100 Greatest Books of American Nature Writing

Criteria: Nature writing is a prose genre that typically combines four major aspects: accounts of experience in natural settings, descriptions of natural phenomena, factual information about the natural world, and philosophical reflections, particularly on humanity's relationship to nature. Sketches of human individuals and communities may play a significant role but typically emphasize relations to certain aspects of nature. The genre really came of age with the writings of its greatest exemplar, Henry David Thoreau, although he, of course, had a number of precursors. The works on this list, all with American settings, were chosen for their importance to the development of the genre, the quality of their content, their aesthetic and literary merit, and their influence and durability. I've tried to take a long view of the subject, and the list is meant to serve as a springboard for discussion and exploration.
Greatest Books of American Nature Writing
1. Walden
Henry David Thoreau (1854)
2. A Sand County Almanac
Aldo Leopold (1949)
3. The Outermost House
Henry Beston (1928)
4. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Annie Dillard (1974)
5. Encounters with the Archdruid
John McPhee (1971)
6. The Immense Journey
Loren Eiseley (1957)
7. Desert Solitaire
Edward Abbey (1968)
8. Refuge
Terry Tempest Williams (1991)
9. The Mountains of California
John Muir (1894)
10. Cape Cod
Henry David Thoreau (1865)
11. The Maine Woods
Henry David Thoreau (1864)
12. Coming into the Country
John McPhee (1977)
13. The Desert Year
Joseph Wood Krutch (1952)
14. Spring in Washington
Louis J. Halle (1947)
15. The Solace of Open Spaces
Gretel Ehrlich (1985)
16. The Yosemite
John Muir (1912)
17. The Pine Barrens
John McPhee (1968)
18. The Land of Little Rain
Mary Austin (1903)
19. My First Summer in the Sierra
John Muir (1911)
20. Travels
William Bartram (1791)
21. Arctic Dreams
Barry Lopez (1986)
22. The Exploration of the Colorado River
John Wesley Powell (1875)
23. One Day on Beetle Rock
Sally Carrighar (1944)
24. Time and Change
John Burroughs (1912)
25. An Almanac for Moderns
Donald Culross Peattie (1935)
26. The Holy Earth
Liberty Hyde Bailey (1915)
27. The Journey Home
Edward Abbey (1977)
28. The Home Place
J. Drew Lanham (2017)
29. The Unexpected Universe
Loren Eiseley (1968)
30. Under the Sea-Wind
Rachel Carson (1941)
31. The Singing Wilderness
Sigurd Olson (1956)
32. Beyond the Aspen Grove
Ann Zwinger (1970)
33. The Great Beach
John Hay (1964)
34. Common Ground
Robert Finch (1981)
35. North with the Spring
Edwin Way Teale (1951)
36. The Inland Island
Josephine Johnson (1969)
37. The Winter Beach
Charlton Ogburn (1966)
38. The Man Who Walked through Time
Colin Fletcher (1968)
39. Icebound Summer
Sally Carrighar (1953)
40. Walking the Dead Diamond River
Edward Hoagland (1973)
41. The Sound of Mountain Water
Wallace Stegner (1969)
42. The Everglades: River of Grass
Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1947)
43. The Peregrine Falcon
Robert Murphy (1963)
44. Run, River, Run
Ann Zwinger (1975)
45. The Dark Range
David Rains Wallace (1978)
46. Of Wolves and Men
Barry Lopez (1978)
47. The Desert Smells Like Rain
Gary Nabhan (1982)
48. The Sea Around Us
Rachel Carson (1950)
49. The Endless Migrations
Roger Caras (1985)
50. Writing from the Center
Scott Russell Sanders (1995)
51. The Twelve Seasons
Joseph Wood Krutch (1949)
52. Listening Point
Sigurd Olson (1958)
53. The Desert
John Charles Van Dyke (1901)
54. A Match to the Heart
Gretel Ehrlich (1994)
55. Rural Hours
Susan Fenimore Cooper (1850)
56. The Country Year
Sue Hubbell (1986)
57. One Day at Teton Marsh
Sally Carrighar (1947)
58. Crossing Open Ground
Barry Lopez (1988)
59. A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Rebecca Solnit (2005)
60. Roadless Area
Paul Brooks (1964)
61. Birds over America
Roger Tory Peterson (1948)
62. The Gift of the Deer
Helen Hoover (1966)
63. The Voice of the Desert
Joseph Wood Krutch (1954)
64. The Adventure of Birds
Charlton Ogburn (1976)
65. Wind in the Rock
Ann Zwinger (1978)
66. Nature for Its Own Sake
John Charles Van Dyke (1898)
67. Flowering Earth
Donald Culross Peattie (1939)
68. A Journal of Travels into the Alaskan Territory
Thomas Nuttall (1821)
69. Rising
Elizabeth Rush (2018)
70. The St. Lawrence
Henry Beston (1942)
71. Locusts and Wild Honey
John Burroughs (1879)
72. On Trails
Robert Moor (2016)
73. The Night Country
Loren Eiseley (1971)
74. The Road of a Naturalist
Donald Culross Peattie (1941)
75. Earth House Hold
Gary Snyder (1969)
76. Why I Came West
Rick Bass (2008)
77. Woodswoman
Ann LaBastille (1976)
78. Kingbird Highway
Kenn Kaufman (1997)
79. Keith County Journal
John Janovy (1978)
80. Cactus Country
Edward Abbey (1973)
81. A Place in the Woods
Helen Hoover (1969)
82. Red Wolves and Black Bears
Edward Hoagland (1976)
83. Beautiful Swimmers
William Warner (1976)
84. How to Become Extinct
Will Cuppy (1941)
85. Living Off the Country
John Haines (1981)
86. Four Seasons North
Billie Wright (1973)
87. Winter: Notes from Montana
Rick Bass (1991)
88. Runes of the North
Sigurd Olson (1963)
89. The Edge of the Sea
Rachel Carson (1955)
90. Our Inland Sea
Alfred Lambourne (1909)
91. The Wind Masters
Pete Dunne (1995)
92. Birds against Men
Louis J. Halle (1938)
93. Unseen Life of New York
William Beebe (1953)
94. Wintering
Diana Kappell-Smith (1984)
95. The Friendship of Nature
Mabel Osgood Wright (1894)
96. Wake-Robin
John Burroughs (1871)
97. Teaching a Stone to Talk
Annie Dillard (1982)
98. Virga & Bone
Craig Childs (2019)
99. Studies in the Field and Forest
Wilson Flagg (1857)
100. We Took to the Woods
Louise Dickinson Rich (1942)

Henry David Thoreau

Aldo Leopold

Henry Beston

Annie Dillard

Some Other Important American Books About Nature
These works deal more with ideas, facts, or problems than with the direct experience of humans or other animals in nature, but they are still touchstones in discussions of writing about nature, so I wanted to acknowledge them:
Letters from an American Farmer
Hector St. John de Crevecoeur (1782)
Notes on the State of Virginia
Thomas Jefferson (1785)
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836)
The Earth as Modified by Human Action
George Perkins Marsh (1874)
Beyond the Hundredth Meridian
Wallace Stegner (1954)
Wildlife in America
Peter Matthiessen (1959)
The Firmament of Time
Loren Eiseley (1960)
Silent Spring
Rachel Carson (1962)
The Machine in the Garden
Leo Marx (1964)
Wilderness and the American Mind
Roderick Nash (1967)
E.O. Wilson (1975)
Nature's Economy
Donald Worster (1977)
The Unsettling of America
Wendell Berry (1977)
The Arrogance of Humanism
David Ehrenfeld (1978)
Woman and Nature
Susan Griffin (1978)
Beyond Geography: The Western Spirit against the Wilderness
Frederick Turner (1980)
Nature and Madness
Paul Shepard (1982)
Animal Thinking
Donald Griffin (1984)
E.O. Wilson (1984)
The End of Nature
Bill McKibben (1989)
The Diversity of Life
E.O. Wilson (1992)
Annals of the Former World
John McPhee (1998)
The World without Us
Alan Weisman (2007)
This Changes Everything
Naomi Klein (2014)
The Sixth Extinction
Elizabeth Kolbert (2016)
Being the Change
Peter Kalmus (2017)
The New Climate War
Michael Mann (2021)

Major Anthologies of American Nature Writing
Great American Nature Writing
Joseph Wood Krutch (1950)
This Incomperable Lande
Thomas J. Lyon (1989)
The Norton Book of Nature Writing
Robert Finch & John Elder (2002)
American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau
Bill McKibben (2008)

Nature Poets
All the works on this list are prose, but American poets have also, of course, written extensively about nature. Although many names could be mentioned, particularly notable in this regard are:
Robert Frost (1874-1963)
Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)
Robert Francis (1901-1987)
Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)
A.R. Ammons (1926-2001)
Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

Robert Frost

And lastly, I wanted to mention probably the greatest book of nature writing by an American about another region (namely, the Himalayas) and in my view one of the finest of all American nonfiction books:
The Snow Leopard
Peter Matthiessen (1978)

Last updated: 2022-09-20