The best books about rivers and the life they create

Tim Palmer Author Of America's Great River Journeys: 50 Canoe, Kayak, and Raft Adventures
By Tim Palmer

Who am I?

I've been passionate about and engaged with rivers ever since growing up along streams in the Appalachian foothills of Pennsylvania. Now living in Oregon, I'm the author and photographer of 30 books about rivers, the environment, and adventure travel. My books include a history of river conservation, a primer on modern-day river issues, profiles of great rivers from the Youghiogheny in the East to the Snake and Columbia in the West, guidebooks, and photo essays. I've received the Ansel Adams Photography Award from the Sierra Club, the Communicator of the Year Award from the National Wildlife Federation, the Lifetime Achievement Award from American Rivers, a "paddler of the century" recognition from Paddler magazine, and numerous book honors.

I wrote...

America's Great River Journeys: 50 Canoe, Kayak, and Raft Adventures

By Tim Palmer,

Book cover of America's Great River Journeys: 50 Canoe, Kayak, and Raft Adventures

What is my book about?

With America's Great River Journeys, author Tim Palmer draws on a lifetime of experience rafting, canoeing, and writing about rivers across the United States and invites readers to explore 50 of the finest streams. From the Saint John, Potomac, and Suwannee in the East to the Colorado, Salmon, and Rogue in the West, this book reveals why each river is extraordinary, what to expect in terms of difficulty and wildness, and the best ways to travel by raft, canoe, or kayak.

Each description includes directions to put-ins and take-outs, seasonal recommendations, and an engaging narrative about each journey, all illustrated with 200 spectacular photos by the author.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

Why did I love this book?

I read everything I find about rivers, and I can honestly say that this book completely blew me away. Illuminating the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon as never before done, Kevin Fedarko combines a breathtaking quality of lyricism and a gripping drama of the river's most suspenseful flood event ever. Throughout, he captures the thrill of river travel and conveys a remarkable sense of beauty and perfection in flowing water. He produced not only the best river book ever written but—in my humble opinion—the best book I've ever read! I continue to delight in every paragraph of this American masterpiece.

By Kevin Fedarko,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Emerald Mile as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From one of Outside magazine’s “Literary All-Stars” comes the thrilling true tale of the fastest boat ride ever, down the entire length of the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, during the legendary flood of 1983.

In the spring of 1983, massive flooding along the length of the Colorado River confronted a team of engineers at the Glen Canyon Dam with an unprecedented emergency that may have resulted in the most catastrophic dam failure in history. In the midst of this crisis, the decision to launch a small wooden dory named “The Emerald Mile” at the head of the…

Book cover of Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

Why did I love this book?

In a class by itself, Marc Reisner's life-work here is the ultimate story of water in the West. It's an understatement to say that this seasoned author made history accessible. He made it compelling and fascinating, conveying an urgent sense of its importance to us all. Disclaimer here: this is not a book about the essence of rivers, but rather about the development of them for irrigation and water supply in the West. Along the way, however, the dots get connected between what we must cherish in flowing water and what we have done to eliminate it.

By Marc Reisner,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Cadillac Desert as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The definitive work on the West's water crisis." --Newsweek

The story of the American West is the story of a relentless quest for a precious resource: water. It is a tale of rivers diverted and dammed, of political corruption and intrigue, of billion-dollar battles over water rights, of ecological and economic disaster. In his landmark book, Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner writes of the earliest settlers, lured by the promise of paradise, and of the ruthless tactics employed by Los Angeles politicians and business interests to ensure the city's growth. He documents the bitter rivalry between two government giants, the Bureau…

Book cover of The Infinite River: A Biologists' Vision of the World of Water

Why did I love this book?

This forgotten gem squarely focuses on the essence of rivers and the complex life systems and creatures they support. With a special perspective on the Northeast, biologist Amos brings to life the intricate connections between water, plants, and animals found in rivers and tells us in narrative style why they are essential to everything around them.

By William Hopkins Amos,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Infinite River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Book cover of Salmon Without Rivers: A History Of The Pacific Salmon Crisis

Why did I love this book?

Biologist Lichatowich draws on his lifetime of experience studying and working with fisheries to reveal both the persisting wonder and the ongoing shortcomings of fish-and-wildlife agencies' mismanagement of salmon that migrate up our rivers to spawn and then return to the ocean for most of their life cycles. Striking to the heart of a critical but under-recognized issue affecting rivers today, he explains why fish hatcheries that were sold to the public as a way of compensating for fish-killing dams have actually harmed wild fish further, and he urges all who are responsible to avert an ongoing tragedy.

By James A. Lichatowich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Salmon Without Rivers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Explores the roots and evolution of the salmon crisis in the Pacific Northwest. The author describes the evolutionary history of the salmon as well as the geological history of the Pacific Northwest, before considering the multitude of factors, including historical, social, scientific and cultural, which have led to the salmon's decline. The book includes a clinical and critical assessment of why the numerous restoration efforts have failed. The book exposes the myths that have guided recent human-salmon interactions and explains the difficult choices facing the region, offering an insight into this chapter of America's environmental history.

Book cover of Recovering a Lost River: Removing Dams, Rewilding Salmon, Revitalizing Communities

Why did I love this book?

This compelling profile of the Snake and Columbia Rivers of the Northwest and Northern Rockies makes a motivating case for removing unnecessary dams and restoring some of the most magnificent runs of fish ever to grace the North American continent. Hawley manages to find humor amid the outrage and chaos, and plants in readers' minds the vision for a better future that's within grasp, if only we had the political will to make the necessary changes. 

By Steven Hawley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Recovering a Lost River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the Pacific Northwest, the Snake River and its wilderness tributaries were—as recently as a half century ago—some of the world’s greatest salmon rivers. Now, due to four federal dams, the salmon population has dropped close to extinction. Steven Hawley, journalist and self-proclaimed “river rat,” argues that the best hope for the Snake River lies in dam removal, a solution that pits the power companies and federal authorities against a collection of Indian tribes, farmers, fishermen, and river recreationists. The river’s health, as he demonstrates, is closely connected to local economies, freshwater rights, and energy independence. Challenging the notion of…

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