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Magdalena Mountain: A Novel

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  52 ratings  ·  19 reviews

A rich and rollicking first novel from one of America's most beloved and widely acclaimed nature writers, Robert Michael Pyle

In Magdalena Mountain, Robert Michael Pyle's first and long-awaited novel, the award-winning naturalist proves he is at home in an imagined landscape as he is in the natural one. At the center of this story of majesty and magic in the natural world

Kindle Edition, 400 pages
Published August 15th 2018 by Counterpoint
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3.56  · 
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 ·  52 ratings  ·  19 reviews

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Butterflies, monks, students and teachers, prophets and saints: such is the cast of naturalist Robert Michael Pyle’s unusual and rewarding debut novel, Magdalena Mountain. It’s a golden autumn in the early 1970s as James Mead leaves Albuquerque on a Greyhound bus to travel to New Haven, Connecticut, where he will undertake a PhD in biology at Yale. He squats in a lab on campus to save money and, after some tension with his thesis advisor, decides to keep his head down, feeding the department’s g ...more
Aug 21, 2018 marked it as to-read
Absolutely stunning cover.
Josephine Ensign
Aug 27, 2018 rated it liked it
This book hooked me from the beginning, got a bit messy in the middle, and had a good landing place/ending. This read as if it were a long stored away attempt at a first novel by a very young Pyle, now dusted off and completed.
H R Koelling
Aug 28, 2018 rated it liked it
I am grateful to Counterpoint Press for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review. I am so grateful that I seriously considered not writing my review because I struggled to finish the book; I almost gave up on it several times.

I'm an educated and intelligent man, but RMP's antiquated writing style made reading it a great mental chore. I have a pretty extensive vocabulary, but I constantly found myself reaching for the dictionary to figure out what some new word (to me)
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Pyle has written a lovely novel, combining his deep knowledge and love of the natural world with keen and witty observations on academics, and a rich set of characters. I enjoyed the complexity in the layering and structure, and the shifts between the peaceful and poetic observations of the butterflies, to the various story-lines of intrigue, love, and a rather wacky exploration of refugees from classical religion. Quite a bit for a first novel!

What I love most about Pyle's writing is the lovely
Steven Howes
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found this to be an enjoyable and worthy first effort at fiction writing by an accomplished scientist and author of numerous nature-related books and field guides. He is an accomplished and well-known lepidopterist (butterfly specialist). I found this book to be a clever mixture of fiction along with a good bit of scientific and historical fact; and centers around the quest by a number of characters to find and observe a rare butterfly known as the Magdalena alpine found in the mountains of Co ...more
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Over the course of Robert Michael Pyle’s Magdalena Mountain, three characters undergo metamorphosis. For one, an Erebia magdalena butterfly, the metamorphosis is expected and follows the established course. For the other two, the humans, their metamorphoses become winding journeys as they work out who and where they are meant to be. But unlike other psychological portraits, this novel is written in a style I don’t often see anymore. Magdalena Mountain reads like something a nineteenth century sc ...more
Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Pyle is a favorite author whose debut novel is definitely unusual. I had just finished David Quammen’s long treatise, Song of the Dodo, when I picked up Magdalena Mountain, which is full of references to the naturalists mentioned in Quammen’s book. I especially loved the chapters on Erebia magdalena. Pyle’s descriptive passages are mesmerizing. His vocabulary is pretty much over-the-top. You’ll need a dictionary. I wasn’t enamored of the “monks in the grove” episodes, but they brought the overal ...more
Oct 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
I know that Pyle is a widely respected scientist and writer - with impressive credentials and a long list of successful books to his name. However, this is his first novel and I found it awkward and contrived to fit what he really wanted to write about - which is butterflies. The chapters that described the natural world were beautiful and lyrical. However, the chapters that wove the “story” were laden with cliches and awkward dialogue. A good editor could have perhaps helped but each thread of ...more
Harve Lemelin
Mar 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
I am familiar with the writings of Robert, and I am in awe of his activism, so I was quite excited when I heard that he had written a work of fiction. So I ordered it and started reading it, then I put it down on a number of occasions to read other novels. The novel exudes a profound knowledge and reverence of nature and that's to be expected from this author, I just found that this ode to entomological graduate studies took a long time to get to the denouement and a number of characters periphe ...more
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow! I have read Robert Michael Pyle before and been impressed, but "Magdalena Mountain"; as Pyle's first fiction, reads like a career masterwork. "Wintergreen" and "Where Bigfoot Walks" were beautiful descriptive books of Pyle's adventures in the Northwest. Wonderful but "Magdalena" adds a story to frame all the nature, history and truth that Pyle can tell us.
The central characters of James Mead and the singular erebia magdalena are so compelling, and then there is Mary, or should we also say M
Mary Keen
Feb 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
(paperback, not kindle edition)

I read this for a book club --may add to this after our discussion

Loved Pyle's beautiful writing style and also his deep knowledge of ecology and this area of the Rockies. Had to look up words several, so my vocabulary benefited too.

LIked the beginning and the ending sections, but tho't some sections needed an editor.

I could have done without all the sex and IMO quite graphic details.

If Mead's experience at Yale is typical of committees for grad students, then i ha
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Pyle’s debut novel is compelling and quick read. Like his other writing, Pyle takes the reader on a journey deep into nature and here weaves in a narrative of Mary Magdalene, the biblical figure, and a butterfly with a shared name. Pyle is first a nature writer and this is supported beautifully throughout this book.
Kay J
Dec 10, 2018 rated it liked it
This was such an interesting read, I liked it although I got lost in some of the description(a bit hard to follow at times) I didn't get bored. James was a cool character.
R.K. Cowles
Aug 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
4 1/4 stars. It is tough to find fresh stories these days. A story the author makes as interesting as it seemed that wouldn't.
Jan 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the moving between meed and the butterfly’s perspective. The book overall is a big uneven but the ending is satisfying enough
Ann Cooper
Sep 16, 2018 rated it liked it
An entertaining, sprawling novel that was fun to read because the places and species were so familiar.
rated it liked it
Jan 24, 2019
Marieke Bender
rated it really liked it
Feb 05, 2019
rated it really liked it
Aug 26, 2018
Apr 20, 2019 marked it as to-read
Read it to p 46, but it has shuffled to the side through renewals. It does seem it will take off & keep me reading more attentively after this, so I will re-request the book soon. There is much stage setting for the geography, biology & butterflies; presumably necessary to move further into the story.
rated it liked it
May 17, 2019
rated it it was ok
Mar 25, 2019
Laura Matson
rated it liked it
Mar 06, 2019
Counterpoint Press
rated it it was amazing
Aug 16, 2018
rated it it was ok
Sep 06, 2018
rated it really liked it
May 16, 2019
I couldn't reach the summit of this mountain. It's beautifully written, but I didn't have the time to get through it.
rated it liked it
Oct 13, 2018
rated it it was ok
Dec 06, 2018
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Robert Michael Pyle is a lepidopterist and a professional writer who has published twelve books and hundreds of papers, essays, stories and poems. He has a Ph.D. from the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University. He founded the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in 1974. His acclaimed 1987 book Wintergreen describing the devastation caused by unrestrained logging i ...more