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Why I Came West: A Memoir Hardcover – July 3, 2008


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the summer of 1987, nature writer Bass stumbled into the Yaak Valley in northwestern Montana and fell in love. A native of Houston, Bass worked as a geologist in Mississippi before heading west to find his home and his vocation as a writer. Over the years, Bass became increasingly drawn into the struggle to preserve the valley from logging and development, especially those areas that have yet to be marked by roads. This, his newest title, is a memoir in name only. Eight of the 13 chapters have appeared elsewhere in various forms, and each chapter stands more or less as a discrete essay. Actual biographical material is scant and often repeated, and his main points recur (the need to protect wilderness; the twofold nature of his beloved valley, its biological diversity and human venality and short-sightedness, for example). The book reads best as a series of variations on the theme of how our relation to the wilderness is essential to our being human. Bass is an eloquent defender of his precious valley. (July)
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From The New Yorker

The title of this memoir is somewhat misleading: despite early chapters on Bass’s journey from his childhood home, in Texas, and his years as an oil geologist in Mississippi, much of the book is a lament over the relentless development of the wild spaces of Montana—specifically, the Yaak Valley, where the author has lived for twenty-one years. Bass describes the forests of this Edenic valley (literally—it’s a place where no native species has gone extinct) and argues for its preservation, laying out detailed plans for creating economically viable tracts of wilderness. Bass’s passion has an unfortunate tendency to slide toward petulance—he bemoans the boorishness of his neighbors—but his loving evocation of the landscapes is stirring, as is his common-sense approach to conservation.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (July 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618596755
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618596751
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #744,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 29 people found the following review helpful By T. Ahrenholz on August 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been a big Rick Bass fan for many years. I enjoy his non-fiction and I revere his efforts to preserve the wilderness areas of his adopted corner of Montana. However, I simply take issue with this book about how misleading the title and liner notes are about its major content. Why I Came West? There is a little about that. And there is some solid thought and writing here. Good writing. But the vast majority of this book is an update (and revision) of his efforts to obtain Wilderness designation for the Yaak since he moved West. It could more correctly be titled Book of Yaak II, or better yet, Book of Yaak Revised. There are large portions of this book that seem to be a letter to his neighbors correcting or updating his true views on Wilderness and logging and even a weak attempt to discourage outsiders from wanting to see the Yaak as a destination, as if he has drawn ire from fellow Yaakians for the notoriety he has brought the area. But his love for the area easily diminishes any intended effect.

As a reader, I want a fair chance to choose what I am reading. I couldn't help feel throughout most of this read, that I was erroneously lured into the prospect of some new and different writing by Mr. Bass - but instead was being given the same whine in a different bottle.

Having said that, I will still look forward to his new efforts both in regard to conservation as well as writing.

... and I mistakenly put 4 stars on this review and couldn't figure out how to edit that. Two and a half would have been generous. TA
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Philip Green on December 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
I'm a big fan of travelogues and similar types of nonfiction. I also enjoy "On the Road." I found "Why I Came West" in a small bookstore and looked forward to learning about one man's journey from suburban Texas to the wilderness of Montana. However, there's not much of value here for someone wanting to know about that aspect of Rick Bass' life. Instead, it seemed to be little about him and a lot of philosophical musings and poetic language. It became extremely boring and I just put it down after awhile. The one chapter I enjoyed was about his justification for being a meat-eater environmentalist. That had some interesting musings in there. Again, there are pages and pages of these kinds of musings with little substance. Seemed kind of like a bunch of essays. If you're looking for something akin to William Least Heat Moon's "Blue Highways" or "On the Road" you will be disappointed. This is nothing like those. You might somewhat enjoy it if you are into environmentalism.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By G. C. Picchetti on August 8, 2011
Format: Paperback
The introduction is so hard to read I put the book down for a couple weeks. Then it's fun. Then it's deadly serious. Bass's activisim has almost cost him his life. His success has been hard fought for & not completely won. His writing is a bit to poetic for the normal reader. I am glad I read Why I came West. I firmly believe my fellow citizens & the government will not be satisfied until the world is cemented over.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Arthur Digbee VINE VOICE on January 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book begins with why (or rather, *how*) Rick Bass came West, but then becomes something more. The first two chapters explore his love affair with the Yaak Valley. He wonders if one can fall in love at first sight with a place, and muses on how the Yaak drew him to her, among other things. The musings that overlapped with _The Book of Yaak_ I tended to enjoy, while the rest were too intimate, too personal to interest someone who doesn't know Bass personally.

The next chapters were the most interesting. Bass muses on "meat," "wood," "oil," and other things that he (and we) consume. He is brutally honest and self-critical in connecting his own consumption with the wider world's desire to extract resources from the Yaak. He also recognizes the human role in the food chain and other "natural" processes, as well as the right of humans, no less than other predators, to eat.

Finally, he reflects on his personal need to fight to preserve some part of the Yaak as wilderness, and he discusses the personal costs of his activism. The Yaak has a small human community, and apparently most of its members hate Bass for his activism. This was perhaps the most compelling part of the book.

While Bass reflects on his own compulsions and sins, every reader will reflect on her own. Read it if you can take it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dr. R.P. Forsberg on December 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rick Bass is a wonder! From his early books to his latest works, he has a way of connecting to readers that makes reading his stories and essays a pleasure. This exploration and explication of why he moved West is another fine personal report on his life, loves, beliefs and personal philosophy. While I, personally, don't buy into some aspects of his philosophy (I will never be a hunter), his descriptions of that personal philosophy are so honest, forthright, and rational that I have to say I completely "get" his view, even if I have a different perspective. This is a book for anyone who sees the West, the natural environment, and the search for a personal "place to be"! Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mark Gilbertson on January 16, 2013
Format: Paperback
I have to confess that I agree with the other reviewers who complain about the somewhat misleading title of, and the repetition in, this book. Bass has a passionate commitment to preserve 'his' Yaak valley as a wilderness area and, so, that dominates his writing here. But, this mission is not why he came west. Anyway, though there are good thoughtful passages on his experiences in the wild and his defense of it, it becomes more and more a treatise, rather than the memoir it starts out to be.
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