The best books that capture the spirit of the woodlands in nature, poetry and art before the Industrial Revolution

Why am I passionate about this?

I am not a naturalist but consider myself a practitioner of ”lyrical naturalism.” My interest is in the descriptions of nature by poets and artists in previous centuries. The dream is to inspire people to look at the natural environment through the lens of art and poetry rather than the somewhat dry frameworks of botany. My great hero is John Ruskin, a British writer whose lyrical prose has never stopped enchanting its readers. I was very happy to publish a book of essays titled Woodland Imagery in Northern Art, c. 1500-1800: Poetry and Ecology. I hope that its richly illustrated essays will inspire readers to look at the environment with renewed wonder. 


I wrote...

Woodland Imagery in Northern Art, c. 1500 - 1800: Poetry and Ecology

By Leopoldine Prosperetti,

Book cover of Woodland Imagery in Northern Art, c. 1500 - 1800: Poetry and Ecology

What is my book about?

Woodland Imagery in Northern Art reconnects us with the woodland scenery that abounds in Western painting, from Albrecht Dürer’s intense studies of verdant trees, to the works of many other Northern European artists who captured 'the truth of vegetation' in their work. These incidents of remarkable scenery in the visual arts have received little attention in the history of art, until now. Prosperetti brings together a set of essays that are devoted to the poetics of the woodlands in the work of the great masters, including Claude Lorrain, Jan van Eyck, Jacob van Ruisdael, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, and Leonardo da Vinci. This book draws attention to the idea of lyrical naturalism as a conceptual bridge that unites the power of poetry with the allurement of the natural world.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Silent Spring

Leopoldine Prosperetti Why did I love this book?

This pivotal book was given to me by my grandmother when I was about 16 years old. In a tattered state, it is still part of my library. It is the seminal text for all of mankind to consider how the earth has suffered during the long epoch of the Industrial Revolution. 

I would tell my friends that Rachel begins with a fable, a spring without the sound of birds. Just as Oliver Rackham in Woodlands begins with a fable to tell the story of how trees came into being.  

For a powerful assessment of Carson’s role in the great awakening about what mankind has wrought upon the earth, see the hot-of-the-press book by David Brinkley.

By Rachel Carson,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Silent Spring as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published by Houghton Mifflin in 1962, Silent Spring alerted a large audience to the environmental and human dangers of indiscriminate use of pesticides, spurring revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. "Silent Spring became a runaway bestseller, with international reverberations . . . [It is] well crafted, fearless and succinct . . . Even if she had not inspired a generation of activists, Carson would prevail as one of the greatest nature writers in American letters" (Peter Matthiessen, for Time"s 100 Most Influential People of the Century). This fortieth anniversary edition celebrates Rachel Carson"s watershed…


Book cover of Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth

Leopoldine Prosperetti Why did I love this book?

Lovelock’s revolutionary discovery that earth’s living matter—air, ocean, and land surfacesforms a complex system that has the capacity to keep our planet a fit place for life.  

It is vital in instilling the knowledge in all those who inhabit the earth that Gaia (the Greek goddess of the earth) is not inert matter but a living organism. 

As we imagine the earth as a living being, we may have second thoughts about doing her further harm… 

By James Lovelock,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Gaia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this classic work that continues to inspire many readers, Jim Lovelock puts forward his idea that the Earth functions as a single organism. Written for non-scientists, Gaia is a journey through time and space in search of evidence in support of a radically different model of our planet. In contrast to conventional belief that life is passive in the face of threats to its existence, the book explores the hypothesis that the Earth's living matter influences
air, ocean, and rock to form a complex, self-regulating system that has the capacity to keep the Earth a fit place for life.…


Book cover of The Tree

Leopoldine Prosperetti Why did I love this book?

This booklet is thin, smaller than a kindle, small enough to fit in an outer pocket or any small bag. I bought my copy in 2011 and ever since I have given copies of the booklet as a present to those who would connect with his ideas about trees. He wants us to forget the trimmed apple trees of his father and urges us to fall in love with the overgrown trees in a scrap of ancient woods in the English countryside. He hated Victorian botanists for their passion for naming and classification. He sounded like a heretic when he takes on Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the Swedish botanist, who continues to be famous for the binomial system for naming all the plants in the Vegetable Kingdom.

He actually takes his readers to Uppsala, the university town in Sweden where Linnaeus was a professor, to underscore what he calls the “bitter fruit of the Uppsalan tree.” By naming a tree, Fowles writes, we stop looking at it. His unorthodox views inspired me to look at the woods of the Old Masters – in paintings by Titian, Ruisdael, Rubens, and Claude Lorrain – with different eyes. To see not a collection of named trees, but a celebration of sylvan beauty. The essays in my book are the direct descendants of Fowles’s observations in his little book, which by now is truly an evergreen.

By John Fowles,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

John Fowles' writing life was dominated by trees. From the orchards of his childhood in suburban Essex,to the woodlands of wartime Devon, to his later life on the Dorset coast, trees filled his imagination and enriched his many acclaimed and best-selling novels.Told through his lifelong relationship with trees, blending autobiography, literary criticism, philosophy and nature writing, The Tree is a masterly, powerful work that laid the literary foundations for nature-as-memoir, a genre which has seen recent flourishings in Roger Deakin's Wildwood, Richard Mabey's Nature Cure, Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways and Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk.As lyrical and precise…


Book cover of Woodlands

Leopoldine Prosperetti Why did I love this book?

This book has given me more delight than just about any other book dealing with the woodlands. It is not a herbarium or any other dry enumeration of plants. The Oxford Don takes us by the hand and shows us enchanted spinneys, lovely copses, ancient savannas, woodland pastures, and so much more that were once enchanting. In the everyday environment, the inspiration of poets, the meeting place of lovers, and the haunt of human beings seeking solitude. 

"A state-of-the-art survey of Britain’s woods by the acknowledged expert in the field… He seems to know woods like old friends, each with its unique past, its cranky or capricious personality, and its hoard of secrets. And he writes like an angel.” - The Times 

By Oliver Rackham,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Trees are wildlife just as deer or primroses are wildlife. Each species has its own agenda and its own interactions with human activities ..., Written by one of Britain,s best-known naturalists, Woodlands offers a fascinating new insight into the trees of the British landscape that have filled us with awe and inspiration throughout the centuries. Looking at such diverse evidence as the woods used in buildings and ships, and how woodland has been portrayed in pictures and photographs, Rackham traces British woodland through the ages, from the evolution of wildwood, through man,s effect on the landscape, modern forestry and its…


Book cover of The Ecological Eye: Assembling an Ecocritical Art History

Leopoldine Prosperetti Why did I love this book?

This book accuses art historians of being indifferent to environmental issues… It is a wake-up call for the profession. I certainly took heed and experimented in my essays in a variety of ways to reconnect. The artistic vision of nature to great works of art. 

In 2018 Andrew Patrizio published a book titled The Ecological Eye, which exposed the lack of environmental thinking in the practice of art historians. Here is what he wrote: “How can we awaken, define and orientate an ecological sensibility within the history of art?” Building on the latest work in the discipline, this book provides the blueprint for an 'ecocritical art history,' one that is prepared to meet the challenges of the Anthropocene, climate change, and global warming. Without ignoring its own histories, the book looks beyond – at politics, posthumanism, new materialism, feminism, queer theory, and critical animal studies – invigorating the art-historical practices of the future. 

This book inspired my interest in the growing field of The Environmental Humanities. I believe that my book is a worthy contribution to efforts to integrate art historical knowledge into the broad field of environmental storytelling.

By Andrew Patrizio,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the popular imagination, art history remains steeped in outmoded notions of tradition, material value and elitism. How can we awaken, define and orientate an ecological sensibility within the history of art? Building on the latest work in the discipline, this book provides the blueprint for an 'ecocritical art history', one that is prepared to meet the challenges of the Anthropocene, climate change and global warming. Without ignoring its own histories, the book looks beyond - at politics, posthumanism, new materialism, feminism, queer theory and critical animal studies - invigorating the art-historical practices of the future.


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Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

Book cover of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

Mark Doherty Author Of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a highly experienced outdoorsman, musician, songwriter, and backcountry guide who chose teaching as a day job. As a writer, however, I am a promoter of creative and literary nonfiction, especially nonfiction that features a thematic thread, whether it be philosophical, conservation, historical, or even unique experiential. The thread I used for thirty years of teaching high school and honors English was the thread of Conservation, as exemplified by authors like Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Edward O. Wilson, Al Gore, Henry David Thoreau, as well as many other more contemporary authors.

Mark's book list on creative nonfiction books that entertain and teach through threaded essays and stories

What is my book about?

I have woven numerous delightful and descriptive true life stories, many from my adventures as an outdoorsman and singer songwriter, into my life as a high school English teacher. I think you'll find this work both entertaining as well as informative, and I hope you enjoy the often lighthearted repartee and dialogue that enhances the stories and experiences.

When I started teaching in the early 1990s, I brought into the classroom with me my passions for nature, folk music, and creativity. This book holds something new and engaging with every chapter and can be enjoyed by all sorts of readers, particularly those who enjoy nonfiction that employs wit, wisdom, humor, and even some down-to-earth philosophy.

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

What is this book about?

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration follows the evolution of a high school English teacher as he develops a creative and innovative teaching style despite being juxtaposed against a public education system bent on didactic, normalizing regulations and political demands. Doherty crafts an engaging nonfiction story that utilizes memoir, anecdote, poetry, and dialogue to explore how mixing creativity and pedagogy can change the way budding students visualize creative writing: A chunk of firewood plunked on a classroom table becomes part of a sawmill, a mine timber, an Anasazi artifact...it also becomes a poem, a song, an essay, and a memoir. The…


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