Nature Writing, About This Catalog

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        We began this catalog with an idea that we would attempt to collect and represent the best "nature writing" being done today, in the conviction that the best nature writing today was among the best writing of any sort being done and that, more frequently than any other genre, it addressed the great questions facing human societies on the earth at the dawn of the 21st century -- not only ecological and environmental but, of necessity, also political, moral and even spiritual. We felt that today's best "nature writers" have a clarity and strength of vision that is unrivalled in our literature, at any time: by "standing on the shoulders of giants" -- Emerson, Thoreau, John Muir, John Wesley Powell -- today's writers see farther and more clearly than even their exalted predecessors did, and if there was ever a moment when such far-sighted vision was necessary to our survival on the planet -- let alone the planet's own ability to survive us -- it is now.
        What we found as we began to assemble the books that comprise this catalog was that, if we drew our lines too narrowly -- only including those writers already widely characterized as "nature writers" -- we would miss some of the most compelling writing that addresses these fundamental questions: on the one hand, there were scientists, whose work would seldom be considered as "literary," who were nonetheless using their writing to shape and re-shape our vision of the natural world, and our vision of ourselves within it. On the other hand, there were literary authors who would not in a thousand years be considered "nature writers," whose work not only addressed these questions but helped frame new answers to them -- building on our evolving cultural heritage the way scientists build on evolving scientific theories. To have excluded either group would have risked doing that which we were explicitly trying to avoid -- "ghetto-izing" nature writers as a small, marginal, and ultimately dismissable branch of contemporary writing, neither literary enough to be considered true literature, nor scientific enough to be considered true, and important, science.
        The risk in the other direction is, of course, equally great: by casting one's net too widely, one risks diluting the very notion of this kind of literature as a unique and powerful phenomenon. If every poet who ever used an image drawn from the natural world were included, this would be, for the most part, a poetry catalog. If ever scientist whose concerns were aimed at addressing critical questions of life on earth were included, the catalog would not only never end but it would simply be a futile attempt at recapitulating the history of western science. Neither of these possibilities was desirable, but where to draw the lines?
        Our focus became one that attempted to fuse as many of the following approaches as possible, and to find the writers whose work consistently embodied them: a commitment to a literary aesthetic, and the value implicit in one; a respect for scientific rigor; an awareness of social responsibility and the implications of man's interactions with his environment; and, finally, an openness to epistemological questions as well as tangible scientific, social and political ones -- that is, a consideration of how we know what we know and an openness to inquiring into other possible ways of knowing, be they literary or scientific, borrowed from tribal cultures or the animal kingdom, or infused with that particularly human quality that we characterize as imagination.
        That still leaves a pretty wide net to cast and, at the same time, not all of the writers included in this catalog embody all of those approaches. But the underlying assumptions of the importance of the questions and the openness to discovering new, unanticipated answers to them provides a strand that links the writers included in these pages, and helps define that which they share in terms of perspective and values. We've tried to be inclusive in this catalog, listing writers who are primarily known as scientists, some who are primarily recognized as poets, and others who write fiction or literary essays. Still, we make no attempt to claim that all writers who could, or should, be included in a catalog such as this are represented herein. We offer a sampling, in the hope that this catalog is a launching point for a voyage of discovery as interesting and challenging for you as it has been for us, and that these books and authors will lead the reader, collector or librarian to other writers not listed in these pages.
        As usual, all books in this catalog are first editions unless otherwise noted. As much as possible, they are presented in their original condition, with dust jackets if issued as such or in the original bindings. Exceptions to these norms are explicitly noted. In addition to presenting important titles in their original editions, we have made an effort to offer special copies of significant books -- signed copies and, where possible, association copies that link the author with another major figure in the field. We feel that a number of the books included in this catalog qualify as historically significant copies -- landmarks in a field that is one of the most exciting in contemporary American literature. We hope you find them equally fascinating, and that they help enhance the book collections in which they fit, whether personal or institutional.
        We are happy to accept want lists in this area, and to actively assist in building collections in this field.

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