Biographies of Place
July 28, 2015 1:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for suggestions for non-fiction books of an ilk I can only describe as biographies of place; works that strongly evoke a sense of landscape.

Examples I can think of include:

Desert Solitaire by Ed Abbey
Refuge (amongst others) by Terry Tempest Williams
Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez
Various John McPhee books
Many of the writings of John Muir
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
etc.

I just can't get enough of these types of books! I know there are a lot that I haven't encountered yet. Help me discover more! Bonus points for books about places besides North America, as my collection is already slanted in that direction.
posted by mingo_clambake to Science & Nature (35 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
Rebecca Solnit's Savage Dreams and Storming the Gates of Paradise are both excellent for this sort of thing.
posted by mykescipark at 2:00 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


W.G. Sebald, Rings of Saturn?
posted by standardasparagus at 2:01 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Roger Deakin, Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey through Britain. Delightful, vivid and transporting. Also, his Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees, which has interesting bits. And you might start with his Guardian obit, which is how I found Waterlog.
posted by xaryts at 2:11 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
posted by aws17576 at 2:15 PM on July 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


William Least Heat Moon's PrairyErth is a very in-depth biography of the tallgrass prairie of Chase County, Kansas: the ecology, the people, the history, etc. Be warned, though. I'm probably his biggest fan in the world and even I thought he went on and on a bit. It's a long book but its focus seems to be exactly what you are looking for: a deep history of a place.
posted by Elly Vortex at 2:15 PM on July 28, 2015


The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
posted by nathaole at 2:16 PM on July 28, 2015


The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin
posted by Tiye at 2:19 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


This genre is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

Bernd Heinrich - A Year in the Maine Woods
William Least Heat-Moon - River Horse
posted by Guess What at 2:22 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Good Rain - Timothy Egen
posted by humboldt32 at 2:25 PM on July 28, 2015


The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen
Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane
posted by wallawallasweet at 2:25 PM on July 28, 2015


Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
Cloud Forest by Peter Matthiessen
Lost Heart of Asia by Colin Thubron
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West
posted by release the hardwoods! at 2:28 PM on July 28, 2015


What about some Paul Bowles?
posted by brookeb at 3:13 PM on July 28, 2015


Frank Waters - The Colorado (originally published 1946), part of the "Rivers of America" series. Also here. It's a bit out of date, but the sense of place is still relevant and provides for some interesting thinking about how the landscape's changed between publication and present.
posted by memento maury at 3:40 PM on July 28, 2015


Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier. Also, Cold Mountain.
posted by runincircles at 4:31 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


dammit didn't see the "non"fiction, sorry
posted by runincircles at 4:32 PM on July 28, 2015


Kent Ryden’s 1993 book Mapping the invisible landscape: folklore, writing, and the sense of place is a great overview of this genre of writing. I loved it and posted some excerpts up on my Tumblr earlier this year.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:39 PM on July 28, 2015


This House of Sky by Ivan Doig
The Meadow by James Galvin
posted by Grandysaur at 4:41 PM on July 28, 2015


Yeah, Erik Larson's whole catalog is pretty much this type of book. Especially recommend Isaac's Storm.
posted by Brittanie at 4:50 PM on July 28, 2015


Wow - first time ever I have been on here long enough to reference a similar question - but you may want to check out this similar post although it may not be all non-fiction.

I will re-recommend what I suggested there - Jon Berendt for Venice Italy and Savannah Georgia. The City of Falling Angels and Midnight and the Garden of Good and Evil.
posted by seesom at 5:11 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


David Darlington's The Mojave.
posted by jon1270 at 5:46 PM on July 28, 2015


Have you read anything by Janisse Ray? Or Elin Meloy?
posted by mareli at 6:00 PM on July 28, 2015


Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger did an excellent job of this. It's just that place it evokes is WWI trench warfare. Sort of a different turn on the theme, but wonderful if you have the stomach for the war bits.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 8:39 PM on July 28, 2015


Possibly Tales From the Journey of the Dead (I worked on this a tiny bit before publication, haven't read it since it was in manuscript but I remember a bunch of interesting stuff).
posted by brennen at 9:09 PM on July 28, 2015


Also maybe A Natural History of the Intermountain West, by Gwendolyn L Waring.
posted by brennen at 9:13 PM on July 28, 2015


And (last one), this little anthology edited by Kim Stanley Robinson of Kenneth Rexroth's writing on the Sierras.
posted by brennen at 9:16 PM on July 28, 2015


In the Throne Room of The Mountain Gods (travelogue AND climbing)
posted by j_curiouser at 10:40 PM on July 28, 2015


The Mill on the Floss
posted by trip and a half at 12:28 AM on July 29, 2015


[Oops missed the non-fiction bit. Apologies]
posted by trip and a half at 12:30 AM on July 29, 2015


Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West, as referenced above.

Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, by Jan Morris. (Also, her fictional travelogue Hav is pretty great as well.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:27 AM on July 29, 2015


Ooh, I'm so glad you asked this as this is my favorite genre too, I'm in need of some new reading. Refuge (Terry Tempest Williams) is one of my all-time favorites. Others:

The Final Frontiersman

Indian Creek Chronicles

Last American Man

A Moveable Feast

Drop City
(Ok, this one is fiction but trust me, it reads like NF and has stayed with me forever)
posted by CanyonWren at 11:23 AM on July 29, 2015




I just finished Sally Mann's memoir, Hold Still, which evokes her hometown of Lexington, VA and its surroundings in incredibly detailed and beautiful words--and, as she's a photographer (whose work has mostly been based in the area, including controversial images of her children on her family's 300+ acre farm), images too.
posted by kickingthecrap at 6:12 PM on July 29, 2015


Thank you for all of your suggestions!

I took the liberty of amassing most of these suggestions and other titles that I've since dug up in this goodreads list. Feel free to add to it, as goodreads has capped my submissions at 100.
posted by mingo_clambake at 8:20 PM on July 30, 2015


I've started reading Black Sea by Neal Ascherson, which was recommended here on MeFi; I've also seen MeFi recommendations for his Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland.
posted by kristi at 10:17 AM on July 31, 2015


Susan Brind Morrow's The Names of Things. A beautiful little book.
posted by little eiffel at 2:21 AM on August 7, 2015


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