Summary and book reviews of Return to Wild America by Scott Weidensaul

Return to Wild America

A Yearlong Search for the Continent's Natural Soul

By Scott Weidensaul

Return to Wild America
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2005,
    416 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2006,
    416 pages.

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Book Summary

In 1953, birding guru Roger Tory Peterson and noted British naturalist James Fisher set out on what became a legendary journey - a one hundred day trek over 30,000 miles around North America. They traveled from Newfoundland to Florida, deep into the heart of Mexico, through the Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, and into Alaska's Pribilof Islands. Two years later, Wild America, their classic account of the trip, was published.

On the eve of that book's fiftieth anniversary, naturalist Scott Weidensaul retraces Peterson and Fisher's steps to tell the story of wild America today. How has the continent's natural landscape changed over the past fifty years? How have the wildlife, the rivers, and the rugged, untouched terrain fared? The journey takes Weidensaul to the coastal communities of Newfoundland, where he examines the devastating impact of the Atlantic cod fishery's collapse on the ecosystem; to Florida, where he charts the virtual extinction of the great wading bird colonies that Peterson and Fisher once documented; to the Mexican tropics of Xilitla, which have become a growing center of ecotourism since Fisher and Peterson's exposition. And perhaps most surprising of all, Weidensaul finds that much of what Peterson and Fisher discovered remains untouched by the industrial developments of the last fifty years.

Poised to become a classic in its own right, Return to Wild America is a sweeping survey of the natural soul of North America today.

ONE
Atlantic Gateway

In the early 1950s, just getting to Cape St. Mary's was an adventure. The Avalon Peninsula is the easternmost prow of North America—a vaguely H-shaped chunk of land that is very nearly an island itself, attached to the rest of Newfoundland by the slenderest of threads. It is rimmed by sheer cliffs, by beaches of dark quartz-shot cobblestones and wave-smashed capes. Where there is forest, it is somber and mossy, spruce and balsam fir hung with long pale sheets of lichen dangling from the branches like rotting curtains. But much of the Avalon is tundra, known locally as barrens—an open, windswept land home to flocks of ptarmigan and the southernmost wild caribou herd in the world, where the trees, if they grow at all, cower in dense, waist-high thickets known as tuckamore.
...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Pulitzer Prize finalist Weidensaul retraces Peterson and Fisher's journey and chronicles the changes, both good and bad, in this in depth account. Amongst the bad news is the spread of invasive species, chemical pollution, global warming, species decline, over-logging and urban sprawl (for example in 15 years Pennsylvania has increased its "urban footprint" by 47% while its population has increased by only 2.5%).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

... in ticking off environmental legislation that simply didn't exist in 1953 ... Weidensaul documents a strong record of securing wildlife resources. Yet the inexorable sprawl of human development continues to annihilate natural habitat at an alarming rate .... A carefully documented, well-informed conclusion that the jury's still out.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In the midst of environmental-policy gloom and global-warming doom, Weidensaul's poetic account of his travels to several scattered wilderness oases of North America is an unexpected tonic.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Starred Review. Weidensaul ... explicates the unintentionally deleterious effect human activities are having on the biosphere. But ... also revels in the ingenuity and beauty, resiliency and resurgence of nature, and reports on impressive conservation success stories.

Library Journal - Henry T Armistead

All in all, an engaging and most informative sequel; highly recommended.

Author Blurb Kenn Kaufman, author of Kaufman Field Guides
Peterson and Fisher's Wild America was one of the all-time great nature books. On the golden anniversary of its publication, Scott Weidensaul, one of the greatest living nature writers, proves himself a worthy successor to the original authors as he examines what has been lost and celebrates what remains of America's wild nature. Part investigative reporting, part lyrical celebration, this is one of the most important books of the decade, and it should be required reading for all who love the outdoors.

Author Blurb William Souder, author of Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and the Making of The Birds of America
News from the natural world is so rarely heartening these days that Scott Weidensaul's bracing inventory of America's wild places and all that still lives in them comes as a bit of a shock. With a keen eye for all that we've lost and all that yet remains, this book is a tale both cautionary and optimistic. Best of all is the presence on every page of Weidensaul himself, an enthusiastic observer who gives generously of his own sense of awe.

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Beyond the Book

About the author: Born in 1959, Scott Weidensaul has lived almost all of his life among the long ridges and endless valleys of eastern Pennsylvania, in the heart of the central Appalachians, a landscape that has defined much of his work.

He has written more than two dozen books on natural history, including Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds (1999), which was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. He lives in the Pennsylvania Appalachians.

Some key events in the USA environmental movement:

  • 1864: Legislation passed making Yosemite Valley into a state park.
  • 1866: The word 'ecology' is coined by a German biologist, Ernst Haeckel.
  • 1877: Appalachian Mountain Club founded. ...

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