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The Wild Places (Penguin Original) Paperback – Bargain Price, June 24, 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Paperback, Bargain Price, June 24, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this eloquent travelogue, Macfarlane (Mountains of the Mind) explores the last undomesticated landscapes in Britain and Ireland in a narration that blends history, memoir and meditation. Macfarlane journeys to salt marshes, mountaintops, forests, beaches, constantly expanding and refining his understanding of wildness. Walking a Lake District ridge at night, he observes that with the stars falling plainly far above, it seemed to me that our estrangement from the dark was a great and serious loss. Crossing a moor, he finds its vastness and resistance to straight lines of progress analogous to the inability of mere words to convey a landscape's variety and immensity. Nonetheless, Macfarlane's language is as surprising and precise as his environments, with such evocative phrases as heat jellying the air, ice lidded the puddles and descriptions of birds that gild a tree and the sky as a steady tall blue. His striking prose not only evokes each locale's physicality in sensuous, deliberate detail, it glows with a reverence for nature in general and takes the reader on both a geographical and a philosophical journey, as mind-expanding as any of his wild places. (June)
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“A formidable consideration by a naturalist who can unfurl a sentence – poetry, really – with the breathless ease of a master angler, a writer whose ideas and reach transcend the physical region he explores…the natural world swells with meaning through Macfarlane’s devoted observations, which can be both minutely detailed and vast in scope…like the wild it parses, [this book] quietly returns us to ourselves.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Inspiring…Macfarlane brings these landscapes to pulsing life…His precision in apprehending the world is a salutary lesson in and of itself…His descriptions have created a new map of Britain and Ireland in my mind. And like pebbles in a pond, those descriptions are now altering the way I look at the world immediately around me.. this is the final gift of Macfarlane’s wild places: they illuminate the wild wonder of our everyday world.”
National Geographic Traveler

The Wild Places boldly celebrates places that aren’t supposed to exist, and does so in prose that is at times very nearly as vivid and beautiful as the thing itself.”
—Rebecca Solnit

“ Prose as precise as this is not just evocative. It is a manifesto in itself. Macfarlane’s language urges us to gaze more closely at the wonders around us, to take notice, to remind ourselves how thrillingly alive a spell in the wild can make us seem.”
The Sunday Times (UK)

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Original
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics) (June 24, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143113933
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143113935
  • ASIN: B001RNI2F4
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,591,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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I love books about travel, esp in Britain, and I love nature. So I thought this book might be the perfect match. I was not disappointed! First, the book is filled with detailed descriptions of what he is seeing, so that you are seeing it too. His writing reminds me much of Chet Raymo's. I was esp fascinated with the map he made of the wild areas he is exploring. Its a map that doesn't look like any you've ever seen. But it connects all of the places he is visiting, and shows how all of these places are indeed connected. The book isn't all nature - he weaves in local history, interesting people, and stories along the way. I'd recommend this to anyone interested in the topic. My only complaint is that the book is making me want to return to that land, and thats just not going to happen any time soon! But I took that trip vicariously thanks to his writting.
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Beechwood to Beechwood. The first book of Robert Macfarlane's that I read, almost a year ago now, was The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. As I do for truly exceptional books, I gave it a "6-star" rating, and knew I would be reading more of his works. With "The Wild Places" I was again dazzled, as well as humbled by this rich, well-written and informative work. Humbled? Yes, Macfarlane is still under 40, yet has the erudition of a well-educated and curious person twice his age. (It does make me even more regret all that time I wasted in committee meetings!) He knows the natural world - well - identifying the flora and fauna, not just as a bird watcher might, with guide in hand. It is like they are old acquaintances. He is on equally familiar terms with the inanimate world, the one of the land itself, its rocks and soil layers. Being in Britain, naturally there is a lot of water, in various forms and states of agitation. He weaves into his depictions of his travels to the remote parts of Britain, the stories of others who have lived there, and often traveled far from their native locales. Well-known writers are a mental companion for him, and they are frequently referenced. So too, some less well-known ones; Macfarlane has now placed Bagnold's The Physics of Blown Sand and Desert Dunes (Dover Earth Science) on my reading list.

The Sunday Times of London spoke of his precise prose. And so it is, as well as fresh. Right from the beginning, he draws the reader in with fresh expressions like "Rooks haggle." And he stirred some very dormant memories.
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Robert Macfarlane here takes us on a noble and quixotic quest, to find "wild" places in the British Isles as well as Ireland. For any person who has lived or even visited almost anywhere there recently, it is obvious what an odd task the author has set before him in the isle of the roundabout (Americans read : "Traffic Circle"), the roads of which, by his own concession, if laid end to end, could take one almost to the moon. The author - somewhat shamefacedly - uses these roads to get to his wild destinations. It becomes evident that one is reading the work of a poetic stylist on the first page where: "Sunlight fell in bright sprees on the floor." All very well, but - I'm not trying to be hypercritical here, just taking note of the tenor of the book as it struck this reader - the book is more of a compendium of MacFarlane's excursions and varied and varying impressions of "wildness," as he motors back and forth from his home in Cambridge (where he is a Fellow) with wife and children to various remote corners for his encounters, only to rush back home to write about the place, the history of the place, the authors associated with the place and his interaction with the place in cosy Cambridge. The book is chock-full of these other writers and paragraph-long quotes from them, which let us know how erudite our author is, but not how wise. There IS a difference, you know.

There's a certain thread of mystical "Wildness Manichaeism," if I may so phrase it, which runs through a great deal of the book. It's wild or it's not, no greys. The author describes his experience of wildness (and that of many other authors) in several different places. But there's a heartfelt reluctance to define it. Macfarlane's wildness is definitely of the "I know it when I sense it" sort.
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A challenging book for me, but worth the effort to read. Highly etherial, even philisophical view of British wilderness settings that tends to focus on the people that used to inhabit the wild places that the author visits. Nature gets a place alongside man. Strange, to me, to focus as much on the human as the natural, but, in the end, it works well. I guess that even the wildest, most remote places in a country that has been inhabited for 10,000 years carry heavy traces of human occupation. How man has deeply shaped, and, in turn, how man has been shaped by the remotest places in Britain is a clear take away from this book.
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The Wild Places is the second of Robert MacFarlane’s books that I have read, the other being Old Ways, his most recent book. I enjoyed The Wild Places even more than Old Ways, which I thought was wonderful.

In this book, MacFarlane visits a number of places in the British Isles, each of which is in some sense wild, in order to experience wildness and explore its nature. In each of them, the reader travels with MacFarlane, carried by his precise, poetic prose that gives us intimate access to his observations and feelings. Interspersed between MacFarlane’s detailed and illuminating descriptions are accounts of local history and thoughts that the landscape, wildlife, and his experiences have promoted. Each region that he visits is different: From island to tor, bookended by a favorite beech tree that stands near to his house.

There is a quiet continuity to the book. The journeys are described in the sequence in which he made them, over the course of a year. As the year passes, our understanding of wildness evolves, along with MacFarlane’s, from that of remote places separated from humanity to that of colonizing, evolving nature itself that can thrive in and around human spaces, in crevices, hedges, and ditches.

MacFarlane’s search for the meaning of wildness is interesting and thought-provoking but, for me, the wonder of the book lies in MacFarlane’s ability to feel the landscape and, through the beauty of his writing, to communicate those feelings to his reader. This book will nourish, delight, and inspire anyone with a love of the natural world.
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