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Through the Eyes of Books

Updated: Feb 29

In 1942, Aldo Leopold began writing the essays that would later become the classic, A Sand County Almanac. Interestingly, this book almost never happened. As Leopold worked on the manuscript, he shopped it over several years to various publishers and was regularly and ceremoniously rejected. One denial by The MacMillan Company (July 20, 1944) seemed especially harsh when they stated, “…we do not feel that a volume of essays on outdoor topics would find a wide enough market to warrant our use of paper at this time.”

Nevertheless, Leopold would not be deterred and finally would be rewarded when Oxford University Press agreed, on April 14, 1948, to publish his manuscript under the title “Great Possessions.” His deadline to submit the “finally revised manuscript,” as illustrated by Missouri artist Charles W. Schwartz, was October 31, 1948, but seven days later, Leopold would die while fighting a neighbors grass fire near his famously known shack along the Wisconsin River.

Eventually, through the efforts of family and friends, the manuscript would be submitted and the book, under the new title A Sand County Almanac would be printed in 1949. Probably a bittersweet moment for the Leopold family as his writing would be forever memorialized in print but for 20 years would sell poorly. However, as the modern environmental movement unfolded in the late 1960s, the book would emerge to become an enduring masterpiece about conservation, having sold many millions of copies in 15 different languages. This year is the 75th anniversary of this Leopold classic. Of all the books with a conservation/nature theme, there may be none more important or enduring. It is a must read for everyone.

NOTE: The Aldo Leopold Foundation is marking the anniversary of ASCA with the release of a paperback edition at 50% off the normal price. See website:

This got me thinking about other books I enjoy because of how they help me understand conservation, nature, and the out-of-doors in ways I may never experience. I thought about assembling a list of recommendations but the task seemed impossible. There’s too many great offerings and I’m too far behind in my own reading to speak with any authority. So, I asked a few friends to help me sample the question: What conservation/nature/outdoors related books have you read that you would highly recommend to the uninitiated?

I started my inquiry with John Schulz, a friend, former colleague, and one of the most well-read individuals I know.

A Sand County Almanac and Silent Spring get much deserved attention but they alone can’t build an enduring foundation of conservation and ecological knowledge,” said John. “Man and Nature (Marsh) is credited as one of the first conservation texts, but much of its story can be found in the introduction and final chapter; everything in-between is a good guess for what folks knew at the time. I’ve found the best introductory conservation text to be Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas (Worster),” John continued. “He takes a sweeping look at the full breadth of nature/conservation thought ranging from the early Romantic era writers of Longfellow, Emerson, and Thoreau to modern writers/thinkers in what we’d consider the modern ecological age. Nash’s Wilderness & The American Mind is similar in its sweeping scale of conservation thought about the relationship between people and the natural world.”

Lastly, said Schulz, “I’d suggest Grinnell: America’s Environmental Pioneer and His Restless Drive to Save the West (Taliaferro). Along with telling the life story about Grinnell and his passion for conservation, the book paints a portrait of Western life before, during, and after settlement with an unvarnished description of what White Europeans did to Native Americans.”

Next I checked with Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM) Executive Director Tyler Schwartze and his predecessors, Brandon Butler and Dave Murphy.

“From a conservation perspective, Man and Wildlife in Missouri (Callison) immediately comes to mind. I suspect others might say that as well,” said Tyler. “From the recreation/nature perspective, I think Richard Louv's, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder is a good read.

Butler (and also Murphy) offered Meditations on Hunting (Gasset). "Gasset attempts to explain why modern humans continue to hunt,” said Butler. “He delivers the stages hunters go through on their way to a greater concern for all life. This book should make the reader appreciate their fellow hunters more, by understanding we are not at the same place at the same time. Moving through the stages turns hunters into conservationists.”

Murphy responded, “Few are the books I’ve read (and usually loved) from which I’ve learned nothing. A simple fellow like me is invariably inspired by such readings. Among love stories, I suppose A Sand County Almanac and The Singing Wilderness (Olson), or A River Never Sleeps (Haig-Brown). Of local products with global weight, Man and Wildlife in Missouri, The First 50 Years (Keefe), or even Our Margin on Life (Poirot). These I have read repeatedly, gathering gems during each exposure.”

Another friend and CFM President-Elect Ginny Wallace offered Bringing Nature Home (Tallamy), along with A Sand County Almanac.

“These are the two I gave my engineer dad to read to help him understand why I chose a career in conservation. “Those books changed his thinking and he, in turn, bought copies of both to share with friends and other family members," said Ginny.

"In Bringing Nature Home, Tallamy makes the connection between native plants, gardens, and biodiversity. He tells the stories of how individual gardeners, collectively, can protect and conserve local biological diversity,” offered Wallace. “For years native plant advocates have been promoting the use of natives in home gardens, but it wasn't until this book that people really made the connection between those plants, pollinators, and the insects birds require to fledge their young.”

Having experienced 10 of these titles suggested by friends, I now had enough courage to offer a few others to the list. On the historic side of things, I’ll recommend American Sportsmen (Reiger). This book also gives a nice overview without working too hard and sets the stage nicely for exploring Marsh and Grinnell as mentioned earlier.

Another great conservation story with a historical context, The Big Burn (Egan) will take you back to 1910, the time of a terrible western drought, uncontrollable fire, and the leadership of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot. Given today’s issues with climate change, you’ll see some similarities in this terrifying and fantastic recount.

And of course, if Leopold is your thing, his biography, Aldo Leopold (Meine) will take you deep into the mind, life, and influences that created this American icon; an absolutely fascinating read.

Lastly, Murphy suggested keeping a list of books read. “One rekindles good recollections by reviewing such a list. Very pleasant, intensely pleasant for a bookworm.”

I like this idea and created a starter list from my inquiry to help you begin your own quest into great reading about conservation and nature. May it lead you to many pleasant thoughts and a greater awareness of this thing we call conservation.

                                                                                                                                  Dan Zekor



The Starter List

Aldo Leopold (1988) by Curt Meine

American Sportsmen (2001) by John F. Reiger

A River Never Sleeps (2012) by Roderick L. Haig-Brown

A Sand County Almanac (1949) by Aldo Leopold

Bringing Nature Home (2007) by Doug Tallamy

Finding the Mother Tree (2021) by Suzanne Simard

Game Management (1933) by Aldo Leopold

Grinnell: America’s Environmental Pioneer and His Restless Drive to Save the West (2019) by John Taliaferro

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder (2005) by Richard Louv

Man and Nature (1864) by George Perkins Marsh

Man and Wildlife in Missouri (1953) by Charles Callison

Meditations on Hunting (1972) by Jose Ortega y Gasset

Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas (1977) by Donald Worster

Our Margin of Life (1978) by Eugene M. Poirot

Silent Spring (1962) by Rachel Carson

The Big Burn (2009) by Timothy Egan

The Bobwhite Quail (1931) by Herbert L. Stoddard

The First Fifty Years (1987) by James F. Keefe

The Singing Wilderness (1956) by Sigurd F. Olson

Wilderness & The American Mind (2014) by Roderick Nash

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