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About This Life

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  537 Ratings  ·  54 Reviews
Once, when asked for advice on how to become a writer, Lopez found himself replying: "Read. Find out what you truly believe. Get away from the familiar." This collection of essays stems directly from that philosophy. Here is far-flung travel (the beauty of remote Hokkaido Island, the over-explored Galápagos, enigmatic Bonaire); a naturalist's concerns (for endangered commu ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 1st 1999 by The Harvill Press (first published 1998)
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I don't know, of course, whether you've ever been in the high Arctic in the summer, but I would begin by telling you how striking the light is. For two months or more the sun doesn't dip below the horizon. In a treeless, winter-hammered landscape like Alaska's north slope, the light creates a feeling of compassion that is almost palpable. Each minute of light experienced feels like one stolen from a crushing winter. You walk gently about, respectful of plants, with a sense of how your body brea ...more
Mar 19, 2013 Jamie rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Daniel Villines
At the intersection of that Venn diagram of my interests— community and storytelling and wilderness— here sits this book. There are some great essays here— on memory, on art, on biology and geography— and some fascinating subjects— like the essay, “Flight,” his first-hand account of riding shotgun on the boggling logistics of our global economy, or “Orchids on the Volcanos,” on the reality of the present-day Galápagos Islands, or “The Whaleboat,” on whaling from Melville and Moby-Dick to Greely ...more
Aug 12, 2012 Cheryl rated it it was amazing
Not many books of essays bring me to tears. I was affected in almost every synapse in my brain and every emotion in my heart; this was perfection in language, in heart, in science, in exploration and adventure, in deep, real connections between strangers, in anthropological examinations of tribes and people; perfection in being attuned to every holy and sacred place, thing and moment in the world; and, and, and, his being able to verbalize it so so so exquisitely. Gush, gush, gush. An anonymous ...more
Oct 07, 2009 Andi rated it really liked it
Lopez is one of those writers that every nonfiction writer is told to read. His name is on almost every page of the little stack of “Books You Should Read” lists that I keep in the right-hand cubby of my desk. Yet, here I am, just reading him for the first time. Okay, so maybe that’s not quite accurate. I think I read “The Eye of the Raven,” a selection from Desert Notes, in some anthology along the way of life, and it was really striking.

Thus, when I came across his book About This Life in some
George Seaton
Aug 24, 2012 George Seaton rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 27, 2012 Rick rated it it was ok
Shelves: essays
This is my introduction to Barry Lopez and it was a less engaging one than I hoped it would be. The essays are personal, at times too personal, not in the sense that they are intimate but in that they present a take that left this reader wondering, “Really? You did that, huh?” On a long country road trek across the country you stopped to be respectful of any and all roadkill be it a deer, raccoon, cat, squirrel, crow, rodent. Each time you pulled off the road to provide an ecological burial? Tha ...more
Jan 07, 2017 Quo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who appreciate the complexity of language and see travel as a means of personal discovery
I have had previous encounters with Barry Lopez as an author and a speaker and am for the most part enthralled by his prose. However, rating an anthology, whether one filled with prose or with poetry, is a more difficult undertaking. Much of About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory is articulately phrased & even eloquent. One gropes for a manner in which to express an appreciation for the writing of Barry Lopez that will do him justice. And yet I did find a few of the essays tire ...more
Steve Duong
Sep 26, 2010 Steve Duong rated it did not like it
Shelves: big-picture-301
I consider anyone who reads this to have patience like a temple. I could not for the life of me sit down and read this book. Every single page was a triumph in not loosing consciousness. I have never read a book so boring before in my life. Don't get me wrong, I love Barry Lopez, I've read a few of his books (mainly compilations of essays and poems) but this.. this was just not something I could stomach. Look, Barry Lopez is a traveler. You can either find him 2000 ft in the air or roaming a int ...more
Apr 24, 2009 Isaac rated it it was amazing
This book. This book is an unburied treasure, a masterpiece adding new words to my lexicon and new thoughts to my cerebrum sentence by sentence. Barry Lopez is an incredible individual, and this compilation of travel writing and personal reflections shows his character with a clarity that I have very rarely come across. I read with a mix of envy awe and joy at his vast knowledge of the natural world along with technology and human history.

A month plummeting around the world on 747 cargo plane
Sep 17, 2008 Claudia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environment, writing
You may know Barry Lopez from books such as "Arctic Dreams," "Of Wolves and Men," "Field Notes," or "Crossing Open Ground."

All of them pale when comparing them to the incredible collection of writing and essays found in "About This Life."

Rather than solely describing nature as potential for conquest, Lopez steps back and gazes on the relationship between human nature and non-human nature, mulling time and place, and asking: What does it mean to be who we are, where we are?

His writing is some of
Aug 05, 2011 Caitlin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
“Being on time is like being on fire.”
These essays accomplish what I think Terry Tempest Williams set out to do – describe the relationship between man and nature, as well as celebrate observation and experience of the natural world - but do it so much better. Lopez has a remarkable talent for incredibly precise, minute descriptions of the sensory and psychological experiences of and reactions to nature. He really makes the reader slow down, evoking memories and drawing so much meaning out of t
May 04, 2013 Richard rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. It is old enough that it may be hard to get but I have chosen it to be the featured read for The Stranger Than Fiction Book Group for Sept. My hero Kaite Stover has managed to find 9 copies. This book of essays about all matter of things is worth reading if all you read is the essay discribing the author's hands. If you work with your hands or love someone who does this may bring tears to your eyes. It did mine. This was a National Book Award winner and Lopez has al ...more
Jan 20, 2013 Alexia rated it it was ok
"I came to value exceedingly novels and essays and works of nonfiction that connected human enterprise to real and specific places, and I grew to be mildly distrustful of work that occured in no particular place, work so cerebral and detached as to be refutable only in an argument of ideas."

I struggled with how many stars to give this book. This is the first book I've read, haven't liked, but respected. I think it comes down to the quote I copied above. As readers we value very different things
I usually love Barry Lopez, but this collection didn't click for me. I didn't like that the essays were all in different exotic places, and that the ones I read weren't that long. It began to feel like globe-hopping without any connecting thread. This might be a good book to read after reading all the other Barry Lopez essays, with this one as desert.
Nov 30, 2016 Norma rated it really liked it
I loved these essays, though I admit I had to have a dictionary by my side...sometimes as he uses $10 words where a $1 would do nicely....and make the ideas more clear...still he is a fantastic weaver of words.
Nov 27, 2016 Nicky rated it really liked it
Short essays about various places Lopez has traveled. I love reading his essays because he pays such close attention when he travels and follows through on details to understand a place.
Cynthia Schmidt
Jan 04, 2017 Cynthia Schmidt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoy the writing of Barry Lopez. His gift of observation is unmatched.
Aug 30, 2008 Richard rated it really liked it
I had not heard of Lopez before but this book is a series of essays that he has written for other publications. They are descriptions of experiences in various places. Some I really liked were: A trip to the northern most Japanese Island of Hokkaido as he visits with some of the local people. He describes a desire to understand how air freight is moved around the world so he takes 2 weeks and travels on specially built 747 airplanes that carry cargo around the world. He describes his travel to S ...more
Jun 09, 2009 Mary rated it it was amazing
The generic-sounding title gives no hint of the
richly personal mix in this collection. When Lopez
saw a cargo planeload of dead cows scattered
on the ground in Alaska after a crash, he got
curious about air cargo, tracked it around the world
for days on end, got into Boeing to understand the
vehicles, and produced a fascinating report called
"Flight." Again, he was on a scientific expedition
in the Arctic that made him decide to give up
photography for writing after he realized he had
been so b
Jul 26, 2013 Kaesha rated it really liked it
Barry Lopez’s “About This Life” is a collection of essays related to travel, concerned with the inner landscape as well as the outer. While Lopez expertly details his worldly experiences (enduring jet lag, disorientation, and remote islands), he focuses solely on the episode itself, never his feelings toward the adventure. Initially, I found this to be a bit odd, especially considering the fact that he is recounting his own stories. But, I realized that this calm, thoughtful mood he creates by w ...more
Mar 09, 2010 Stephanie rated it liked it
Shelves: outdoor-books
There is some AWE inspiring writing in this book, I mean really really good stuff. There are passages that highlighted, and circled, that should win awards all on their own. If you are an inspiring writer and want to see some writing that is boarder line poetic this is IT. But the book as a whole is a little long winded and I struggled staying interested in it.

It was the type of book I would pick up at the beach when I had extra time and wanted to relax. Or that I would read to inspire myself to
May 29, 2007 Lauren rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who likes barry lopez
This is by far one of the best Lopez books around. I savored each essay and want to go back and re-read them all. Professors take note: Some of these would be great for teaching, especially "Apologia," "Learning to See," "Flight," and each of the short essays in Part IV ("Death," "Murder," "Speed," and "Theft"--esp. "Theft"!). These essays are wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!!!

Incidentally, I met Mr. Lopez while I was about mid-way through this book and we had coffee together for about two hour
Oct 26, 2015 Cindy rated it liked it
The first three quarters of this book felt virtually devoid of humanity. I imagine that most people reviewing would disagree, but I say this because my own interests happen to be with behavior (animals or human), emotion and language; interests that don't include light, landscape or the scope of a traveler. And strangely, I feel somewhat inadequate to review this book. It may possibly have to do with my own lack of the artsy-fartsy gene. The last two or three chapters almost bring this book up t ...more
Jul 20, 2015 Susan rated it really liked it
I loved the Barry Lopez book Arctic Dreams,
not least of all for the author's prose style.
In this collection of essays, we learn much more that is personal and feel the author's
sense of community with nature and animals.
I particularly loved the essay about his stopping and burying animals killed by cars.
His writing remains beautiful, too. However
there were a couple of these pieces I jus couldn't get through and gave up and moved
on to the next one. In general, the beginning and end were strong and
Feb 14, 2009 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Barry Lopez again made me think about the power of landscape and my place in it with this collection of essays. This time he also gave me some meaty thoughts to ponder regarding memory and how it shapes a place. The book contained a nice mix of memoir, reportage, nature writing and persuasive essays. I was fascinated by Lopez's exploration of freight planes in "Flight," his discussion of our connection with the local landscape in "The American Geographies," and his attempts to reconnect with and ...more
Aug 06, 2011 Tina rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
There were passages and entire essays in this collection that seemed to unlock a part of my mind that had been lying dormant, waiting to be awakened by beauty and depth of perception. It is not an easy read, and I found I needed to bring my own mental energy to engage with the depths of Lopez's writing, observations, and wisdom. His writing is beautiful, infused with a natural spirituality, and a celebration of the sacred in the earth and in our humanity.

Radhika (rads)
Sep 12, 2014 Radhika (rads) marked it as to-read
(Recommendede by Arti Rao (Photog) duirng the FB "list 10 books" tag and when people were being judged. A quote therein

"... Tell her to read...Tell her to read whatever interests her, and protect her if someone declares what she's reading to be trash. No one can fathom what happens between a human being and written language. She may be paying attention to things in the words beyond anyone else's comprehension, things that feed her curiosity, her singular heart and mind. ..."
Jan 17, 2008 Mateo is currently reading it
This guy can WRITE. His words are whipping me into shape to take the GRE. His attention is teaching me to live slowly. I am jealous by how good a person he comes off as being in these essays, but inspired by his honoring of the seemingly inconsequential, drawing out profound stories from the stillest moments of life. This book is reccomended for those who will, have, or do travel, but maybe are years off from their destination.
Michelle Despres
Dec 30, 2015 Michelle Despres rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, essays

This was my first exposure to Lopez. It felt like travel memoir (part one), essay (part two), nonfiction (part three), and even fiction (part four).

Part one was my favorite, and, interestingly, I loved the introduction. Part four was my second favorite.

Lopez is a great writer with an exceptional vocabulary and knowledge about a variety of subjects. Wow.

Parts two and three just didn't grab me like the other two. I would read more of his travel writing.
Ryan Mishap
Assembled with the promise of being a memoir type deal, this book is actually just essays, with only the first really being an autobiographical sketch. My personal favorite here was "Apologia" an elegy for the animals killed by cars on the roadways. Lopez stops when he comes across roadkill and--unlike some gross anarchists we could talk about--he buries the body as an apology and service.
Read his fiction work, Resistance.
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Barry Holstun López is an American author, essayist, and fiction writer whose work is known for its environmental and social concerns.

López has been described as "the nation's premier nature writer" by the San Francisco Chronicle. In his non-fiction, he frequently examines the relationship between human culture and physical landscape, while in his fiction he addresses issues of intimacy, ethics an
More about Barry López...

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“For so many centuries, the exchange of gifts has held us together. It has made it possible to bridge the abyss where language struggles.” 12 likes
“Over the years, one comes to measure a place, too, not just for the beauty it may give, the balminess of its breezes, the insouciance and relaxation it encourages, the sublime pleasures it offers, but for what it teaches. The way in which it alters our perception of the human. It is not so much that you want to return to indifferent or difficult places, but that you want to not forget.” 10 likes
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