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Book Description

June 29, 2011 0674057570 978-0674057579 1

Once in a great while, as the New York Times noted recently, a naturalist writes a book that changes the way people look at the living world. John James Audubon’s Birds of America, published in 1838, was one. Roger Tory Peterson’s 1934 Field Guide to the Birds was another. How does such insight into nature develop?

Pioneering a new niche in the study of plants and animals in their native habitat, Field Notes on Science and Nature allows readers to peer over the shoulders and into the notebooks of a dozen eminent field workers, to study firsthand their observational methods, materials, and fleeting impressions.

What did George Schaller note when studying the lions of the Serengeti? What lists did Kenn Kaufman keep during his 1973 “big year”? How does Piotr Naskrecki use relational databases and electronic field notes? In what way is Bernd Heinrich’s approach “truly Thoreauvian,” in E. O. Wilson’s view? Recording observations in the field is an indispensable scientific skill, but researchers are not generally willing to share their personal records with others. Here, for the first time, are reproductions of actual pages from notebooks. And in essays abounding with fascinating anecdotes, the authors reflect on the contexts in which the notes were taken.

Covering disciplines as diverse as ornithology, entomology, ecology, paleontology, anthropology, botany, and animal behavior, Field Notes offers specific examples that professional naturalists can emulate to fine-tune their own field methods, along with practical advice that amateur naturalists and students can use to document their adventures.

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Field Notes on Science & Nature + How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook + Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You
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Editorial Reviews


There is no other book like this--one that takes readers out of the laboratory and into the field to learn the basics of natural history and the fun of observing nature. (George Schaller)

This compendium comprises essays written by renowned scientists like mammalogists George Schaller and Jonathan Kingdon, and plant biologist James L. Reveal. Based on their own journals, and replete with illustrations lifted straight from their field notes, the essays not only provide an insight into the minds of world-class researchers but also address broader questions about the function and meaning of the field journal...While the solid observations have indeed gone on to be used in peer-reviewed publications, the more Darwinesque-style human stories make for the most enjoyable parts of the book. These stories show the delightful humanity behind the scientific studies...The contributors' enthusiasm and informed guidance will ring true with anyone who has spent time in the field. Although few will have the dubious privilege of having their every scribbling archived, valuable lessons are there for everyone armed with a pen and paper. In fact, the vivacity of the essays will inspire many to pick up a pencil and venture into the wild. I for one am left itching to get back to the bush to put what I've read here into practice. (Jack Ashby New Scientist 2011-05-14)

Why are scientists' field notebooks so valuable? And do notes really matter anymore, with global positioning systems, laptops and digital cameras available to document information traditionally recorded through sketches and barely legible scrawl? In Field Notes on Science and Nature, edited by Michael R. Canfield, more than a dozen biologists, anthropologists, geologists and illustrators explore these questions as they open up and dissect their journals, and a few of their forebears' as well...Both [Bernd] Heinrich and [Roger] Kitching started with little besides notebooks; both have enjoyed rich scientific careers. This should be heartening news to any young person heading outdoors with some pencils, a notebook, a collecting jar or two and no ideas whatsoever. (Jennie Erin Smith Wall Street Journal 2011-05-28)

This gorgeous book reproduces samples from the notebooks of 12 naturalists in all their glory, accompanied by short essays on methodology and why field notes are still so critical to the art of science...These drawings, notes (in spectacular handwriting), photos and maps are a reminder that natural history is the root of all biology, and observation is a critical skill. George Schaller's drawings of a lion hunt in the Serengeti, Bernd Heinrich's delicate drawings of leaves, Kenn Kaufman's lists, Jonathan Kingdon's drawings of acacia trees in Kenya, Jenny Keller's spectacular drawings of moon jellies--these and others make science look not only appealing, fascinating and fun but human and creative as well. (Susan Salter Reynolds Los Angeles Times 2011-06-12)

Field Notes on Science & Nature is an eclectic collection that crosses many disciplines, from geology, botany and zoology to art and anthropology. The variety of styles and records described are fascinating--field notes are very personal. Some of the contributors take notes entirely electronically, others in red pen in cheap notebooks. Others use pictures more than words. Few of us have the artistic skills of Jonathan Kingdon or Jenny Keller, scientist-illustrators whose drawings alone make this book worth buying. But even the sketchiest sketch can call to mind a place or organism in a way no words can...I will alter my own note-taking after reading this set of essays. All scientists, whether based in the field or the lab, could benefit from the advice given here so eloquently. (Sandra Knapp Nature 2011-06-16)

Michael Canfield's extraordinary new book, Field Notes on Science and Nature, takes us back to a time when the notebook was a serious scientific tool: when paper-and-pencil field notebooks were "the most basic tool for studying the science of nature." Field Notes, by beautifully reproducing dozens of pages from field notebooks old and new, reveals the important role note-taking has played, and still plays, in scientific reasoning. (Josh Rothman Boston Globe online 2011-06-14)

Michael Canfield's Field Notes on Science and Nature raises the curtain on where "science happens," allowing readers behind-the-scenes glimpses of the rough-draft places from which serious inquiry springs...This book of meditative essays is interspersed with lush facsimiles of just such notebooks, often accompanied by sketches of butterflies, charts of soil strata, or memories of weather and light. In the era of the laptop and iPhone, readers can see what the Moleskine can still accomplish as a place for thought to assemble, and observe how the act of careful recording can give rise to great and meaningful discovery. Ranging from etymologists to paleontologists to avian specialists, the essayists gathered in this collection share a common love of watching and writing, and a keen ability to articulate how both of these things form the first tier of human investigation. Whether we're learning the way a passing thought about crane flies became a discovery of the way a species protects itself, or hearing about an expert who developed his own finely honed philosophy of list-making, or reading how journal entries about raven behavior led to a book, we're gifted with an understanding of how note-taking becomes the first place to frame a world...Looking at these well-kept journals is like looking into an artist's sketchpad, a journalist's reporting notes, or a composer's first drafts. We see the activity of a mind sorting out the world and framing it...Out of these drafts some essence reveals itself--and to each of these scientists this process still has the luster of mystery. At its base this book is about science, but it's also about the liveliness of the human mind practicing any craft, and about the kinetic, surprising places from which any human knowledge springs. (Tess Taylor Barnes & Noble Review 2011-06-08)

It's hard to believe that only two of the fourteen scientists who contributed chapters to Field Notes on Science & Nature, a study of the lasting importance of the scientist's field journal, are formal illustrators...It was the book's graceful design and beautiful illustrations that first grabbed my attention. The sketches and watercolors made by scientists in real time are charming and instructive, capturing unsuspected nuances of the world around us...A scientist's field journal is an intimate thing, rarely shared with outsiders. But the contributors to Field Notes on Science & Nature have a purpose: to demonstrate the importance of the field journal in scientific study for younger generations of researchers, who receive less and less formal instruction in their graduate work in keeping and maintaining field notes...What comes across most in Field Notes is how the creativity and care involved in making notes aids in thinking about problems and theories in new ways. (Stacey Mickelbart New Yorker blog 2011-07-12)

This remarkable book features 14 essays written by accomplished natural scientists about scientific note-taking in the field, lavishly illustrated with examples from their field notebooks and journals...Most of the authors acknowledge the value of technology, but prefer writing in their field books. I find it refreshing that these distinguished scientists consider the humble pen and notebook their most important tools...Field Notes on Science and Nature may turn out to be inspiration for a new generation exploring our natural world. (Harvey Webster Cleveland Plain Dealer 2011-07-31)

Flip through the pages of a biologist's notes and you may find sketches of plants and animals, hand-drawn maps, and the author's occasional excited exclamation or question to himself. It can be like getting an opportunity to hear someone think out loud. Field Notes on Science & Nature gives readers a chance to do some eavesdropping of their own by providing a glimpse into a few of these notebooks. (Alyson Foster National Geographic online 2011-08-22)

Right from the start, the book induces a rewardingly sublime aesthetic response...Anyone who cares about the environment would likely profit from reading Field Notes on Science and Nature, and I hope graduate professors will require it as background for qualifying exams. (Harry W. Greene Science 2011-09-23)

[This] exceptional collection of essays, Field Notes on Science and Nature, offers practical tips for the born-again naturalist, who, after all, is useless without a notebook. Here biologists, geologists, anthropologists and scientific illustrators open notebooks from all stages of their lives, showing how they record and organize their observations. Some sketch, others paint, some combine graphs and cryptic scrawl making a glorious mess. The point is that their observations don't go unrecorded and that many seemingly random notations, made during routine or aimless forays, have led to important discoveries. (Jennie Erin Smith Wall Street Journal 2011-11-19)

About the Author

Michael R. Canfield is Lecturer on Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.

Edward O. Wilson is Pellegrino University Professor, Emeritus, at Harvard University. In addition to two Pulitzer Prizes (one of which he shares with Bert Hölldobler), Wilson has won many scientific awards, including the National Medal of Science and the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Bernd Heinrich is Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Vermont. He has written several memoirs of his life in science and nature, including One Man’s Owl, and Ravens in Winter. Bumblebee Economics was twice a nominee for the American Book Award in Science, and A Year in the Maine Woods won the 1995 Rutstrum Authors’ Award for Literary Excellence.

Karen L. Kramer is Associate Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, at Harvard University.

Piotr Naskrecki is an Associate in Entomology at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Roger Kitching is the chair of ecology at the Griffith School of Environment. He also heads the Arthropod Diversity Lab at Griffith University and the Biodiversity Research theme of the Centre of Innovative Conservation Strategies.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (June 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674057570
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674057579
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Inspiration May 18, 2011
For every one of us who has ever conducted field research or just walked into the forest, through the desert, or along the beach, this book is a delight and a treasure. A combination of instruction and inspiration, it makes the practice of keeping field notes feel like one of the most worthwhile arts, a manner of interacting as fully as possible with what we discover and documenting it for ourselves and others to profit from our experience. While there are many suggestions, ideas and approaches in the different chapters, the overall effect for me was that of being given permission to experiment with field notes, to hybridize different techniques, to adopt whatever method might best serve my own style of being in direct contact with the natural world. Even if I never intended to put into practice the methods that are described, I would find the examples of work by others utterly fascinating, an intriguing glimpse into the process of being the keenest observer of our surroundings. I hope this book will reach the hands of many explorers of all ages who will take it upon themselves to leave for future generations stacks of beautiful and insightful field notebooks that can illuminate more dimensions of the intricate world around us.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a GORGEOUS Book! May 11, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a total delight! A colleague suggested it to me & as soon as i got my copy I KNEW I had to get extras for deserving students. this is a lovely mixture of Natural History observation and art covering an impressive range of people, places and periods. The book is jam-packed with ideas and suggestione for better observations, better note-taking, eyes for detail, inspiring accounts, often droll commentary.... The artwork and sample pages are very nicely reproduced, and many of the essays give priceless insights into key figures in the devlopment of Ecology (check out for instance the GREAT essay on Grinnell & the "Grinnell System" of note-taking... If this book doesn't make you twitchy for your next field season, or wax nostalgic for your last, well, you are probably pretty close to dead :-) Honestly, a Must Have at so many levels. get one for your self & then get copies for the budding field biologists in your lives!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real treasure! July 8, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As an amateur naturalist struggling to find ways to record my observations of nature in a coherent way, this book was a wonderful mixture of inspiring examples and practical advice. Highly recommended!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I ordered this book after reading a review of it that appeared recently in Nature (16 june 2011) and literally devoured it. It is mostly written by (and for) biologists and naturalists but as an Earth scientist I do not feel far away from them. The book is a collection of essays by different authors and, understandably, there is a wide variety of styles, opinions and approaches to field notes that is worth reading even if one does not agree with everyone. The essays show clearly that field notebooks can be anything you like or need and that how your notebook will look like and what it will mean for you will depend on your objectives and even personality. As field notebooks have always been an essential part of my work I always wondered why so little had been written and published on the subject. This book definitely fills a gap and I enjoyed a lot reading it. Warmly recommended!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book on journaling of any kind September 15, 2011
If you keep any type of journal, you'll enjoy this book. While it is focused on field research, it does cover, 'How to become a good observer of life.' These concepts apply themselves to many types of journaling. The many sample pages and illustrations are well selected. The depth and range of this book is wonderful, along with clear writing that keeps complex topics accessible. I would use this text for any class that requires, `Learning how to See the world.'
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not to be missed! June 1, 2012
By Chew LH
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am not a scientist or writer. I work in advertising and love keeping notes. This is a great book on keeping your journal and it does not matter why you do it. I would buy the book for the images alone. There is a useful section on Best Practices (pp260-274), e.g. contact information and backup copies.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For All Field Naturalists May 14, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am more than a little hesitant to call any natural history book a must-have. After all, the field of natural history is extremely broad and deep and has more than its share of fine writers. I am confident in saying, though, that any adult (or gifted adolescent) with a serious interest in natural history should have this book. A few of my reasons:

1. The topic has universal relevance for naturalists. At least to my mind, being a practicing field naturalist who doesn't keep a field journal is kind of like being a practicing athlete who doesn't watch her diet. Sure, if you have tremendous raw talent (and at least while you're young...) or have only casual standards you can get away with it. Nonetheless it's hard to see any value in that, and you won't realize nearly as much of your potential.

2. This book will endure. The overall quality of it and the depth of experience and insight contained therein will make it worth returning to again and again, for both individuals and generations. If there is true justice in the world of publishing (something that's not exactly clear to me) this book will be in print for a long time.

3. The quality and range of contributors. Read the list. If that doesn't convince you, I can't.

4. The elegance of its design. This is simply a beautiful book in every respect. It is an example of why there will always be (or at least always should be) a place for books, since picking it up and going through it is an experience that can never be replicated electronically. For that reason my advice is that if you're going to get it, get the real thing.

5. It fills an important niche. There are a lot of entry-level books on nature journaling, and of course that's a good thing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This book should be shared with every student of field based science
I found this book to be very informative. It was interesting to view the perspective on field notes by scientists from a wide range of disciplines and generations. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Alison Van Keuren
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy this book!
Beautifully illustrated. Great content. Highly recommend this book. Perfect for novice and professional alike. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Erin Whitfield
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential voyage into the art of field notes
I love this book. Keeping a journal and taking notes is one of the most important things for every person that must do work in the field (whatever that means to you). Read more
Published 5 months ago by Ruben Palacio
5.0 out of 5 stars Great gift idea for naturalist
I gave this to my niece for Christmas and she loved it- the drawings are beautiful. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the drawing/ research of working in the field... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Aunt Fedamene
5.0 out of 5 stars I just love this book
I saw an actually copy of the book before I bought it, so that helped. If you enjoy recording nature, you may want to check it out.
Published 14 months ago by Rebecca Stuckey
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and inspiring
If you ever wonder what goes in field scientists' notebooks, this book is for you. Each chapter is written by a different scientist (biologist, field scientist, etc. Read more
Published on April 4, 2012 by E. M. Tennessen
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
We got this book because my husband needed it for a class. He loves it. And the book has all these beautiful illustrations in it.
Published on January 29, 2012 by Marissa Wilson
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected
I heard the author speak about this book on NPR, and ordered it. The premise was irresistible. The delivery, however, was a big disappointment. Read more
Published on September 25, 2011 by JD Baker
1.0 out of 5 stars No images in Kindle version
I bought the KINDLE version of this book and was very disappointed there are NO IMAGES or ILLUSTRATIONS included. Read more
Published on September 4, 2011 by G. Bourgeois
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