Books  General Natural History  Environmental History 

The Meaning of Wilderness: Essential Articles and Speeches

By: Sigurd F Olson (Author), David Backes (Editor)

185 pages, no illustrations

University of Minnesota Press

Paperback | Oct 2015 | #226166 | ISBN-13: 9780816637096
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £13.50 $16/€15 approx
Hardback | Jun 2001 | #226165 | ISBN: 0816637083
Out of Print Details

About this book

Sigurd F. Olson (1899-1982) was one of the greatest environmentalists of the twentieth century. A conservation activist and popular writer, Olson introduced a generation of readers to the importance of wilderness. He served as president of the Wilderness Society and the National Parks Association and as a consultant to the federal government on wilderness preservation and ecological problems. He earned many honors, including the highest possible from the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, and Izaak Walton League.

Olson is perhaps best known, though, for his many books that express the wonder, awe, and peace he found in the wilderness, including the nature classics The Singing Wilderness, Listening Point, and Reflections from the North Country. While these books have greatly influenced subsequent environmentalist movements and writers such as Annie Dillard and Barry Lopez, a major portion of Olson's wilderness writing – much of it originating as speeches – has been relatively inaccessible, scattered in a number of magazines and obscure books over a period of more than fifty years, or never published at all.

The Meaning of Wilderness gathers together the most important of Sigurd Olson's articles and speeches, making them available for the first time. The book also contains an introduction and chapter-by-chapter commentary by Olson's authorized biographer, David Backes, that help the reader discover the various facets of Olson's wilderness philosophy and their development over time. A lively look at the evolution of one of environmentalism's greatest figures, The Meaning of Wilderness will be essential reading for Olson fans, historians, and outdoors people around the country.

"Beautifully illustrates the matter-of-fact ease of Sigurd Olson's prose and wit. This is a valuable book for nature lovers and lovers of fine writing."
– Dave Wood's Book Report

"A much needed and explicit study, which constitutes the only canon of Sigurd Olson's varied expressions concerning wilderness and the human interest and spirit. David Backes has the gift of relating and exploring complex issues with effortless intellectuality, with the charm and good humor of a story teller, and the simplicity of everyday affairs we can all understand."
– The View from Listening Point

"Anyone wishing to argue on the side of wilderness will find good quotes and great thinking in this book."
Ely Summer Times



Chronology of Sigurd Olson’s Life

Introduction David Backes

Reflections of a Guide (1928)
Search for the Wild (1932)
The Romance of Portages (1936)
Let’s Go Exploring (1937)
Why Wilderness? (1938)
Flying In (1945)
We Need Wilderness (1946)
The Preservation of Wilderness (1948)
The Quetico-Superior Wilderness Laboratory (1951)
Those Intangible Things (1954)
Our Need of Breathing Space (1958)
Beauty Belongs to All (1959)
The Spiritual Aspects of Wilderness (1961)
The Wilderness Concept (1962)
The Spiritual Need (1966)
Remarks to National Park Service Master Plan Team Members (mid-1960s)
What Is Wilderness? (1968)
A Longing for Wilderness (1973)
Writings by Sigurd F. Olson


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Sigurd F. Olson (1899–1982) was one of the greatest environmentalists of the twentieth century.

David Backes is the author of A Wilderness Within: The Life of Sigurd F. Olson (Minnesota, 1997), winner of the 1998 Small Press Book Award for biography. Backes is also the author of Canoe Country: An Embattled Wilderness (1991) and The Wilderness Companion (1992).

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