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.

Last updated: 2022-09-20
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
Henry David Thoreau


Aldo Leopold
Aldo Leopold

A Sand County Almanac

Henry Beston
Henry Beston

The Outermost House

Annie Dillard
Annie Dillard

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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)
Nature, 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)
Sociobiology, 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)
Biophilia, 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)
Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson
Silent Spring

This Incomperable Lande
Robert Frost
Robert Frost

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)
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)