions of books will help you decide which are of most value to you. I am, of course, alternately damned and praised for my strong opinions, so be aware that my descriptions and selections reflect my biases.

Please click on the attachment below to read the entire “Campfire.”


Spread Rewilding Around the Globe!
Subscribe To Comments On This Article
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x