John James Audubon (University of Nebraska Press, $19.95)

Two salient facts about the famed naturalist and artist John James Audubon come out in Nancy Plain’s vigorous This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon:  He was incorrigibly footloose, and he “shot thousands of birds in his lifetime.”

Yet Audubon correctly foresaw that their demise would not come from bullets but from loss of habitat as “America’s infinite forests fell to the settler’s ax.” That recognition explains why our foremost conservation group bears the French immigrant’s name. Audubon lived a life of stressful poverty, but his wandering with gun and easel yielded the monumental Birds of America. Meant for younger readers but well suited to grown-ups, This Strange Wilderness capably shows why Audubon matters, not just as an artist but also as a conservationist.

Gregory McNamee, author of Gila: The Life and Death of an American River

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