A novelist and bestselling nonfiction writer’s account of her life and how she became a respected observer of the natural world.
Thomas (The Hidden Life of Deer: Lessons from the Natural World, 2009, etc.) grew up a city girl in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. From her engineer father, she came to love the wonders of the sky, and from her anthropologist mother, she learned that all creatures “were on earth to be cared for.” Direct experience with nature came from weekends and summers spent in rural New Hampshire. But thanks to the observational skills her parents encouraged her to hone, Thomas also learned about nature while watching the family’s cats and dogs. As a teenager, she traveled with her parents to the Kalahari to study the Ju/wasi people where she learned about “the rules that evolution set out for each species.” Though she longed to study biology in college, Thomas majored in English instead in part to prepare to be an articulate 1950s wife able to “enhance her husband.” Even as she fulfilled social expectations for marriage and motherhood, her experience with anthropological fieldwork brought brilliant opportunities for research. A Guggenheim fellowship allowed Thomas to study the Dodoth people of Uganda. Later, the New Yorker gave her funds to travel to Nigeria, where her research into tribal life was interrupted by the start of a devastating civil war. Yet the good fortune and privilege that also allowed her to study lions in Namibia and wolves on Baffin Island did not render her immune from the vagaries of life. The author also battled alcoholism and contended with tragedies that left her daughter paralyzed and her son with a brain injury. Both wise and witty, Thomas’ book celebrates nature as the best tonic for the “poison” that inevitably infiltrates even the most comfortable of human lives.
A candid and humane memoir of a fascinating life.