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A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There

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First published in 1949, A Sand County Almanac combines some of the finest nature writing since Thoreau with an outspoken and highly ethical regard for America's relationship to the land.

Written with an unparalleled understanding of the ways of nature, the book includes a section on the monthly changes of the Wisconsin countryside; another part that gathers informal pieces written by Leopold over a forty-year period as he traveled through the woodlands of Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona, Sonora, Oregon, Manitoba, and elsewhere; and a final section in which Leopold addresses the philosophical issues involved in wildlife conservation. As the forerunner of such important books as Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, and Robert Finch's The Primal Place, this classic work remains as relevant today as it was sixty-five years ago.

269 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1949

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About the author

Aldo Leopold

40 books587 followers
Aldo Leopold (1887–1948) had lasting impact on natural resource management and policy in the early to mid-twentieth century and his influence has continued to expand since his death. It was through his observation, experience, and reflection at his Wisconsin river farm that he honed the concepts of land health and a land ethic that have had ever-growing influence in the years since his death. He published more than five hundred articles and three books during the course of his geographically widespread career, but it was time at his shack and farm in Wisconsin that inspired most of the disarmingly simple essays in A Sand County Almanac that so many have found so thought-provoking.

The Aldo Leopold Foundation was founded in 1982 by Aldo Leopold's children—Starker, Luna, Nina, Carl, and Estella. The Leopolds all became respected scientists and conservationists in their own right. They established the foundation primarily because they realized that the shack and farm would be a focal point for their father's legacy for generations to come. A 501(c)(3) public charity, ALF owns and manages the Leopold Center, including the Leopold Shack and 264 surrounding acres in addition to several other parcels, and also manages much of the adjoining 1,800-acre Leopold Memorial Reserve established by neighboring landowners as an early land trust in 1967. It acts as the executor of Leopold's literary estate, encourages scholarship on Leopold, and serves as a clearinghouse for information regarding Leopold, his work, and his ideas. It provides interpretive resources and tours for some 5,000 visitors annually, cooperates with partners on education and other off-site programming, and maintains a robust website and numerous print resources. The Aldo Leopold Foundation manages this Goodreads page.

Leopold's life story, the development of his career as a conservationist, scientist, writer, and philosopher, and his open-mindedness, his vision, and the evolution of his thinking throughout his life inspire others to start or further their own intellectual journey of discovery. A closer engagement with Leopold's story, his writing, and the place that inspired him and his family helps people better to understand the contours of American environmental history and the role of nature in American culture, and to reflect on their own place in the complex weave of the way our society relates to land. Leopold's vision of a society that cares about people, land, and the connections between them provides a starting point for thinking about modern-day cultures, economies, ecosystems, and communities.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,828 reviews
Profile Image for Chris.
212 reviews7 followers
November 20, 2009
How is it possible that I earned a BS in natural resources (and slipping toward an MS in wildlife) without being required to read this book? Aldo Leopold is often called the father of wildlife management. But Sand County Almanac is not a text book, with nary a glossary, set of models, or flow chart within its pages. It does contain some pretty drawings, and some spellbinding imagery. Leopold goes beyond vividly describing a scene of chopping wood or canoeing a river; he pans back to ecological connectivity or the aesthetic importance of the natural world to humanity. He talks about the need for a land ethic, and it sounds very logical and obvious-- I have to remind myself that he wrote these essays before such a mindset was commonplace. Even if his views were not completely original for the time, he is undoubtedly remembered for being so darn eloquent. A master of the one-liner, it's no wonder that all of my nat res classes seemed to quote him several times each semester (and some classes on a weekly basis). I feel sheepish for not reading it much earlier in my career, but I'm very glad I picked it up. He was a remarkable naturalist and writer. I can see him clearly, squatting in ice-crusted mud before dawn breaks over the marsh, his shotgun poking through the reeds and ears open to the sounds of approaching waterfowl, all the while silently creating poetry.
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,129 followers
August 23, 2017
What a dull world if we knew all about geese!

Nature is refreshing. Even a short walk in a park can powerfully clear one’s head. For whatever reason—perhaps because our ancestors lived in trees—surrounding oneself with birches and maples produces in nearly everyone feelings of warmth, comfort, and peace. And for many people, nature is more than refreshing: it is awe-inspiring, even divine. Natural environments are, for some, more uplifting than cathedrals. Emerson might have captured this strain of mystical naturalism best:
In the woods, we return to reason and faith. … Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite spaces,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being flow through me; I am part or particle of God.

I myself have had comparable experiences in the woods. Yet both Emerson and I are pure amateurs next to Aldo Leopold.

Leopold was a pioneering conservationist and forester. He was also a superlative writer, and in this brief book he covers a lot of ground. He begins with a month-by-month account of Sand County, a poor farming region in Wisconsin. This was my favorite section, since Leopold’s sensitivity to his environment is nearly superhuman. He has a keen sense of both the history of environments—how they change with the seasons, how they have evolved through time, how they have been warped by human activity—and the close-knit interdependence of ecosystems, how each organism shapes and is shaped by every other organism, forming a perfect whole.

As a stylist, he manages to be lyrical and poetic while sticking scrupulously to what he sees and hears. His sentences are short, his diction simple, and yet he manages to evoke a densely complex ecosystem. This is because, unlike Emerson or I—and more so than Thoreau—Leopold really understood his environment. He can name every species of plant, and tell what soils they prefer and what plants they like as neighbors. He can identify every bird by its call, and knows where it roosts, what it eats, when it migrates, and how it mates. Scratches on a tree tell him a deer is nearby, his antlers fully grown; the footprints in snow tell him a skunk has passed, and how recently.

All this is described with exquisite sensitivity, but no romantic embellishment. To borrow a phrase from E.B. White, Leopold had discovered “the eloquence of facts.” And, like White, Thoreau, and Emerson, his writing has a pleasing, folksy, rambling, ambling quality, wherein each sentence is nailed to the next one at an oblique angle.

In the rest of the book, Leopold puts forward a new philosophy of conservation. This train of thought reminded my very much of another book I read recently, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In that book, Jane Jacobs explains how top-down approaches to city planning killed neighborhood vitality. Just so, when Leopold was a young man in the forestry service, he participated in the policy of removing predators—bears, wolves, and mountain lions—to protect livestock and to increase the supply of hunting animals, like deer. When hunting became necessary to control population, parks began building more and more roads to make access easier; and meanwhile the exploding deer population prevented new trees from growing. Thus the park was encroached upon by cars, and the ecosystem thrown off balance—in the same way that blindly building highways and public housing can destroy neighborhoods.

Leopold was, I believe, one of the first to popularize the idea that ecosystems act like one giant organism, with a delicate balance of cooperating and competing components. Every healthy ecosystem is a harmony that cannot be disturbed without unpredictable results. To again borrow from Jacobs, an ecosystem—like a city economy or a human brain—is an example of “organized complexity.” Thus ecosystems baffle attempts to understand them by thinking of their components separately, as a collection of individual species, or even statistically, as the average behavior of interchangeable parts. Complexity like this tends to be a product of historical growth, with each distinct component making minute adjustments to each other in a dense network of influence. Leopold doesn’t say this in so many words; but he does something even more impressive: he illustrates this quality using short anecdotes and schoolboy vocabulary.

His most philosophic contribution to the environmental movement is what he called a “land ethic.” Previous arguments for conservation were couched in terms of expediency: how national parks and nature reserves could benefit us economically. Leopold believed that this approach was too narrow; since hunting lodges and mechanized farms are always more profitable in the short term, this would eventually result in the destruction of wild ecosystems and the disappearance of species. We needed to move beyond arguments of expediency and see the land—and everything on it—as valuable for its own sake. Leopold believed that we had an ethical duty to preserve ecosystems and all their species, and that the aesthetic reward of wild nature was more valuable than dollars and cents could measure.

I want to go along with this, but I thought that Leopold was unsatisfyingly vague in this direction. It is simply not enough to say that we have an ethical duty to preserve nature; this is quite a claim, and requires quite a bit of argument. Further, aesthetic value seems like a slender reed to rest on. For every Emerson and Thoreau, there is a Babbitt whose tastes are not so refined. To his credit, Leopold does argue that a great part of conservation must consist in elevating the public taste in nature. Otherwise, conservation will consist of little more than the government using tax dollars to purchase large swaths of land. Individuals must see the value in wilderness and actively participate in preserving it. But molding tastes is no easy thing; and, more importantly, if we are to do so, there must be compelling reasons to do it.

The most compelling reasons for conservation are, I believe, expediency—but expediency in the widest sense. The difference between folly and wisdom is not that the former is preoccupied with expediency and the latter higher things; it is that wisdom considers what is expedient on a grander scale. Leopold comes close to making this same argument. He was, for example, ahead of his time in being deeply concerned about extinction. Every time a species disappears it is an irreplaceable loss; and considering that our medicine partly depends on new discoveries, extinctions may have terrible consequences for us down the line. (I saw a PBS special the other day about scientists trying to discover new antibiotics by shifting through raw soil.) Since Leopold's day—long before Silent Spring or An Incovenient Truth—we have learned plenty more ways that environmental destruction can be equivalent to self-destruction.

Carping aside, this is a deeply satisfying book: lyrical, descriptive, educational, and innovative. Leopold realized what Orwell also realized: that winning converts requires both argument and propaganda. He does not only argue for the value of nature, but he really captures the beauty of unspoiled environments and serves it up for his readers’ consideration. We are not only convinced, but seduced. This is propaganda in its noblest form—propaganda on behalf of nature.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
October 24, 2018
“Does the economist know the grebe?”—Aldo Leopold

You begin with this, which is where I believe we are, in terms of the health of the planet:


Sand County Almanac is a 1949 collection of essays by Wisconsin conservationist Leopold—some people now call him one of the fathers of “deep ecology”—that is one of the two most influential and well known environmental books of the twentieth century, the other being Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Today it continues to sell about 40,000 copies a year, though apparently that was not enough or perhaps influential enough readers to stop the tide he saw rising as early as the middle of the nineteenth century, where shortsighted American corporate greed and consequent rapacious environmental destruction triumphed over what he called a “land ethic,” or a responsible relationship existing between people and the land they inhabit.

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

Leopold knew that most Americans look at beautiful natural places and think profit:

“To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.”

But he writes with a deeper appreciation of that beauty:

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”

Leopold loves art and music but worries that people might value art in a museum and music from a symphony more than the Colorado Rockies or “geese music.”

People, Leopold knew even then, are cut off from nature, couldn’t name as he does lovingly and knowingly the plants and animals that are around them, nor see how crucial they are to our survival on the planet; as Wordsworth said:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Leopold thinks that we went wrong when we decided to teach chemistry in school but not ecological ethics along with it. Maybe he wouldn't be so sad about the damage already done to the environment in the forties when he wrote this. But because was one of the few educated to know it, he felt isolated:

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

The "marks of death" he was observing closely, and tracking from a century before. What would he write about now, when he was already so sad and mad then? These essays that I reread felt like a sad elegy to a time that he was already himself lamenting, when we might still have made the choice to live in harmony with nature.

Here is Leopold in his essay, “Thinking like a Mountain”:

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes - something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.…I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf's job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.”

Our world has been shaped by ignorance, and shortsighted businessmen, and our preference for what he calls "gadgetry" (our love of tech, already in the forties) over the deep pleasures of the outdoors:

“The modern dogma is comfort at any cost.”

But at what price, for those of us facing the future now?

Why science’s warning about two little ol’ degrees of global warming is so crucial:


My review of Mark Lynas’s Six Degrees:


Okay, so you don’t have time to read a whole book about ecology? Try his one essay, “Thinking like a Mountain:��

Profile Image for Tony.
897 reviews1,482 followers
November 11, 2016
Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty.*


Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.

There is nothing, nothing, beyond Aldo Leopold's reach of words. I've read, oh, sixty or seventy books so far this year - some inventive, some incisive - but nothing matches the magic of this writing. And so, I'll have to quote a lot.

Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folks may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a shovel. By virtue of this curious loophole in the rules, any clodhopper may say : Let there be a tree--and there will be one. . . . God passed on his handiwork as early as the seventh day, but I notice He has been rather noncommittal about its merits. I gather either He spoke too soon, or that trees stand more looking upon than do fig leaves and firmaments.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

There are other plants who seem to ask of this world not riches but room. Such is the little sandwort that throws a white-lace cap over the poorest hilltops just before the lupines splash them with blue. Sandworts simply refuse to live on a a good farm, even on a very good farm, complete with rock garden and begonias. And then there is the little Linaria, so small, so slender, and so blue that you don't even see it until it is directly underfoot; who ever saw a Linaria except on a sandblow? . . . There are birds that are found only in the Sand Counties, for reasons sometimes easy, sometimes difficult, to guess. The clay-colored sparrow is there, for the clear reason that he is enamored of jackpines, and jackpines of sand. The sandhill crane is there, for the clear reason that he is enamored of solitude, and there is none left elsewhere. But why do woodcocks prefer to nest in sandy regions? Their preference is rooted in no such mundane matter as food, for earthworms are far more abundant on better soils. After years of study, I now think I know the reason. The male woodcock, while doing his preening prologue to the sky dance, is like a short lady in high heels: he does not show up to advantage in dense tangled ground cover. But on the poorest sand-streak of the poorest pasture or meadow of the Sand Counties, there is, in April at least, no ground cover at all, save only moss, Draba, cardamine, sheep-sorrel, and Antennaria, all negligible imprediments to a bird with short legs. Here the male woodcock can puff and strut and mince, not only without let or hindrance, but in full view of his audience, real or hoped-for. This little circumstance, important for only an hour a day, for only one month of the year, perhaps for only one of the two sexes, and certainly wholly irrelevant to economic standards of living, determine the woodcock's choice of home.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun. The Cro-Magnon who slew the the last mammoth thought only of steaks. The sportsman who shot the last pigeon thought only of his prowess. The sailor who clubbed the last auk thought of nothing at all. But we, who have lost our pigeons, mourn the loss. Had the funeral been ours, the pigeons would hardly have mourned us. In this fact, rather than in Mr. DuPont's nylons or Mr. Vannevar Bush's bombs, lies objective evidence of our superiority over the beasts.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

Thus always does history, whether of marsh or market place, end in paradox. The ultimate value in these marshes is wildness, and the crane is wildness incarnate. But all conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wildness left to cherish.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

There's an extended part of this book where the author and others saw through an old oak that has fallen on his property. He cites the history, backwards, as they saw through, ring by ring, year by year. It's splendid stuff and not conventional history like Hitler did this or General Sherman did that; but, more about carp planting and barbed wire and the things meadow mice have been know to do. At the end (beginning) of each decade, we hear: Rest! cries the chief sawyer, and we pause for breath. So, there's a musical cadence too.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

Sorry for quoting so much, but I hope you see why I did. This book is in three parts: the first two are his observations of nature and the last part is kind of a call to arms for conservation of wilderness. This book was written almost 70 years ago and Leopold knew, even then, that what he was preaching was a lost cause. Yet this book remains in 'the higher gamut.'

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

Four boarding passes, and four light-rail link passes, gave their lives, in little torn pieces, to mark the many passages in this book worth remembering.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

*I read almost this exact quote two weeks ago in the book Rendez-vous with Art. I went back and couldn't quite put my finger on it, so you'll have to trust me.

Profile Image for Melki.
5,676 reviews2,324 followers
December 27, 2018
I first read this book back in college as extra credit in a biology class. My reread was made more pleasurable this time around due to the fact that I wasn't being graded, and to the addition of Michael Sewell's stunning nature photographs.

The book features monthly entries, as Leopold guides you through a year spent on his one hundred and twenty acre Wisconsin farm. His writing style is warm and welcoming, and occasionally dosed with humor:

My dog does not care where heat comes from, but he cares ardently that it come, and soon. Indeed he considers my ability to make it come as something magical, for when I rise in the cold black pre-dawn and kneel shivering by the hearth making a fire, he pushes himself blandly between me and the kindling splits I have laid on the ashes, and I must touch a match to them by poking it between his legs. Such faith, I suppose, is the kind that moves mountains.

His observations are perceptive:

One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.
A cardinal, whistling spring to a thaw, but later finding himself mistaken, can retrieve his error by resuming his winter silence. A chipmunk, emerging for a sunbath but finding a blizzard has only to go back to bed. But a migrating goose, staking two hundred miles of black night on the chance of finding a hole in the lake, has no easy chance for retreat. His arrival carries the conviction of a prophet who has burned his bridges.

And, I loved this line about the utter perfection of one particular month:

I sometimes think that the other months were constituted mainly as a fitting interlude between Octobers . . .

This edition concludes with some eloquent essays, pleas really, about the importance of conservation.

Leopold's book was published posthumously in 1949, and has never gone out of print. I highly recommend this one - words from a fine teacher offering important lessons on taking the time to observe the world around you.
Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,820 reviews225 followers
April 23, 2017
I've had this book on my shelf for ages and decided to read it in honor of Earth Day. It's a little too cold for reading outside today but the sun is shining, I have the door wall open and I'm enjoying the fresh breezes and birdsongs of spring...while listening to a few of Bach's cello suites. Perfect!

Writing in 1948, Aldo Leopold was already lamenting the damage to nature and the environment caused by human greed and carelessness in the pursuit of more and bigger. He asks the question: "Is a higher 'standard of living' worth its cost in things natural, wild and free?"

Part I is written as an almanac of seasonal experiences at his weekend retreat on a sand farm in southern Wisconsin. "There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot."

Part II are sketches of forty years of travels across the continent and the issues of conservation he had observed.

In Part III The Upshot, Leopold lets loose some of his thoughts on what has become of our beautiful, wild country. And this was nearly 70 years ago! Quite depressing. And now that we have climate-change deniers in the administration and the EPA standards and regulations weakened or cancelled, is there any hope at all? Sad, sad, sad...

All these essay are beautifully illustrated by the drawings of Charles W. Schwartz.

Aldo Leopold died the same year this book was written (1948) while helping to fight a grass fire on a neighboring farm. This was shortly after becoming an advisor on conservation to the United Nations. He was posthumously named to the National Wildlife Federation's Conservation Hall of Fame in 1965.
Profile Image for Joy D.
1,784 reviews213 followers
September 12, 2021
“Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity, belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

Published in 1949, Aldo Leopold is an early conservationist, following in the footsteps of John Muir. The book is arranged seasonally in the essay format of an almanac. It is focused on the natural region of the author’s home in Wisconsin. It features lovely nature writing:

“On motionless wing they emerge from the lifting mists, sweep a final arc of sky, and settle in clangorous descending spirals to their feeding grounds. A new day has begun on the crane marsh.”

I very much enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone interested in the history of conservation.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,697 reviews1,478 followers
March 23, 2020
First published in 1949, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo Leopold was definitely way ahead of its time. Much of that stated within remains valid and relevant still today. It is a book about conservation and ecology and man’s relationship to land.

At the author’s death, in April 1948, the book existed in draft form. His son edited it and brought it into publication a year later.

The book has four parts. The first section reads as a monthly nature almanac. Here is recorded observations of flora and fauna on the author’s 120-acre property in Sauk County, Wisconsin. Thereafter follows snippets, stories, assorted writings at other locations in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, Arizona and New Mexico, Chihuahua and Sonora in northwestern Mexico, Oregon and Utah and finally Manitoba, Canada. The third and then the final fourth section, more and more philosophical, academic and didactic in tone, have essays on conservation, ecology and what the author calls “land ethics”, which, simply put, is the relationship that should exist between the land and those inhabiting it.

As with all collections of essays, some essays are better than others. One’s appreciation of the first and second sections will depend upon the reader’s recognition of the flora and fauna spoken of. Knowing intimately the landscapes will add to one’s appreciation too. My interest was aroused when the creatures and plants I meet on daily walks in France and Sweden are mentioned. The same will be valid for others too.

The prose style is not lyrical. It is philosophical. The author voices his views. His self-assurance is manifest. He has a tendency to look down upon others. The last section is excessively academic and theoretical in tone. He categorically states that the final section will not be of interest to the layman. I found the essays in the second and third sections best and the theorizing in the final section overblown.

Many lines are wise and true. Note the irony embedded in some. Consider the following quotes:

“To those devoid of imagination, a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.”

“All conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.”

“Education is learning to see one thing by going blind to another.”

Speaking of a frightening but magnificent thunderstorm, Leopold says, “It must be a poor life that achieves freedom from fear.”

Speaking of two boys on a camping trip, he says, “The wilderness gave them complete freedom to make mistakes.”

Note the humor here, “Pines, like people, are choosy about their associates.”

And this, in speaking of how other writers and observers of nature fail to register the effects of wind on the bodies of fowl -- “They (other authors' books) are written behind stoves.”

“We grieve only for what we know.”
This is so very true!

Other times, that which Leopold says is questionable. How he looks at hunters and hunting is one example—he is a man of his time. It is stated that Europeans do not camp or partake of meals outside! That is just not true, and it had me questioning the validity of other statements made! This is, I suppose, merely a petitesse.

Much of that which is stated about the value of conservation is today accepted by all. The author speaks of the need to make people aware of the immense satisfaction husbandry of land can bring to a soul. He seeks to encourage the general public’s awareness and perception of nature’s magnificence and innate beauty. He warns us that we must care for it, preserve it for future generations. All of this I support, but tell me, who wouldn’t?! The book’s content is amazing, particularly if one considers how long ago it was written. And yet I must also say that the writing lacks the lyrical resonance of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. It does not pull you in as Carson’s does, not by a long shot.

Mike Chamberlain narrates the audiobook. He speaks clearly. The tempo is not rushed, but the reading is without modulation. He drones on and on. The audio performance I have given three stars.


*Silent Spring 5 stars by Rachel Carson
*A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There 3 stars by Aldo Leopold
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,715 reviews638 followers
October 24, 2018
This latest and best issue of the classic A Sand County Almanac captures Leopold's philosophy with magnificent photographs by Michael Sewell.

This edition, in conjunction with the Aldo Leopold Foundation (which fosters an ethical relationship between people and land), includes some facsimiles of the original almanac and, more importantly, a number of short essays on The Land Ethic.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,554 reviews2,534 followers
October 15, 2017
As a conservationist, Leopold was an heir to Thoreau and a thinker ahead of his time, yet I expect few people know how much of our current philosophy of wildness and the human impact on the world is indebted to him. This was first published in 1949, the year after Leopold’s death, but so many of his musings ring true today: how we only appreciate wildlife if we can put an economic value on it, the troubles we get into when we eradicate predators and let prey animals run rampant, and the danger of being disconnected from the land that supplies our very life. And all of this he delivers in beautiful, incisive prose. The almanac itself, a month-by-month account of life in his native patch of Wisconsin, contributes less than half of the length of the book; the rest is composed of occasional pieces set everywhere from Mexico to Manitoba. Although I liked the almanac best, there are memorable lines strewn throughout. (Charles W. Schwartz’s black-and-white illustrations are also wonderful.)

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

“A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land.”

“whereas I write a poem by dint of mighty cerebration, the yellow-leg walks a better one just by lifting his foot.”
Profile Image for E. G..
1,112 reviews669 followers
May 16, 2016

A Sand County Almanac

--January Thaw

--Good Oak

--The Geese Return

--Come High Water
--Bur Oak
--Sky Dance

--Back from the Argentine

--The Alder Fork

--Great Possessions
--Prairie Birthday

--The Green Pasture

--The Choral Copse

--Smoky Gold
--Too Early
--Red Lanterns

--If I Were the Wind
--A Mighty Fortress

--Home Range
--Pines above the Snow

Sketches Here and There

--Marshland Elegy
--The Sand Counties
--On a Monument to the Pigeon

Illinois and Iowa
--Illinois Bus Ride
--Red Legs Kicking

Arizona and New Mexico
--On Top
--Thinking Like a Mountain

Chihuahua and Sonora
--The Green Lagoons
--Song of the Gavilan

Oregon and Utah
--Cheat Takes Over


The Upshot

--Conservation Esthetic
--Wildlife in American Culture
--The Land Ethic
Profile Image for P. Lundburg.
Author 7 books80 followers
August 28, 2017
This book is a true classic and canonized piece of Nature Literature. Leopold was an ecology scientist at the U of Wisconsin, Madison, who bought a small piece of property in the Sand County region in central Wisconsin, where he and his family would take long weekends and vacations, fixing the place up and enjoying nature.

The essays collected in this amazing book are Leopold's musings and observations on his little chunk of the wilderness, reflecting on everything from sipping coffee outside in the morning as he listens to the litany of chickadees and nuthatches surrounding him in the post-sunrise woods, to the balance of an ecosystem captured in the description of a childhood experience of shooting a wolf. The prose is rich and deep, and draws the reader along into looking at the world through a fresh lens -- a lens that accentuates the ordinary and helps us gain a more proper perspective on life.

I love this book. I've read it many times, and have pushed it onto many a hapless reader . . . including my kids. If you have even a tiny bit of appreciation for nature and the outdoors, you will love this book. That is not something I say about very many of the Nature Lit type books, but this is one. I've taught it many times as part of the reading list in my college Nature Lit course, and have had numerous students tell me they were stunned at how good this book is, and how it changed the way they look at the world around them.

Get it. Read it. It's that simple.... :-)
Profile Image for Adeline.
13 reviews38 followers
March 2, 2009
Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac is a compelling blend of beautiful depictions of nature, personal opinion and reflection, and political commentary. Leopold extols the beauty of nature and emphasizes how much humans are a part of it. As members of the natural world, humans have a dramatic effect on the environment, and Leopold does not shy away from this issue. Rather than advocate for total preservation of wilderness, Leopold expresses the value of hunting and using the resources present in the wild. Hunting, he argues, is actually a way to become more attuned to the subtleties of a natural environment. Leopold's commentary about how nature should be used is one of the most striking things about the book, second only to the reverent appreciation of nature that he expresses.
Leopold depicts hunting as a meditative process in which the hunter becomes part of his environment and develops an understanding of and respect for his prey. This seems reasonable, despite my personal instinct that an environmentalist must be against hunting. Of course, Leopold cannot condone all methods of hunting. The new age of “gadgeteers” (214) and the hunters who buy their wares are not in tune with nature. Leopold wonders if they are “absorbing cultural value” or “just feeding minks” with the birds missed by their hasty shots (215). It is interesting to hear someone with such respect for nature also acknowledge that he enjoys killing animals. I didn't particularly respect this position; I am glad to hear that he does not use too many high tech gadgets, and I know that hunting is something of a national pastime, but I can't wrap my mind around it as acceptable unless it is done for subsistence. This is not to say that I haven't enjoyed wild turkey meatballs and venison sausage killed by the local hunters in my town, but hunting seems so barbaric. Yet we are animals with all the instincts that entails, and meat sure does taste good. Somehow I can only approve of hunting when it is done only with tools found in nature and made by hand. Paleolithic hunting methods are pretty much the only ones I can condone, but maybe I need to get over my romanticized ideas about nature. I have always thought that if everything we build our bodies with comes from nature, and we eat animals that have suffered and been tortured, and then we turn their cells into our cells, we are building ourselves out of sorrow.
Profile Image for Jessica McCann.
Author 3 books196 followers
March 10, 2014
This book provided great inspiration and insight for my current novel-in-progress, which has an environmental element.

It was actually published shortly after the author died of a heart attack, in 1949. Leopold's life was cut far too short, and I can't help but wonder how much further America's conservation efforts might have evolved in the past 50 years had he lived longer. Many of his observations and warnings from the early part of the 1900s still ring true today. In that respect, this book was somewhat of a bittersweet read for me. I read his biography, A Fierce Green Fire, a couple of years ago, and this was a nice complement to that.

In this collection of essays about the land he loved, Leopold shared his views as a conservationist, scientist and observer of life in lovely, often literary, prose that surprised me and hit an emotional chord. His essay, Thinking Like a Mountain, brought a lump to my throat and an ache in my heart as he described how he once participated in the killing of wolves in his "conservation" work for the federal government, and how in doing so he learned what a great mistake and tragedy it was.

"Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf."
Profile Image for Carol Smith.
111 reviews38 followers
September 12, 2012
This is a difficult book to rate.

On the one hand, there is incredible value to be gained from the author's keen sense of observation. The first set of essays, the Sand County Almanac, takes us through a year of observing nature at work on Leopold's farm. He discovers firsthand how certain plants fare better when collocated. He bands chickadees and later discovers the bands in the pellets of a screech owl. He gains broad insights from small things that most of us pass by every day without considering. It's an ode to getting out of the classroom and into the field.

He also supplies us with several formidable quotes and anecdotes on the importance of wilderness and conservation, especially in the later essays. The Flambeau River story (pp. 112-113) and his musings on the hidden uses of adversity (p. 84) are two that especially come to mind.

But Mr. Leopold is also a product of his time, and it shows. He decries the decline of the grizzly (whose numbers have since recovered) but shares a tasty outdoor recipe that uses bear fat. He decries the overhunting of various species, but then goes fishing for rainbow trout and comments with some satisfaction of smoking on a midstream rock while he could hear the trout "kicking in the bed of wet alder leaves at the bottom of the creel" (p. 38). Cruel. In some respects, the work is as much an ode to hunting as to conservation. I don't oppose hunting, but I also feel the author fails to adequately address how hunting holds a proper place in the balance of things.

Leopold also demonstrates substantial hubris towards his fellow man. He mocks a birder who attempts to describe a particular bird call in his log (p. 160), then goes on to admit that he himself will never understand the meaning of the call. Why be so nasty?!? I was personally insulted when he divided humans into four camps, including three types of hunters and one other type, the "non-hunter":
The deer hunter habitually watches the next bend; the duck hunter watches the skyline; the bird hunter watches the dog; the non-hunter does not watch (p. 208).
Mr. Leopold, I beg to differ.

I recognize that he - inevitably - carries assumptions of his own time. I just question whether his message, which was highly appropriate and advanced for his time, still resonates as effectively. It certainly should be required reading for any student of conservation or ecology, in order to understand the historic roots of the movement. For the layperson, though, I for one would rather turn someone on to contemporary nature writers such as Robert Macfarlane or Roger Deakin.

I enjoyed the illustrations of my edition. Any new printing would benefit, I think, from the inclusion of color plates that illuminate key topics such as the loss of biodiversity on the plains.
Profile Image for Terry.
288 reviews64 followers
April 16, 2022
Somehow, I missed this book, until now.

Although the general public believes that landscape architects design planting plans for homeowners, largely relying on imported ornamental plants, there is a long tradition of environmental stewardship in my profession starting with Olmsted, and continuing through the years.

And, although I studied landscape architecture at the dawn of the environmental movement in the early 1970s, and I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature, among other books that focused on ecological thinking, I was not introduced to A Sand County Almanac. Perhaps my California education thought it too local to the Midwest.

Today, or at least in the recent past, and especially here in the Midwest, I think it is considered basic reading for entering landscape architectural students. I see why. It is an examined recounting of the months of a year, while noting the flora and fauna and, importantly their interactions and connectedness, in central Wisconsin. At the end of the almanac, there is a rousing, passionate call for land ethics.

This book was written in the late 1940s, ahead of its time, for sure! It is easy reading that will make you think. Its core message I’d still relevant, perhaps more so as we wrestle with climate change. I give it 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.
Profile Image for Rise.
298 reviews30 followers
January 17, 2016
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

So simple and so direct that one was struck by how obvious these statements are, and yet these words seemed like a newly discovered insight, especially as they came logically after a series of vivid expositions on nature and natural history. Nature is beautiful and if we preserve it, we truly deserve it. If we destroy it, we are killjoys. Simple as that.

A foundational text on environmental ethics, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold was a master statement of one who spent a lifetime of thinking in terms of nature and who has meditated on the imperiled future of wildlife. Leopold's long experience in the subject made him a credible person to tackle the impending environmental crisis that resulted under the 'care' of man.

In the book, Leopold presented a sound case for the protection of wilderness areas and the flora and fauna inhabiting them. Leopold’s philosophical ideas outlined and prefigured the major ecological strategies of nature tourism, economic valuation of environmental resources, wildlife conservation, biodiversity management, and environmental education. It was the latter that Leopold emphasized as education (and research) is just the thing that can transform the old thinking on the use of natural resource base (utilitarianism) into a modern and progressive thinking on the harmony between man and nature (co-existence). The book was a clamor for an intellectual revolution in ecology; its intelligence was deep and came from a heart and mind so attuned to the daily cycles of birth, growth, vigor, death, reminiscence, and rebirth in nature.

The poetic language was actually a foil for the deep-set values that Leopold harbored while staying in the Sand County. He built up his hermetic ideas into an exposition of an environmental worldview starting from a monthly calendar of natural cycles of plant and animal journeys, to some of the best sketches of nature writing ever put on a canvas, and concluding with an ethical sequence which unfolded like a jamming session of a philosopher in the underbrush of trees.

One’s “prairie birthday” was clearly marked sometime in July:

During every week from April to September there are, on the average, ten wild plants coming into first bloom. In June as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them. He who steps unseeing on May dandelions may be hauled up short by August ragweed pollen; he who ignores the ruddy haze of April elms may skid his car on the fallen corollas of June catalpas. Tell me of what plant-birthday a man takes notice, and I shall tell you a good deal about his vocation, his hobbies, his hay fever, and the general level of his ecological education.

This of course was a challenge from a proud man, and one could take it up without regret. Reading the prose was in itself a discovery of plant-birthdays when the natural curiosity suddenly flowered, took flight, and aspired for a higher education.

A very fine sensibility to and perception of the natural world, Leopold’s writing was filtered through a powerful lens of human-ecological experience and consciousness. There was a slow internal rhythm to the first two parts of the book (“A Sand County Almanac” and “Sketches Here and There”), but immediacy and freshness lent itself to some of the best passages of nature literature ever written. The prose poetry that alighted on the essays here was awe-inducing.

The middle part was an on-the-road, freestyle riffs on some of the memorable but fast disappearing wild places in America. Each place was unique for some reason, but really each place was the same. They were all found in one and the same location because they sprang from the same idea of something good, something transient, and something we encounter with, even if only once in a lifetime, authentic and humbling gladness. They are “here and there”, all around us, and they are waiting for us. We need to commit them to memory, to record them indelibly, and to believe that they can be lived again.

The final section, "The Upshot", was a cogent argumentation for environmentalism that was not tainted by the usual gloom-and-doom rhetoric. It contained Leopold's dictums on what consists of right and wrong when it comes to human-environment nexus. The “Land Ethic” essay in this last section had been anthologized many times over in scores of books on environmental ethics. I think I own two or three other books where this essay was reprinted.

It was a further achievement of the book that it was able to integrate the principles and concepts of ecology, then a pioneering science, into a style of writing that will be appreciated even by a layman. I recommend this book (actually, shoving it) to nature lovers and naturalists, but really, to general readers who want to escape the inertia of urban living and retreat into the folds of wilderness.

(based on a review posted in my blog 06/2009)
Profile Image for J.S..
Author 1 book51 followers
May 24, 2021
First published in 1949, this is a 3-part series of essays by prominent wilderness-advocate Aldo Leopold. Part 1, A Sand County Almanac, is Leopold's month-by-month observations on his Wisconsin farm. Parts 2 and 3, Sketches Here and There and The Upshot, are essays he wrote about his ideas on land use and wildlife conservation.

Personally, I thought Part 1 was the best. The monthly info was kind of nice, although not nearly as charming as Hal Borland's lesser-known Beyond Your Doorstep: A Handbook to the Country (published in 1962). Borland's observations were more complete and wide-ranging (and is much more than a monthly accounting) and gave a better feeling for what his farm was like than Leopold's. But this book became a chore to read in Parts 2 and 3 when he gives his prescriptions for the issues of the day. Part 2 especially reminded me of a saying I once heard that an environmentalist is someone who already has his cabin in the woods (or farm in the country, in this case) and complains about the more recent arrivals than himself. And Part 3 just sounded seriously outdated - which makes sense since it was written 70 years ago.

I don't recommend this book simply because there are much better options. If you're interested in outdoor writing because you want a little escape, I highly recommend the above mentioned Borland book, or perhaps A Naturalist Goes Fishing if you're into that. If you're looking for a travelogue-of-sorts of some of our environmental messes/challenges, I recommend John McPhee's The Control of Nature. If you're looking for more serious histories about environmental problems I'll offer several suggestions: Nature Wars, Engineering Eden, Four Fish, or Megafire. If you don't mind a little controversy, I'd also recommend The New Wild as a very thought-provoking read. After all, there's only so much time to read - make it count.
Profile Image for Cheryl .
9,054 reviews392 followers
December 3, 2017
Wow. Even though my parents owned few books and yet did own this, I never got around to it. And maybe as a child I wouldn't have enjoyed it so much. But now, goodness, I recognize that it belongs on the same shelf as Thoreau, Rachel Carson, Bernd Heinrich, and Michael Perry. The man is indeed a hero for the conservation movement, and writes beautifully.

Wisconsin's wilderness, and the nation's perception of the value wilderness and of diverse ecosystems, owes much to him. We have made progress since his day. Yes, much has been lost with our increasing material wealth and population growth, but much has been gained in our attempts to live more in harmony with nature and to let some of it remain free.

"Like many another treaty of restraint, the pre-dawn pact lasts only as long as darkness humbles the arrogant. It would seem as if the sun were responsible for the retreat of reticence from the world. At any rate, by the time the mists are white over the lowlands, every rooster is bragging... and every corn shock is pretending to be twice as tall as any corn that ever grew. By sun-up every squirrel is exaggerating some fancied indignity to his person, and every jay proclaiming with false emotion about suppositious dangers to society, at this very moment discovered by him."

"Hard years, of course come to pines as they do to men, and the are recorded as shorter thrusts, i.e. shorter spaces between the successive whorls of branches. These spaces, then are an autobiography that he who walks with trees may read at will."

The book is not perfect, as there are references that need bibliographic notes and there are a few unfinished thoughts or incomplete conclusions. Some modern readers might object, too, to the bits about hunting (though Leopold himself seemed a bit ambivalent, as he himself hunts but doesn't approve the methods or aims of most others who do). But it is a classic, and still relevant.

Profile Image for jeremy.
1,113 reviews275 followers
September 22, 2008
it is a shame that some of the most important and beloved books become also the most neglected. taken for granted, these works are thus robbed of both majesty and worth (to say nothing of efficacy). it's as if certain books are deemed classic and then left to impart their wisdoms from atop a dusty shelf.

a sand county almanac is roundly acknowledged as one of the most seminal titles in the nature/conservation/environmental writing genre, and like all great books it remains imperatively relative despite the passing years. leopold's writing is consistently vivid and animated, but it is in the final four essays that it nears brilliance in clarity and reasoning. in a time of gross disharmony over environmental policy, one would be well served in (re)reading this book to consider a well-delineated perspective articulated soundly.

written in the late 1940's:

...but wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal-clear: our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. the whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to turn off the tap. nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings.


a system of conservation based solely on economic self-interest is hopelessly lopsided. it tends to ignore, and thus eventually to eliminate, many elements in the land community that lack commercial value, but that are (as far as we know) essential to its healthy functioning. it assumes, falsely, i think, that the economic parts of the biotic clock will function without the uneconomic parts.


ability to see the cultural value of wilderness boils down, in the last analysis, to a question of intellectual humility. the shallow-minded modern who has lost his rootage in the land assumes that he has already discovered what is important; it is such who prate of empires, political or economic, that will last a thousand years.
Profile Image for MsBrie.
226 reviews6 followers
May 24, 2007
Are you one of those people who actually likes to read Thoreau? Well then you’re missing out! Aldo Leopold is sooooo much better. Leopold’s writing is poetic yet it also calls the common person to action. Likewise Leopold walks the walk when it comes to protecting the environment. While this book didn’t pass the random page test, if you like authors like Thoreau, then you should definitely check out The Sand County Almanac, which is the bible to environmentalists. First Page: There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot…the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech. Page 20: Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth? The goose who trades his is soon a pile of feathers. If you are a die-hard environmentalist (or you just like to read poetic things) this book is for you.
Profile Image for Rob Baker.
256 reviews1 follower
July 2, 2021
A celebration of the wilderness and wildlife as well as a cri de coeur mourning the on-going loss of habitats and species, Aldo Leopold’s "A Sand County Almanac" belongs right up there with "Walden" as a piece of brilliant philosophical nature writing and with "Silent Spring" as a desperate call to ecological arms. Every page brims with beautiful prose, wry wit, detailed observation, and a love of the natural world.

A couple nits: I am not a hunting/fishing fan, so the parts of the book that dealt with these topics were a bit lost on me; also, the final chapters of the book (Part III: The Upshot), while required reading because of their vital ideas about ethical land conservation, are a bit drier than the preceding sections.

It could also be interesting to read a version of this book annotated with updates about the state of some of the topics today. Some ecological areas of concern expressed here have no doubt gotten worse, while others--bolstered perhaps by warnings coming from visionaries such as Leopold and books such as his--may have improved. For example, Leopold states that (presumably circa 1948), there are “6000 grizzlies officially reported as remaining in areas owned by the United States, 5000 (of them) in Alaska” (198). A quick Google search (7/2/21) reveals that there are currently 1500 in the lower 48 (so 500 more than during Leopold’s time) but 30,000 in Alaska (6x more!).

I am now excited to pay a visit the Aldo Leopold Foundation (https://www.aldoleopold.org/) up in Baraboo, WI. I’m guessing there will be a lot more current information there about the state of things Leopold was concerned about in his day, and I look forward to learning more about that and about Leopold himself.

Meantime, I am so happy to have finally “discovered” this masterpiece, which has been on my mental want-to-read list since the 1980s (!). Don’t wait as long as I did to get to it. It is essential reading for every citizen who appreciates lovely writing that speaks to the soul, the heart, and the mind and who cares about the fate of our natural world.
Profile Image for Bob Brinkmeyer.
Author 9 books45 followers
March 27, 2021
Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac is one of the foundational texts of the conservation and environmental movements, a text that now over 70 years past its publication date is still repeatedly commented upon and cited by activists arguing for the preservation and guardianship of the natural world. It has inspired any number of important nature writers, not only because of Leopold’s astoundingly detailed and passionate descriptions of the natural world and its intricacies, but also, and perhaps even more importantly, because of the ethical imperative he argues must define and guide our relationship with land—and by land he means not only the land itself but also all the flora and fauna that live there. More on this in a moment.

The text is divided into three parts: an almanac of Leopold’s observations of the natural world during a year at his farm in Wisconsin; an assortment of occasional essays mostly on his excursions to other parts of the US and Canada; and four essays, in a section appropriately entitled “The Upshot,” that provide the philosophical grounding of his environmental ethics. As a biologist and a professor of wildlife management (the first one at the University of Wisconsin), Leopold brings the eye of the trained scientist to the sensitivity of a far-thinking humanist, an integrated vision that may not seem all that striking now (given the wealth of nature writing in the past several decades, in part spurred by the climate crisis) but was quite revolutionary back in Leopold’s day.

Whatever his startling presentations of the natural world, it’s Leopold’s conception of what he called “a land ethic” that has had such a crucial impact on generations of conservationists and environmentalists. Leopold argued that for most people land was merely property, the only relation economic. In challenging this perspective, Leopold called for extending the boundaries of ethics beyond the human community to the community of the natural world—“soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.” “In short, Leopold writes, “a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.” At the center of his ethical system was this touchstone: “A thing is right when it ends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it ends otherwise.”

In the coming dire years wrought by the climate crisis, let’s hope more people (and corporations, if that’s possible) come round to Leopold’s thinking.
Profile Image for Jamie Smith.
479 reviews69 followers
April 6, 2022
It is safe to say that Aldo Leopold would have hated our modern world. This book was published in 1949 and already he was lamenting the vanishing wilderness, the intentional or accidental extermination of wildlife, and the invasion of field and forest by tourists and day-trippers. As more and more people crowded once-pristine areas, more roads were built to give them access, which only encouraged even more people to come, in a never-ending cycle of destruction. Politicians were of little help, then or now, because they will accede to the wishes of industry to dam rivers or lease public lands for timber, or they will support the public clamoring for easier access to parks, bringing along with them the rat race they sought to get away from.

A few years back I read an article about the ranchers who lease government land to pasture their cattle. They mocked government oversight, claiming that their families had been doing this for a hundred years, and knew far more about conservation than the distant bureaucrats. However, as this book shows, and I am sure it is still true today, their idea of conservation is entirely based on their own self interest; they will do the minimum possible to maintain the land in a condition to support grazing, and if their cattle destroy the stream banks and pollute the water, it is not their responsibility and they will just move on to new locations. Any requests made to consider the larger ecological impacts of their actions will be met by them sticking their hands out – they will not lift a finger for the greater good unless they are paid for it.

And yet, this book had a major impact on conservation efforts. It is one of the foundational texts of the modern movement to preserve wild places, and opened people’s eyes to understanding that short term selfishness will have long term consequences, and that plants and animals should not be considered as simply impediments to progress. Because of this book the conservation movement got a major boost; new groups were formed that used their money and organization to speak the language of lobbying that politicians understand. Working with government and university biologists and wildlife experts they achieved some notable successes in setting aside wilderness lands and adding sustainability concerns to capacity planning for national parks and recreation areas.

It was also this book that impressed on people the concept of sustainability through balance. If you kill all the predators their prey – such as deer or antelope – will reproduce beyond the carrying capacity of the land. They will eat everything in reach, destroying saplings, stripping bark, damaging trees to get to the leaves, and grazing down to the bare earth, increasing erosion and runoff into streams. Many of them will die anyway, slow deaths from hunger and exposure, since in their emaciated state they cannot survive winters. Even if the predators are re-introduced it takes decades for the balance to be re-established. As Leopold memorably describes it, “Everyone knows, for example, that the autumn landscape in the north woods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a ruffled grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre. Yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead. An enormous amount of some kind of motive power has been lost.” (p. 122)

The book is beautifully written, often with a sad, elegiac tone as Leopold recounts the wide open spaces of his youth, many of which he cannot bear to return to since he knows what happened to them in the succeeding decades. These early memories took place in the 1910s and 20s, and by the 40s the places had already been degraded by roads, housing tracts, and tourist attractions. It is painful for the reader to consider what they must be like today, filled with strip malls and fast food places, loud music, trash, beer cans everywhere, and the only animals around being pigeons, seagulls, and aggressive squirrels grown used to being fed by people.

Leopold has a remarkable writing style, which I found a pleasure to read. He explains what he sees, then places it into its larger environmental larger context, and then proceeds to enliven the scenes with endearing commentary. It is difficult to find the right words to describe what he does in these instances. It is clearly a kind of anthropomorphism, but one that attributes human characteristics without ever implying that there is anything human about these creatures. For instance, “What we actually find is beyond predicting: a rabbit, suddenly yearning to be elsewhere; a woodcock, fluttering his disclaimer; a cock pheasant, indignant over wetting his feathers in the grass,” (p. 40) or “It is on some, but not all, of these misty autumn daybreaks that one may hear the chorus of the quail. The silence is suddenly broken by a dozen contralto voices, no longer able to restrain their praise of the day to come.” (p. 49) This kind of human-like attribution gives the reader a clear picture of the scene without ever turning the animals into human surrogates. No wonder his style has been copied by legions of nature writers.

He was also an avid fisherman and hunter, and saw no conflict between these and his conservationist views. From his perspective it was all about maintaining balance, and a healthy forest or river has enough surplus capacity to sustain a reasonable amount of hunting and fishing. The problem is that we are not good at managing things like this; for instance, the national parks have a dual mandate: protect the wild spaces and promote tourism. You can’t do both well.

He is often charmingly self-deprecating, humorously recounting his own mistakes, real or imagined. For instance, during a walk in the hours before dawn, “when a flock of bluebills, pitching pondward, tears the dark silk of heaven in one long rending nose-dive, you catch your breath at the sound, but there is nothing to see except stars. This same performance, in daytime, would have to be looked at, shot at, missed, and then hurriedly fitted with an alibi.” (p. 55)

If you enjoy nature writing and haven’t yet read this book, you should definitely put it on your reading list. It is a classic, but a living classic, as fresh and entertaining today as it was when it was published, and his commentary on preserving nature is as valid and important as ever.
Profile Image for Kerri Anne.
469 reviews38 followers
December 29, 2013
I want to tie this book to my heart like a kite and fly it daily. I want to know my grandfather and father found Leopold long before I did. I want the chance to talk to them about it, about conservation, about the way they taught me so much by letting me watch the way they loved and respected the woods, the lake, the pristine heartbeat of our wild places. I want to memorize full chapters to be able to recite them to the trail on long runs, my legs becoming one with the timeless stories only trees can tell.

[Five brilliant stars for a voice to move, and save, mountains.]
152 reviews3 followers
February 13, 2013
In honor of re-reading this book I take an hour walk in my neighborhood before I write my review. Behind the loud barking of too many dogs and below the many paved roads and above the blooming non-native eucalyptus and acacia I hear the trilling of the junco and call of red shouldered hawk. I see light sparkling on a natural stream that flows open to the air. I smell the Douglas fir, and I feel the sun pouring out her loving warmth and light. I envision bat houses and blooming native plants at the too perfect grounds of the Mormon temple, and I make a ritual out of speaking to the man who is digging up long untouched soil to redo a fence. I mourn at the spot where wild honeybees have been evicted from the hollow of a eucalyptus tree and I admire the honeycombs the bees had built.

Let Aldo Leopold speak to you, and who knows what you might notice in your neighborhood. I'm planning to attend a gathering near Point Reyes in one month, Geography of Hope, and this year's inspiration behind the gathering is Aldo Leopold's land ethic. We will see a film called "Green Fire," and I can't wait to be with others who are still inspired by this man who lived 1887-1948. Deep Green Passion, here I come.

A quote from Mr Leopold: "One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds." (p. 183) That penalty also includes waves of pure joy.
Profile Image for Jayme.
572 reviews32 followers
June 15, 2011
There are three parts to this book. The first, 'A Sand County Almanac', is the prettiest part. Mostly essays about Leopold's love and connection with nature throughout his life. The second part, 'Sketches Here and There', is exactly that, essays about the places he has spent time in and his reflections on how we use and abuse these places. The last part, 'The Upshot', is the hardest writing. Here Leopoldo puts his background in forestry and wildlife management to use describing what's happening to our environment and what the future holds in store if it continues in this fashion.

It's amazing when you look at the fact this was written sometime in the 40's how relevant Leopold's concerns and warnings still are. Some of the things he saw happening have become much worse and some are still an ongoing process. Have we really made so little progress in the last 60 years? Apparently...
December 22, 2010
One of Cambridge Sustainability's Top 50 Books for Sustainability, as voted for by our alumni network of over 3,000 senior leaders from around the world. To find out more, click here.

Written from an experiential perspective, with a style that is often poetic, the main message of A Sand County Almanac is that the land is not there to serve us, but that we need to live in community with the land. Community without land is empty, so by threatening the land we are threatening community. The land, the people and the other species are all part of a circular system, which humans have disconnected from since industrialisation. If we fail to reconnect with nature, nature will suffer and humanity will suffer.
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235 reviews29 followers
January 31, 2023
There was a lecture at my school about different approaches to conservation, and the speaker kept talking about this guy with a weird name, Aldo Leopold. Everything he quoted from this guy I scrambled to draw down in my notes app, and by the end I was on my Goodreads app, trying to figure out which of his books I wanted to read. This is a great introduction because it combines two of his most famous works—the full copy of A Sand County Almanac plus some key essays from Round River.

Not only do these two sections provide a good introduction to the range of his writing and thinking, but they prove his main point. The first part contains sketches from Sand County, describing changes in the land and animals throughout each month, as well as descriptions of different animal and plant species all over the country, from Wisconsin to Mexico. (There are some great corresponding illustrations which, I must admit, I didn't give enough time.) The essays lay out his philosophy about conservation, what he sees as the current obstacles to it and his vision for the way forward. But it's only because you have already read his descriptions of nature, because he has already helped you see its moral and ontological value through his beautifully worded, carefully detailed vignettes, that you care about preserving it.

Which is his whole point���true, restorative conservation will stem not from more governmental policies, more economic incentives, or more threats about health. It will stem from something deeper, a change in what we value and what we love, a change in how we see. It will stem from "an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions"—what he calls a land ethic. This land ethic must come from both personal interaction with—and therefore personal affection for—the land and from an improved "mental image of land as a biotic mechanism."

As much as Leopold talks about the importance of a proper philosophical, aesthetic, and moral framework for approaching the land, he also calls us to reckon fairly with what science is telling us. And what is that? He argues that it is that the land mechanism is not described "the balance of nature;" "the biotic pyramid" is better, and better still is the idea of "land as an energy circuit."

Okay, if this is starting to sound too much like a biology textbook, the point is: Leopold is calling for wider imaginations in every area, from what we consider right and wrong to how we understand the science of ecology. This is what our highly specialized world needs: a proper blend of the humanities and the sciences, understanding that they complement each other, not contradict.

In order for conservation to happen, there must be change on the individual and then societal level. Each person has to form a relationship with nature, which means going out and appreciating it. Interestingly enough, if you do this right, you will learn to appreciate nature that you haven't been to. You will even learn that you don't have to personally use or see parts of nature to value them. But that kind of selfless appreciation of all nature only comes from particular interactions with it. Leopold says it best:

To enjoy he must possess, invade, appropriate. Hence the wilderness that he cannot personally see has no value to him. Hence the universal assumption that an unused hinterland is rendering no service to society. To those devoid of imagination, a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part. (Is my share in Alaska worthless to me because I shall never go there? Do I need a road to show me the arctic prairies, the goose pastures of the Yukon, the Kodiak bear, the sheep meadows behind McKinley?)

Sometimes I got annoyed with him because his ideas about the ideal preservation of or interaction with nature seem a bit elitist. He longs for the days without borders, suburbs, and people swarming national parks. I'm not sure I agree. I am so grateful for national parks and the opportunity for appreciation of nature they provide for people, the vast majority of whom cannot live on 100-acre plot of land by themselves.

I also just like people more than he does. This is a topic for a book someday, the way more conservative-leaning people seem to dislike humanity (anthropology matters!!). But just as we are fellow "biotic citizens" of the land (plants, animals, soil, water, and more), we are certainly just as much, if not more, citizens of each other. He doesn't say we're not but I wonder what we are to do when human interests and land interests seem to collide. Or maybe solving one will help solve the other. The problem, I think, is not just lack of interactions with and affection for nature, but for other people.

I am also more positive about cities and technology in general than he is. I don't think all technological progress is inherently positive—I have deep concerns about a lot of our technology, from the ways that cars change communities to the documented yet ignored perils of social media. Yet, I greatly dislike the longing for the past that imagines it was better overall than the present. There are aspects of the past I think we should try to regain, but we can't go back completely. And some things have changed for the better—should we lose what we gained from the Civil Rights movement in order to regain the better relationship we had with the land at the time? You can't weigh things like that against each other.

Leopold would probably agree with all this, and I'm probably characterizing him a bit harshly based on my own stereotypes and current pet peeves. But what he does do, for which I forgive him his pessimism and grumpiness about the present, is provide a clear, positive, creative plan moving forward.

Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

The ideas in this book have, of course, great relevance for how we think about the environment, agriculture, outdoor recreation, global warming, and more. But they also have some great insights into education, personal responsibility, the social conscience, and how different ethics are formed. Oh, and his writing is beautiful. Clear, sparse, piercing. I will be coming back to this book and others of his for a long time.

What a thousand acres of silphiums looked like when they tickle the bellies of the buffalo is a question never again to be answered, and perhaps not even asked.


Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land. By land is meant all of the things on, over, or in the earth. Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators; you cannot serve the waters and waste the ranges; you cannot build the forest and mine the farm. The land is one organism.


In all of these cleavages, we see repeated the same basic paradoxes: man the conqueror versus man the biotic citizen; science the sharpener of his sword versus science the searchlight on his universe; land the slave and servant versus land the collective organism.


Recreational development is a job not of building roads into lovely country, but of building receptivity into the still unlovely human mind.
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Author 3 books155 followers
August 2, 2015
Aldo Leopold’s book, A Sand County Almanac, is near the top of many lists of environmental classics. It was published in 1949, and has sold over two million copies. He was born in Iowa in 1887, when Earth was inhabited by just 1.4 billion humans. It was an era before radio, television, automobiles, airplanes, computers, DDT, nuclear fission, and antibiotics. Most roads were dirt. Vast ancient forests still thrived. On the first page, Leopold informs us that this is a book for people who cannot live without wild things.

Part one is a series of twelve sketches, one for each month. They describe how the land changes during the circle of the seasons — the return of the geese, the mating ritual of the woodcocks, the rutting of the deer, the bloody snow where predators snatched prey. They describe what life was like in simpler times, before the sprawl, the malls, the highways, the tsunami of idiotic consumer crap. People were more in touch with the life of the land, because it had not yet been deleted.

In 1935, Leopold bought a farm in Wisconsin. The previous owner had tried and failed to make a living tilling the lean sandy soil. The place was cheap, far from the highway, worthless to civilization, but a precious sanctuary for a nature-loving professor. Luckily, the soil mining enterprise perished quickly, before it had time to exterminate the wildness.

Leopold loved the great outdoors. He loved hiking and hunting. Birds fascinated him. He spent many years working for the U.S. Forest Service, and later became a professor of Game Management at the University of Wisconsin. Sadly, he lived in a culture that was waging full-scale war on nature, and this drove him mad. It was so senseless. During his life, the population had grown from 1.5 to 2.4 billion, an era of staggering out of control disruption.

Part two presents observations, made in assorted times and places, about the damaged relationship between Americans and nature. This relationship was often abusive, because it lacked love. There often was no relationship at all. Many folks had no sense of connection to the rest of the family of life. For them, nature was nothing more than a treasure chest of resources that God created for the amusement of ambitious nutjobs.

Leopold was saddened by the trends. He learned to never revisit places that had amazed him in his youth. It was too painful to see the damage that commerce and tourism were tirelessly inflicting. It was best not to turn sweet memories into heartbreaking nightmares.

He was raised in an era when it was perfectly normal to kill wolves, coyotes, and other predators at every opportunity. These “vermin” killed too many game animals, depriving hunters of their rightful harvest. The most famous essay in this book is Thinking Like a Mountain. Having just shot a wolf, the gunman noticed a fierce green glow in its eyes. With the wolves eliminated, the deer multiplied in numbers, stripping the vegetation off the mountain, and wrecking the ecosystem. Deer lived in fear of wolves, and the mountain lived in fear of deer.

Part three is essays describing the need for a land ethic. Cultures have ethics to define right and wrong. Traditionally, these defined person-to-person interactions, or the interactions between individuals and society. Leopold lamented that American culture lacked a land ethic, rules for living with the natural world, the family of life. In our culture, as long as the land was not claimed and defended by someone else, you were free to do whatever you pleased.

Mainstream education was close to useless, because it was incapable of recognizing the glaring defects in the mainstream worldview. It loaded young minds with the crash-prone software of infantile self-interest. Generation after generation was being programmed to spend their lives as robotic servants to our economic system. The education system and the economic system were the two primary threats to the health of the land. Today, 65 years later, the lunacy has become a roaring hurricane. Leopold would be horrified and furious.

Leopold was a pleasant lad, glowing with love for the natural world, and a gifted storyteller. But this should not be the only ecology book you ever read. Since 1949, there has been an explosion of research in anthropology, archaeology, ecology, and environmental history. Many important discoveries have been made about hunter-gatherers, agriculture, deforestation, civilization, finite resources, climate change, and ecological sustainability. Today’s deep ecologists will sneer at a few statements in the book, but in 1949, no one was more radical than Leopold.

At the time, he knew we were on a bad path, and we needed to pay serious attention to where it was taking us. He clearly understood what we needed. He wrote, “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” He was sketching out a concept now known as ecological sustainability. Here’s his land ethic in a nutshell: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Great!

Since the book was published, population has skyrocketed from 2.4 to 7.3 billion. Our leaders, educators, and the vast human herd remain lost in a dream world where perpetual growth is the only channel on the glowing screens. It has paralyzed our culture, and condemned our descendants. It’s running out of time. Hopefully, in its aftermath, important lessons will be learned and never forgotten.

Leopold’s book was written “for people who cannot live without wild things.” As the swelling mobs surge into vast cities, our disconnection from wild nature is almost complete. We have forgotten who we are, and where we came from. Well, we’re wild animals, and we came from wild nature, like every other critter. Darwin revealed this embarrassing secret, but it still makes us uncomfortable, since it clashes with our deepest, darkest myths, our grandiose illusions of superiority.

These anthropocentric myths have ancient roots in every civilized culture, and they are like venomous brain worms that turn us into planet thrashing monsters. In 1949, few expressed doubts about these myths, but Leopold did. He was a flaming radical in his day. He often dreamed that the progressive movement would eventually grow, flourish, and address the primary challenges of our time, but reality hasn’t cooperated.

His vision of a land ethic would have been a first step, but not a miraculous cure. No other animal needs a formal system of rules and regulations to discourage self-destructive behavior. Like our chimp and bonobo cousins, the others have never forgotten who they are, or how to live. Thinking like an animal has worked perfectly for millions of years. Thinking like a conqueror has been a disastrous failure.
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