The best field guides and atlases that will make you look at field guides and atlases in a whole new way

Eric Magrane Author Of The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide
By Eric Magrane

Who am I?

I love field guides. I can vividly picture my first copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds, tattered and weather-beaten. I also love poetry and literature, so it seemed natural to me to bring the two together in my work. I’m from New England, but I've lived in the U.S. Southwest for over twenty years. Place is important to me: I think a lot about how we get to know and care for the places we live and call home and how we can work to be good neighbors. I worked for about a decade as a hiking guide and have also taught environmental education. I now teach geography at New Mexico State University. 

I wrote...

The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide

By Eric Magrane (editor), Christopher Cokinos (editor), Paul Mirocha (illustrator)

Book cover of The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide

What is my book about?

Both literary anthology and hands-on field guide, The Sonoran Desert is a groundbreaking book that melds art and science. It captures the stunning biodiversity of the world’s most verdant desert through words and images. More than fifty poets and writers—including Christopher Cokinos, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Ken Lamberton, Eric Magrane, Jane Miller, Gary Paul Nabhan, Alberto Ríos, Ofelia Zepeda, and many others—have composed responses to key species of this striking desert. Each creative contribution is joined by an illustration by award-winning artist Paul Mirocha and scientific information about the creature or plant authored by the book’s editors.

From the saguaro to the mountain lion, from the black-tailed jackrabbit to the mesquite, the species represented here have evoked compelling and creative responses from each contributor. 

The books I picked & why

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How to Read the American West: A Field Guide

By William Wyckoff,

Book cover of How to Read the American West: A Field Guide

Why this book?

This is a great book to take along on a road trip in the U.S. West. In fact, I’ve used this book multiple times on geography field courses, in which students and I camp our way across the Southwest. Wyckoff includes 100 different landscape features, including both physical and cultural landscapes. Think everything from “Cacti and Joshua Trees” to “Spanish Colonial Revival Architecture” to “Edge Cities,” and you have a little taste of the book. Wyckoff’s “Tips for Navigating Western Landscapes” are especially useful and will help even the most experienced traveler to see and understand cultural and physical landscapes in new ways. 

Atlas of the Invisible: Maps and Graphics That Will Change How You See the World

By James Cheshire, Oliver Uberti,

Book cover of Atlas of the Invisible: Maps and Graphics That Will Change How You See the World

Why this book?

This atlas beautifully demonstrates how geography is crucial to making sense of patterns and relationships in the world. I sat down and read it cover to cover, though it also would work well as a coffee table book. If you dig maps and data, this book is for you. If you’re interested in design, this book is for you. If you want to really visualize how putting interesting data on a map can help you to look at the world in new ways, this book is for you. Heck, if you’re curious about the world, this book is for you. 

A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia

By Rose McLarney (editor), Laura-Gray Street (editor), L. L. Gaddy Jr. (editor)

Book cover of A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia

Why this book?

I remember talking with Laura-Gray Street when they were planning this book, and I love how it turned out! A beautiful mixture of natural history, poetry, and artwork featuring species of the Southern Appalachians. If you live in or care about Southern Appalachia, I’d especially recommend this to you (and it makes a great gift for anyone you know who lives there). 

A:shiwi A:wan Ulohnanne, The Zuni World

By Jim Enote (editor), Jennifer McLerran (editor),

Book cover of A:shiwi A:wan Ulohnanne, The Zuni World

Why this book?

In the introduction to this book and catalog that features map art by Zuni artists, Jim Enote writes, “these maps are like relatives, like aunts and uncles that entrance us with narrations of places they have been to or heard about.” I love this way of thinking about maps as relational. As a non-Indigenous person viewing these maps, they help me to think about mapping and representations of place in new ways, and they challenge Western and colonial mapping traditions and cartographic practices that have often historically been put to the use of empire, land grabs, and greed.

Cascadia Field Guide: Art, Ecology, Poetry

By Elizabeth Bradfield (editor), CMarie Fuhrman (editor), Derek Sheffield (editor)

Book cover of Cascadia Field Guide: Art, Ecology, Poetry

Why this book?

Ever since I heard about how the editors are organizing this book around “kinship clusters” and Indigenous classification rather than Western taxonomies, I’ve been so looking forward to this book being published! If you have a connection to the Cascadia region and an interest in the environment, keep an eye out for this one.

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