Books by Gary Paul Nabhan

MESQUITE by Gary Paul Nabhan
Released: Sept. 14, 2018

"A charming yet quirky book that may puzzle readers outside the deserts of the American Southwest, who are accustomed only to supermarket bags of mesquite for their charcoal smokers."
An unconventional ode to the wonders of mesquite. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2011

"The occasionally florid writing notwithstanding, the book provides well-crafted regional recipes and edifying passages about the surveyed chiles."
Three self-described "gastronauts" plumb climate change through the piquant prism of chile peppers. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 2001

"Of interest only to food activists and organic-gardening buffs—who are probably already converts to the cause."
The pleasures are few, the politics plenty, in this preachy treatise on the politically correct production and consumption of food. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1997

Essays on plants, animals, wild places, and human interactions with them all. Nabhan (The Geography of Childhood, 1994, etc.), a research scientist at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and a MacArthur fellow, has for many years worked to promote the conservation of plants that are culturally and economically important to various indigenous peoples around the world. Many of these essays (most previously published in periodicals) touch on these plants and their use in human cultures. For example, Nabhan discusses the rise of diabetes among the O'odham people of Arizona following their shift from a diet based on native plants to one relying on processed, mass-produced foods; in another, he examines the possible downfall of Mexico's tequila industry, which now relies on a single agave (a kind of succulent) as a source of pulp, though there are dozens of varieties of agave plants. Nabhan writes of the sense of wonderment that comes from a knowledge of the natural world, and of the important work of learning what might be called ``natural literacy'' as a cultural skill. The best piece in the book indirectly addresses this last matter; in it, Nabhan decries the sterility of school playgrounds, which ``seem to squelch life rather than nurture it.'' Nabhan is not a particularly fluent writer, and he often strains for effect (in one not untypical passage, he writes of an ``all-female lizard species with reproductive habits more radical than anything in lesbian literature''). Many of Nabhan's pieces preach to a small choir. Nonetheless, the themes touched on are certain to be of interest to those readers concerned about environmental issues, especially worldwide biodiversity and its conservation. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 1996

Pollinators are the Rodney Dangerfields of the animal world: They just don't get no respect. So claim entomologist Buchmann (Hayden Bee Research Center) and Nabhan (Director of science/Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum) in this at once delightful and disturbing tour d'horizon of those for whom the flowers bloom. ``One in every three mouthfuls of food we eat, and of beverages we drink'' is served up to us by pollinators, notes E.O. Wilson in his introduction. Butterflies are out there working for us, as are the hummingbirds and fig wasps, pygmy gliders and panurgine bees, carrying pollen to stigma, allowing seeds to set. Pollination is one of nature's vital processes, fine-tuned and mesmeric in its endless cycles, feedback loops, checks and balances. But as in so many other instances, humans are busy as the bees disrupting the process, bombing pollinators with pesticides, fragmenting their habitat, cutting off the nectar corridors, such that the ``current rate of species loss constitutes a biodiversity crisis of unprecedented proportions.'' Buchmann provides the hard science of the pollinators' world: flower stalk architecture and nectar chemistry and flowering sequences; Nabhan contributes a felicitous dose of pleasing prose, framed as anecdotal remembrances: He's never happier than when poking about in a sere landscape, following the monarch butterflies on their winter migration, taking stock of the floral pantries. While this book can only be considered a preliminary investigation, trends indicate that pollinators may be getting ever more limited in supply as their world shrinks around them. Buchmann and Nabhan make the case for increased wildlands, intact forests, an ecological approach that prevents pollinator habitat from becoming islands, thus coffins, in a developed landscape. A cautionary tale: Kill the pollinators and you might as well kill yourself. Another of nature's elegant loops. (b&w illustrations) (Author tour) Read full book review >
Released: April 6, 1994

Meditations and personal anecdotes from naturalists/hiking buddies/fathers Nabhan (Gathering the Desert, 1985) and Trimble. ``Children do need wildness,'' the authors argue: not just trees and grass, but open, unpeopled places, where they can ``nibble on icicles and watch ants...lie back and contemplate clouds and chickadees.'' As parents, we should provide our young with ``direct exposure to a variety of wild plants and animals,'' including the less cuddly types, like snakes and lizards. Instead, we plop them down in front of TV sets and books (which, astonishingly, the authors find equally insidious), exercise them in concrete and plastic playgrounds which provide insufficient opportunities for building ``nest-like refuges,'' and send them to schools which prepare them only ``for careers to be spent within buildings.'' As a result of this alienation from nature, the authors argue, our children are myopic, stunted, haunted by fears of the ``lizardness within us.'' Nabhan and Trimble write seductively of the lures of the Western landscape, but some readers may chafe at their narrow conception of ``wilderness.'' (There are wild places back East, after all, and don't leaf-cutter ants resides in cities, too?) Most of the authors' personal anecdotes are touching and provocative, especially Nabhan's childhood reminiscence of his not-so-innocent role in the murder of a lizard. But occasionally, the authors lose sight of their topic and drift into mawkish self-absorption (``Talking with the woman I love about the places we pass through makes the experiences warmer, simpler...''). Readers are not likely to disagree with the authors' central premise and will probably enjoy the lush writing, but may be turned off by their anti-urban, anti-intellectual prejudices and their preoccupation with their own circumstances. A convincing case for the necessity of exposing children to nature, sometimes marred by the authors' narrow vision and smug tone. (10 pages b&w photographs—not seen) Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 1993

A journey from Florence to Assisi in the steps of St. Francis proves as much a spiritual quest as an eclectic scientific inquiry for enthnobotanist Nabhan (Enduring Seeds, 1989). While recovering from a painful divorce, Nabhan, who's part Lebanese, decided to walk the two hundred miles between Florence and Assisi ``in part to ponder my Mediterranean roots, and in part to learn of the land of my saint, San Francisco.'' Before he set off, he made a brief visit to Genoa, home of Christopher Columbus, where, in a local market, he found prickly pears, native to the Americas but now at home in the Old World: This sort of cross- fertilization of plants and seeds—as well as of cultures—is one of the author's subtexts here. Another is the need for ``rough country land where we can be truant and not have to pay to get in or be inspected on the way out.'' Nabhan discovered that little of such wilderness is left in Italy: The wolves have gone; the forests where chestnuts or truffles grow are planned; and even the ancient oaks at St. Francis's shrine, protected as artifacts rather than as living organisms, are dying from benign attention. Civilization is always close by, providing a mix of old and new: rock music and the waltz at an Umbrian corn festival (leading Nabhan to a brief history of corn in Italy, where it once caused pellagra among the peasants); farmers cultivating ancient native crops alongside New World imports like tomatoes and sunflowers; the tasting of the season's first truffles, dug up by dogs rather than by the traditional pigs. Throughout, Nabhan relates his experiences with a beguiling candor that's spoiled by only a few obvious thoughts and insights about human relationships. An enjoyable mix of information and opinion from a writer whose delight in nature is always wise and thoughtful, never sentimental or smug. Read full book review >
Released: March 23, 1989

A brave if ragged try at a daunting goal: to examine American Indian farming practices—above all, traditional approaches to genetic selection—in the context of ongoing crises in modern commercial-scale agriculture and land or water management throughout the Americas. Nabhan, a Phoenix-based ethnobotanist, uses the vehicle of a freewheeling travelogue through past and present Indian farm sites as a focus for a whole tangle of concerns: "What were once considered separate issues—cultural survival, agricultural stability and diversity, and wildlife preservation—now seem to be tightly intertwined." The crux of his thesis is that different relationships between man and domesticated food plants, with varied genetic and ecological consequences, are a function of a society's cultural values and that local mixed subsistence-farming communities tend to hang on to an active sense of interplay between cultivated plants and wild species. The assaults on this heritage that he documents are dismal though hardly surprising. The most obvious is physical destruction of Native American farmlands, along with seedstocks, by government land-allotment practices on reservations and a host of shortsighted water projects. Among the species affected by the deterioration or wholesale loss of habitats are wild rice and a rare gourd in the Everglades, decimated along with the tree on which it climbs by various rounds of swamp draining, flooding, and burning accompanied by rapid soil degradation. Nabhan is not the author to let his valuable and troubling material speak for itself without a lot of mawkish rhetorical poses ("I knew it was the time for braiding seedstocks together again") and flaccid attempts at journalistic scene-setting. Yet the effort does substantially rise above a sometimes infelicitous execution, to bring across the lesson that strategies of food-plant manipulation for human purposes are at their best when they retain culturally rooted links with the genetic reserves of wild relatives and remain cognizant of wild habitats. Maybe there's a better book in this somewhere, but meanwhile Nabhan provides much useful chapter and verse about a subject not previously popularized in great detail by sustainable-agriculture enthusiasts. Read full book review >