Books That Impacted Me

I love to read, and there are a few books that have made very real impact on how I see things, shaping my life. I’ll present them here. Maybe they are still available, I’m not sure. I’ll try to go in chronological order.
The Portable Thoreau (Viking Press) I read this in high school, which was in the 70s for me. There are a couple of things that stand out for me. First, this whole idea of living in the woods a while, simply; that really wowed me. I was a big boy scout, and I loved camping and hiking. This was basically a guy living in something better than a tent, a little longer than summer camp, and writing about it.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

What a great line. I kept reading, though a high school kid with no obligation to– I could have picked up a comic book, or LP jacket notes – and wanted to learn more. Thoreau was a rebel, he changed his name (Henry David, David Henry – whatever!). He tried lots of jobs. He walked a lot. He complained about vain people. He had famous friends, especially Emerson.

Thoreau is the penultimate Frugal Thoreau. He wrote poems, he knew all the birds and plants; he kept a log about how little he would spend to build his cabin on Walden Pond. I liked this guy! I wrote a major senior paper on Thoreau, declaring him The American Dream. Now, I grew up in a nice suburb, and Thoreau was not their American Dream. But secretly, I wanted everyone to come around to enjoying a simple life, and get over their consumerism.

Vanishing Rainforests This is a title of an actual book, (and I have not read the title listed). I cannot remember the real name of the book I read back in the 1980s, it’s way out of print, but it was written by a lady, and it had a title something like that. This was right when the rainforests were becoming an issue, and I was captivated by it. This whole concept of an entire biome at risk, the statistics about how fast species were going extinct, the genuine lack of documentation on the area; all just hooked me. I was ready to commit my life to this issue, I even attempted to write the author, though I was 19, and I am sure the letter never even arrived to her. Lucky for me, I guess, I stayed in college.

The Frontiersman, by Allan Eckert. This is hardly an environmental book. It’s a historical novel. On the title page of each book in the series, Eckert writes, “This is fact, not fiction.” The author made every effort to use actual historical documents, to make dialogue in the book realistic, and every event as close to what really happened as possible, weaving a story together. This book is about the Shawnee, Simon Butler, and the gruesome events in westernizing of what is now Ohio. Now I was interested in history, when I was exposed to the drama of everyday life, and how people lived in wilder times.

Handbook of Nature Study, by Anna Botsford Comstock. This book was first published in 1911. Her case then was that children do not spend enough time in nature; our society is becoming too urbanized. Another “that is awesome” moment! So, she shows people how to study nature, some basic identification, and so forth. It is no wonder this book has been in print ever since.

The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples, by Tim F. Flannery. This book touched two interests, ecology and history. Fantastic! Here I found out about how humans hunted Mammoths to extinction, how DDT affected bald eagles and how they came back, the deep knowledge early natives had about bison and burning of the prairie, elks, California condors, and more. I realized that most of us have no idea about the legacy of the land under our feet, and that wilderness is really a relative concept.

Ten-Minute Field Trips, by Helen Ross Russell. Published in the 70s, and the pictures are vintage, with striped bell bottoms, and retro haircuts. Here was the ticket to how to educate kids about what was Needed, to learn outdoors. Cool ideas about what can be taught outdoors, right on school grounds.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. This book was another Oh Wow moment. You just know that this is an important book. I called the planners of a convention I was headed to, and told them they needed Richard Louv as a speaker. I was hyped. I knew I would tell all my friends and colleagues, this guy has captured a critical issue. The catch phrase, “No Child Left Inside” came from the folks who read this book. Now he has a sequel to it, The Nature Principle.


About Jim

I've been leading outdoor environmental education in the YMCA since the 1970s. I love teaching nature, history, current events, being a dad, fixing stuff, groups, and general thinking.
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