Reading the Roots

Reading the Roots Cover

Reading the Roots

American Nature Writing Before Walden

By Michael Branch

University of Georgia Press, Hardcover, 9780820325477, 430pp.

Publication Date: January 19, 2004


"Reading the Roots" is an unprecedented anthology of outstanding early writings about American nature--a rich, influential, yet critically underappreciated body of work. Rather than begin with Henry David Thoreau, who is often identified as the progenitor of American nature writing, editor Michael P. Branch instead surveys the long tradition that prefigures and anticipates Thoreau and his literary descendants.

The selections in "Reading the Roots" describe a diversity of landscapes, wildlife, and natural phenomena, and their authors represent many different nationalities, cultural affiliations, religious views, and ideological perspectives. The writings gathered here also range widely in terms of subject, rhetorical form, and disciplinary approach--from promotional tracts and European narratives of contact with Native Americans to examples of scientific theology and romantic nature writing.

The volume also includes a critical introduction discussing the cultural, scientific, and literary value of early American nature writing; headnotes that contextualize all authors and selections; and a substantial bibliography of primary and secondary sources in the field. "Reading the Roots" at last makes early American landscapes--and a range of literary responses to them--accessible to scholars, students, and general readers.

About the Author
Michael P. Branch, professor of literature and environment at the University of Nevada, Reno, is cofounder and past president of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) and book review editor of the journal "ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment." The author of numerous articles and reviews, he is also editor of "John Muir's Last Journey: South to the Amazon and East to Africa" and co-editor of "The Height of Our Mountains: Nature Writing from Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley," "Reading the Earth: New Directions in the Study of Literature and Environment," and "The ISLE Reader" (Georgia).

Praise For Reading the Roots

"Michael Branch has not only given us a new trailhead from which to explore a largely unknown territory in American nature writing; he has also mapped the landscape of a new area—early place-based literature—that American literary scholars will be exploring for many years to come. For both of those accomplishments, Branch is truly a trailblazer."--Jim Warren, Professor of English, Washington and Lee University

"Reading the Roots presents a wide and representative selection of writings from the period that begins with Renaissance explorers and ends with New England transcendentalists. For a variety of reasons, this period has suffered critical and pedagogical neglect. Michael Branch's scholarship is not only sound and reliable, but timely and provocative as well."--John Tallmadge, author of Meeting the Tree of Life: A Teacher’s Path

"This is a major work of ecocriticism that will open up a new area of scholarship and catch the interest of many scholars and general readers beyond ecocritics. I found Reading the Roots to be full of surprises, works that I was unaware of and that I found quite intriguing. Even the well-known figures, like Emerson, are represented by lesser-known works that will seem like discoveries to readers."--Ian Marshall, author of Peak Experiences: Walking Meditations on Literature, Nature, and Need

"The nicely crafted Reading the Roots . . . brings together an impressive selection of authors and gives an excellent overview of the geographies and genres covered by these writers . . . While reading these pieces, one cannot help but feel a profound sadness for the loss of the diverse creatures that once shared this fabulous land. Perhaps, however, as Branch hopes, encountering them in the pages of this anthology will encourage us to preserve those that remain.”--Agricultural History

"What a marvelous collection! Every selection is intriguing: surprising, entertaining, evocative, and informative. And Mike Branch's introductions are just right. This is a major resource for students, teachers, anyone interested in how Americans have perceived our lands. Perhaps even better, it's also lots of fun to read."--SueEllen Campbell, Colorado State University

"Reading the Roots is a welcome anthology."--Bloomsbury Review

"Michael Branch has given us a new 'literary historical trailhead' with which to begin exploring American nature writing. . . . Reading the Roots is a compelling and transformative contribution to the genre known as nature writing."--ANQ

"By this anthology, Branch brings a new perspective to American nature writing—so that Thoreau, with his literary plan to record his attachment to nature, becomes the exceptional nature writeer instead of the seminal one as he has been seen"--Midwest Book Review