The books listed below appeared long after Henry Thoreau died in 1862, but each echoes his fierce love for exploring personal freedom. They also emulate the place-centered nonfiction he invented in Walden, a New England pond that is "earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature."
by Terry Tempest Williams, Mary Austin
Deep in the Mohave Desert, Austin examines a land that echoes her deepest sense of self as a woman. Recommended for readers of Willa Cather and Tillie Olsen.
by Henry Beston
Battling shell-shock and depression after World War I, Beston retreats to a fishing shack on the remote and lonely Great Beach of Cape Cod to find peace, even healing. (Later he marries Elizabeth Coatsworth, the famed children's author.)
by James Agee, Walker Evans
Begun as an assignment for a slick magazine, the book morphed into a sprawling, intensely poetic anthem to life in rural Alabama. With the stunning b/w photographs by Walker Evans that made "documentary" into an art form.
by Peter Matthiessen
Into the Himalayas with a writer and a biologist, both seeking the rarest of big cats, for different reasons. In that high-altitude Nirvana, Matthiessen learns he must also find peace within his home and family, back in America.
by Asne Seierstad
A Norwegian reporter embeds herself in the home of an Afghan liberal — she thinks. Instead, she finds that he dominates his women with a Taliban-like oppression. Controversial for that, and for her use of fictive devices.
by Ernesto Che Guevara
As a young medical student, Guevara travels the length of South America, discovering a glorious Indian civilization now mired in European injustice. More art than propaganda, the book traces Guevara's revolutionary roots.
by Bill Bryson
A humorous, self-deprecating story of two urban mid-lifers hiking the Appalachian Trail. Along the way, they shape up, lose their snark, and begin to appreciate the difficulty of preserving wilderness in postmodern times.
by Joan Didion
This miscellany of pieces from her years as a California reporter has all the chaos and calm of its namesake, the last collaborative work by The Beatles. Brooding, self-absorbed, full of lighting-strike insights; Didion scores in nearly every sentence.
by Edward Abbey
The most Thoreau-like of moderns in his angry rejection of asphalt, Abbey works alone as a seasonal park ranger, in love with "rock and tree and cloud," the natural arches and canyons of southeast Utah.
Recommending books so good, they'll keep you up past your bedtime. more...
About Will Howarth
As Will Howarth, I taught literature at Princeton, wrote for National Geographic, and edited The John McPhee Reader. As Dana Hand, I'm one half of a scholar-journalist team that collaborates on fiction and film. Anne Matthews and I just published our debut novel, Deep Creek, which depicts the pursuit, capture, and trial of mass murderers in 1880s Oregon and Idaho. To learn more, please visit our web site.
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