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A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

A Sand County Almanac (1949)

by Aldo Leopold

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,160372,680 (4.22)88
  1. 60
    Walden by Henry David Thoreau (chrisharpe)
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    Aldo Leopold's Southwest by David E. Brown (lorax)
    lorax: A collection of some of Leopold's earlier writings; it's very interesting to see his "land ethic" evolve over time.
  3. 40
    Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey (coclimber)
    coclimber: Although Abbey writes with an undertone of harshness at times, his love of the desert environment and ability to bring you into that world are a delight to anyone who loves our natural world.
  4. 30
    Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (LadyBlakeny)
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    The Voice of the Desert by Joseph Wood Krutch (owen1218)
  6. 00
    Waiting for Coyote's Call: An Eco-memoir from the Missouri River Bluff by Jerry Wilson (WildMaggie)
  7. 00
    The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin (atrautz)
  8. 00
    The River Why by David James Duncan (Benbreep)
    Benbreep: My favorite novel, environmental themes, equally fantastic writing.
  9. 00
    Wild Harmony: Animals of the North by William Obadiah Pruitt (thesmellofbooks)
    thesmellofbooks: Two carefully observed and elegantly written volumes on a particular segment of nature. Sand County, and the Canadian taiga.
  10. 02
    A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life by Steven Kotler (PaperbackPirate)
    PaperbackPirate: Aldo Leopold is referenced several times in this book.

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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
I had been meaning to read this for a while, since it's such a sacred text to the environmental community and it didn't disappoint. It's really a compilation of Leopold's essays written over some years, in three parts:

The book starts with the actual sand county Almanac, which is a set of short observational essays representing one full year in the life of the farm he and his family retreated to on weekends. This was my favourite part of the book; above all else Leopold was a wonderful observer of nature and painter of scenes. There is some editorialising in this, but it's done with a rather light touch. More than anything else, it's a call to simply pay more attention to the rhythms of nature even as technology and urbanisation make it more and more possible to ignore them.

The middle part is a serious of descriptive and reflective essays written as Leopold travelled around North America. These are rather patchy, somewhat more editorial, and overwhelmingly sad. He had a very clear vision of what had already been lost to short-sighted overdevelopment, and how much more was on the cusp of being lost, and reading it 60-odd years later is actually quite upsetting. I like to tell myself that the destruction we've visited upon our own world was largely a product of ignorance, but essays like these are reminder of how untrue that is, at least for the "new world". We've had people calling this out for at least three generations, and yet we still have to fight the notion that nothing we do has any consequences.

The book closes with a set of much more prescriptive essays, about what should be done to halt the destruction. These made good for thought, but fall short of the perfection of his descriptive work. I found myself alternately agreeing, being made to think about concepts I hadn't considered before, and being frustrated by a few shortcomings:
- Leopold's vision doesn't scale to the size of population we have today. Perhaps in 1966 it would have worked to put brakes on urbanisation, but today we can't do that without turning entire continents into sprawling exurbia. I'm not sure if this was a blind spot of his at the time, or just something that hasn't translated to today.
- At times his focus on wilderness and emptiness is too narrow, and misses bigger systemic problems, such as the consequences of urban/suburban households all driving out to their dachas or the wilderness all the time. I suppose this is another instance of "does not scale".
- Sometimes he just seems indefinsibly optimistic about human nature, arguing that most if not all of the cultural change we need can come just from persuading people to intrinsically value nature. It makes sense that he should feel this way, since doing exactly that seems to be his greatest skill, but the faddishness of environmentalism since Leopold's time shows up the weakness of such an approach.

All in all, a great read - just take the polemical part with a pinch of salt, and consider the ways our collective experience since this was written critique it. ( )
  eldang | Aug 11, 2019 |
"A Sand County Almanac" is an amazing in many ways. Written in the 1940s and published posthumously in 1949, Leopold’s writing predate the mainstream environmentalist movement of the sixties and seventies by well over a decade.

To modern readers, it may feel slow moving, a culturally unfamiliar; Leopold represents a dual character of both hunter and environmentalist, two camps often dived by a political gulf today.

As you might have heard Wes Jackson say, Leopold’s legacy was his “land ethic.” The concept that the earth might have rights, and that, as humans, we have an obligation to steward land, was prescient for a white American. Many of his ideas are still both radical and familiar today.

In this book, Leopold offers an insightful and biting critique of the myth of progress, on that many other thought leaders built upon in subsequent decades. ( )
  willszal | Jan 1, 2019 |
Read this for a campus book discussion group. I liked Part 1 very well, Part 2 not very much, and Part 3 was only mildly interesting. The discussions were good, though. ( )
  Pferdina | Jun 28, 2018 |
A life-in-time commentary ( )
  Brightman | Jun 27, 2018 |
Moving. A family favorite since the early 20th century. Nature is NOT a commodity. The land ethic is to treat nature as community. The Conservationist attitude: you can use this, and use that; but, RESTORE this, and restore that. This is the brilliance given to mankind. ( )
1 vote robertbruceferguson | Sep 8, 2017 |
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There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. (Forward)
Each year, after the midwinter blizzards, there comes a night of thaw, when the tinkle of dripping water is heard in the land.
To me an ancient cottonwood is the greatest of trees because in his youth he shaded the buffalo and wore a halo of pigeons, and I like a young cottonwood because he may some day become ancient.
But all conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.
To see America as history, to conceive of destiny as a becoming, to smell a hickory tree through the lapse of ages--all these things are possible for us, and to achieve them takes only the free sky, and the will to ply our wings. In these things, and not in Mr. Bush's bombs and Mr. DuPont's nylons, lies objective evidence of our superiority over the beasts.
Despite several opportunities to do so, I have never returned to the White Mountains. I prefer not to see what tourists, roads, sawmills, and logging railroads have done for it, or to it. I hear young people, not yet born when I first rode out 'on top,' exclaim about it as a wonderful place. To this, with an unspoken mental reservation, I agree.
It is a century now since Darwin gave us the first glimpse of the origin of the species. We know now what was unknown to all the preceding caravan of generations: that men are only fellow-voyagers with other creatures in the odyssey of this time, a sense of kinship with fellow-creatures; a wish to live and let live; a sense of wonder over the magnitude and duration of the biotic enterprise. Above all we should, in the century since Darwin, have come to know man, while now captain of the adventuring ship, is hardly the sole object of its quest, and that his prior assumptions to this effect arose from the simple necessity of whistling in the dark.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345345053, Mass Market Paperback)

Published in 1949, shortly after the author's death, A Sand County Almanac is a classic of nature writing, widely cited as one of the most influential nature books ever published. Writing from the vantage of his summer shack along the banks of the Wisconsin River, Leopold mixes essay, polemic, and memoir in his book's pages. In one famous episode, he writes of killing a female wolf early in his career as a forest ranger, coming upon his victim just as she was dying, "in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes.... I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view." Leopold's road-to-Damascus change of view would find its fruit some years later in his so-called land ethic, in which he held that nothing that disturbs the balance of nature is right. Much of Almanac elaborates on this basic premise, as well as on Leopold's view that it is something of a human duty to preserve as much wild land as possible, as a kind of bank for the biological future of all species. Beautifully written, quiet, and elegant, Leopold's book deserves continued study and discussion today. --Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:20 -0400)

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Presents a collection of nature writings by Aldo Leopold, one of the foremost conservationists of the early twentieth century.

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