Need some new reading material? Shopping for holiday gifts? The 2020 National Outdoor Book Award winners were announced today and feature books on a variety of topics—eels, polar expeditions, kayaking, foraging, crack climbing, the greatest mountain trails, and more.
There are lots of great books in the press release below. If you've read any of them, please let us know what you think below or in a review.
We also want to hear about the best outdoor books you read in 2020.
2020 NATIONAL OUTDOOR BOOK AWARD WINNERS ANNOUNCED
The elusive and mysterious eel is a winner in this year’s National Outdoor Book Awards.
The eel is the subject of the book which took top honors in the Natural History Literature category, one of ten highly competitive categories that make up the National Outdoor Book Awards.
A total of fourteen books were chosen as winners in this year's contest which is now in its twenty-fourth year. Sponsors of the program include the National Outdoor Book Awards Foundation, Idaho State University and the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.
“The Book of the Eel” by Patrick Svensson pieces together humankind's long quest for knowledge about the creature, a quest that, interestingly enough, starts with Aristotle. Parts are also played by Sigmund Freud and Rachel Carson, but the star of the show is Johannes Schmidt who spends much of his life searching the world's oceans to find where European and American eels are birthed.
What we learn from Svensson’s work is that the eel remains as mysterious as ever. In fact, biologists still have not observed the eel’s most basic life function: reproduction in the wild.
“This is simply great writing,” said John Miles, a judge for the contest and former dean and professor of Environmental Studies at Western Washington University. “It is a marvelous book, done in a highly readable way, never descending into technicalities.”
Almost all of the books entered in the National Outdoor Book Awards are new books, published within the last year. The Classic category, however, accepts older books, and recognizes works which have shown to be of lasting significance in the outdoor world.
This year’s winner of the Classic award is “The Only Kayak” by Kim Heacox. Heacox is an Alaska based writer and the author of a dozen books. The judges were unanimous in their assessment that “The Only Kayak” was among Heacox’s best works. “This is simply an outstanding book,” said John Miles, “with powerful writing throughout.”
In the book, Kim Heacox writes of his years living and working in Glacier Bay. It is about paddling trips with friends, intimate encounters with wildlife, his work as a ranger, and excursions with an engaging young woman who, as it happens, becomes his life partner. “I was tremendously impressed with the book,” said Miles, “and believe it should be on the shelf of classics in the history of environmental writing.”
The winner of the History/Biography Category is “The World Beneath Their Feet” by Scott Ellsworth. Ellsworth covers mountaineering history from 1930 to 1953.
“What separates this book from many other climbing histories is that Ellsworth approaches mountaineering from a cultural and political perspective,” said Ron Watters, chair of the National Outdoor Book Awards.
“The British,” said Watters, “aware that the days of their great empire were numbered, sought to bolster national pride by attempting to climb the world's highest peaks. At the same time, the newly empowered Nazis looked to the Himalayas as a proving ground for Aryan superiority.”
And the Americans? “They were a motley lot of Ivy League College buddies itching to be a player in this high stakes climbing game.”
The judges also chose a second winner in the History/Biography category: “Labyrinth of Ice” by Buddy Levy.
“Labyrinth of Ice” is about the Greely polar expedition which was forced to make a desperate escape from the frozen north. “It is one of the most harrowing expeditions of polar history,” said Watters. “Author Buddy Levy tells this epic tale with finesse and intelligence.”
The winner of the Outdoor Literature category is “Dragons in the Snow” by Edward Power. Power reconstructs avalanche accidents, dissecting what went wrong, all the while bringing in the voices of men and women on the front lines of the avalanche safety profession.
James Moss, a judge and outdoor industry attorney, calls it “an exceptionally well done book, one that holds your interest while at the same time, offering important, and possibly life saving, lessons on avalanche safety.”
The Design and Artistic Merit category honors outstanding photography and other forms of visual artwork. This year’s winner is “Beauty and the Beast: California’s Wildflowers and Climate Change” by Rob Badger and Nita Winter. Moss found lots to like about this colorful, large format work: “This is a book of wonder,” he said, “and a celebratory feast for the eyes.”
For more info on the National Outdoor Book Awards: www.noba-web.org.