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Natural Acts: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature (David Quammen's essay collections #1)

4.04  ·  Rating Details  ·  906 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
Most of the pieces found in this book appeared first as installments of thee 'Natural Acts' columns that Quammen wrote regularly for Outside magazine. In an upbeat and original way of thinking Quammen writes about beetles, bats, crows, snakes and other interesting animals.
Paperback, 221 pages
Published March 1st 1996 by Avon Books (first published 1985)
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I promised a second review / rant about people I hate. This is it. This time it's Smug Environmentalists. The hate will manifest as the review goes on.

Natural Acts is a collection of essays, which mostly appeared originally in the authors column in "Outside" magazine. The essays mostly look at a particular question that the author thought of and presents a possible answer to the question. Such as, what is the benefit of mosquitos? Or why do bats have such a bad reputation / people are so fearfu
Feb 16, 2011 Ryan rated it really liked it
About 75 percent of the essays are eye-opening wonders that raise nature and science writing to an art form and make me want to ditch New York for a cottage near a lake. The weaker 25 percent, typically profiles of a scientific figure or various obscure species, are pushy and breathless efforts at mythologizing. Quammen wrote the lesser pieces in his youth, however, so all is forgiven (plus even his lesser articles are better than the average writer's best). The essay "The Post Communist Wolf" c ...more
May 01, 2009 Thomas rated it really liked it
I like David Quammen a lot, ever since I read The Flight of the Iguana A Sidelong View of Science and Nature a good long time ago. He manages to write about the environment without being shrill, repetitive, or completely depressing. Ok his later articles can be pretty depressing but have you looked at environment lately? He's got a clear concise way of writing that really conveys the gravity of say, African rain forest while still leavening it with humor and adventure. His longer pieces are some ...more
Sep 16, 2009 Brittany rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating, wonderful, absorbing, funny read. I can see (from reading my own review, not because I remember) that I had some trouble with a few of the essays in Flight of the Iguana because some of the data in them has since been discounted and the theories have been updated. However, I didn't find that with this book. Some of the stories are a bit dated, but it didn't throw me as much. And there were some particularly evocative passages, particularly about the importance of water.

Dec 27, 2008 Jeremy rated it really liked it
This book is almost certainly the source for my fondness (and concern) for crows, my intermittent fascination with Tycho Brahe, and my incomplete knowledge of sea cucumbers. They can turn themselves inside out, you know. The sea cucumbers, I mean.
Jason Mills
Jul 28, 2012 Jason Mills rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Natural history buffs; anyone in search of a damn good read.
This is the first collection of Quammen's natural history essays for Outsider magazine. This selection features a run of articles on 'verminous' creatures, a section on oddball characters in science, some contemporary issues like animal rights (kinda copped out at the end of that one, dincha Dave? :) ), and finally a few curious corners of natural history for their own sake.

I'll read anything by Quammen. His mix of humour, up-to-the-minute science, travelogue and thoughtful angles is endlessly e
Adam Wiggins
Sep 25, 2011 Adam Wiggins rated it really liked it
David Quammen is a self-effacing naturalist and travel author which I can't help but compare to Bill Bryson. He has a sharp wit and is good at bringing lofty and complex concepts from the natural sciences to a general audience. His writing is, from a technical standpoint, some of the best I've ever encountered.

This book is a collection of columns from a magazine he wrote for over the course of many years. They are roughly grouped together, with the first section zooming in on particular animals
Max Potthoff
As I walked past a small bookstore in Lincoln, Nebraska, I noticed David Quammen's "Natural Acts" displayed prominently in the window. Honestly, I was drawn to it because the cover was beautifully designed(while it's improper to judge a book based on it's cover, I've never seen anything wrong picking one up because of it).

Quammen has had the kind of career that would make anyone with a remote interest in the outdoors jealous. He has written many years for Outside magazine, embarking on wild adve
May 01, 2012 J.R. rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
I read a number of these essays when first published in Outside and other periodicals. That did not detract for reading them once more and enjoying the author’s thought-provoking, insightful and often humorous take on a far-ranging variety of natural subjects, a few I admit which wouldn’t have warranted my attention had they not bee included in the book.

The fact some of the essays date back to 1981 and the most recent to 2005 does not make the information outdated either. Quammen has revised and
Todd Martin
Jan 25, 2016 Todd Martin rated it liked it
Natural Acts consists of a series of light and lively natural history essays culled from articles that Quammen wrote for Outside Magazine over the years. The first part of the book consists of short articles about animal species (mosquitos, beetles, black widow spiders, anacondas, and bats, to name but a few) in which a few fun facts are provided before moving on to the next. The later articles are longer and more serious in tone and include a mix of adventure travel with nature writing and a di ...more
David Mccormick
If I could give this book 3.5 stars, I would. It's a great collection of Mr. Quammen's work and you can definitely see his evolution as a science writer, moving from cocky self-assurance in the early part of the book towards more introspective and thoughtful extended thoughts in the later work. The major flaw of the collection is the tendency to lose track of where he is going with some of the essays. Mr. Quammen has a unfortunate tendency to keep hinting at some big reveal during the first half ...more
Mark Flanagan
Octopus-wrestling, vampire moths, and disaffected crows - oh my! I like David Quammen. More to the point, I want to be David Quammen. Back in the early 1980's, with neither scientific nor journalistic background, he stumbled into a sweet gig writing about the natural world for Outside Magazine, and he's never looked back.

'Natural Acts' was the title of that Outside column and the title of a 1985 collection of pieces from that column. It's back, and it's bigger and better than before with the ad
Jan 13, 2012 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, read-in-2012
This is a very entertaining collection of essays about the natural world. Quammen is not a scientist or even really a science writer but he is very good at bringing to life little slices of interesting gee-whiz stories.

The book is mostly a collection of essays that he wrote as a columnist for Outside magazine in the early 80's. They are short, 4-6 pages, and cover weird and wonderful things with a good bit of humor thrown in. The last section of the book is several longer pieces that he wrote f
David Feela
Feb 28, 2014 David Feela rated it really liked it
Quammen is a clever writer. He brings both humor and insight to his discussions of the natural world, in biology and supports them thoroughly with those Homo sapiens known to be authorities in their particular fields. I don't think he goes overboard, as some reviewers claim, with an "environmentalist" agenda -- whatever that is. Yes, his writing Is deeply concerned with the environment, a passion I can respect because of the way he writes about it, so it follows that he would discuss the difficu ...more
Erik Waiss
Jun 01, 2015 Erik Waiss rated it really liked it
Kind of a hodge podge of writings. Essays vary in length from several minutes to over an hour in reading time (your mileage may vary). As an avid reader of Quammen's other works you will find here a wide swath of essays that relate to much of his other publications. I found some essays that deal directly with one (or several) of his books. For the most part these essays/writings seem to be the earlier versions of grander ideas. Monster of God, Flight of the Dodo, and Spillover are all hinted at ...more
A collection of short essays that were somewhat uneven for my enjoyment. Some are very entertaining but others are a little too preachy. I enjoyed the first half most where the author described quirky animals, plants etc. in their natural environments. Some of his longer essays in the 2nd half very not nearly as fun, and tended to wander about or lack cohesion. He makes a case for preserving natural habitants and endangered species that I don't find convincing. He likens the catastrophic events ...more
David Quammen is truly an amazing writer. He brilliantly paints words across the page as he transports his readers to exotic locations and fascinating corners of the world. He's certainly one of the best science and nature writers out there. This is the third book I've read by Quammen, and the only reason it got three stars was because it wasn't as good as the other two ("Monsters of God" and "Song of the Dodo" - both fantastic). Still, I enjoyed this collection of short pieces that were previou ...more
May 20, 2014 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Smart and inquisitive writing! I learned a lot of interesting things. The pieces were short and easy to read. I like that he lives in Montana, lots of western connections. The people he concentrates on in the book, be they historic or modern day, are crazy intelligent and all self motivated to uncover/try dozens of completely different things in their lives. When you look at the commonalities of these people it is inspiring, they all just have an intense curiosity about the world!
Reese Forbes
Apr 22, 2014 Reese Forbes rated it it was amazing
Amazing facts about the all sorts of living things and human's relation to them.
Very enjoyable and informative.
Feb 04, 2011 Driftless rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature
It's hard not to be envious. Successful writer, skilled outdoorsman, Montana resident, always traveling the world on one odd adventure after another, David Quammen is the essence of middle aged, nature dude cool. He's even a fly fisherman. Over the years, I've enjoyed much of his writing, but I'd never read his first book, Natural Acts, a compilation of magazine essays.

You can read the rest of my review at Natural Acts.

Jun 21, 2010 Doug rated it really liked it
David Quammen writes very well. He takes high-end research science and condenses it to conversational stories of discovery and personality. I enjoyed his works on Linnaeus, the kayak trip down the Grand Canyon (three story lines are seamlessly woven together: his recent painful divorce, aging mid-life body and the limits it presents, and the remarkable historical geology of the place), and the article on the ethics (and stupidity) of cloning. The piece about the loss of his dog was wrenching and ...more
Jul 10, 2008 Corrie rated it really liked it
A selection of essays, well written, very interesting. I had to put the book down a few times when I was getting too depressed (especially the essays "The Post Communist Wolf" and "The Planet of Weeds") but the earlier essays in particular are just plain entertaining. I loved the later essay "Megatransect" especially, and now have the desire to hike across all of Africa, getting foot worms, and being menaced by elephants... '-) Anyone who loves nature and animals should read this book. Kayaking ...more
Evander v
I enjoyed the first section best, but it fell off a bit toward the end.
Somewhat sardonic but entertaining essays, very detailed and described.
Marilyn Mcentyre
Feb 07, 2011 Marilyn Mcentyre rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite science writers. These essays are literate, amusing, filled with surprising facts about various "critters," as he has called them (he wrote what he called the "critter column" for Outside magazine for years), and informative in memorable ways that make even non-science-minded readers want to come back for more. Good example of how humor can serve high purposes and a literary education can help make science accessible.
B. Jay
May 25, 2016 B. Jay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A clever and well-written account of science in nature written by someone with more qualification in humor than science. Although the earlier essays are thought-provoking, and clearly written by a science-outsider, his later works are more thorough but somewhat drier (and longer). Nonetheless, I'd recommend this book to anyone who loves nature, science, comedy or debating any of the above topics.
Mar 07, 2012 Nola rated it liked it
David Quammen has a way with words – his writing uses just the perfect words to enliven the reading experience without burdening it. The essays in this book do not have any thrillingly huge new ideas, just a constant stream of small ones illuminated by Quammen’s point of view. The chapter on Arctic Grayling expresses especially well a love of fish species and understanding of their behavior.
Jill Sergeant
Nov 13, 2014 Jill Sergeant rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People with an interest in science, biology, and the natural world.
Recommended to Jill by: My brother
Well, I've become a David Quammen fan now. I inherited several of his books from my brother and this year finally got around to reading them. Foolishly, when I moved house I gave away a couple of them, thinking, if I like the others I can look for more, rather than hanging on to what I've got. Library, here I come.
Apr 15, 2012 Alex rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays, ecology
An excellent collection of essays by David Quammen. They're a little uneven - I think I like his longer works better - but it is all made up for by his essay about his dog ("Citizen Wiley"), which was the first thing I've read that made me almost cry (almost, he didn't totally get me) since On the Beach.
Dec 21, 2009 Mila rated it it was amazing
I really enjoy just about everything David Quammen writes. He has a wonderful, energetic and interesting style with a lot of dry humor thrown in, and for an ecology major these books are heaven! Engaging, frank, short stories about science and animals written with skill and real knowledge. Love it!
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David Quammen (born February 1948) is an award-winning science, nature and travel writer whose work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Outside, Harper's, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times Book Review; he has also written fiction. He wrote a column called "Natural Acts" for Outside magazine for fifteen years. Quammen lives in Bozeman, Montana.
More about David Quammen...

Other Books in the Series

David Quammen's essay collections (4 books)
  • The Flight of the Iguana: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature
  • Wild Thoughts from Wild Places
  • The Boilerplate Rhino: Nature in the Eye of the Beholder

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