Peter Matthiessen, an author and naturalist who as much as any one writer in the last century spoke through the voice of wilderness, died yesterday of acute leukemia. Matthiessen’s final novel, In Paradise, about a visit to a Nazi extermination camp, will be published on April 8.
Matthiessen was the author of many books, including The Snow Leopard, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and the compilation Shadow Country. He was a multiple National Book Award winner.
“Peter was a force of nature, relentlessly curious, persistent, demanding — of himself and others,” his literary agent, Neil Olson, said in a statement. “But he was also funny, deeply wise and compassionate.” Via the Associated Press
Matthiessen’s first book of non-fiction, 1959’s Wildlife in America, predated Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and was, in my opinion, greatly underappreciated. As a classic history of the rare, threatened, and extinct animals of North America, and one of the first books to call attention to the hidden impacts of American culture on wildlife, Wildlife in America may have been one of Matthiessen’s most important books. Roger Tory Peterson said it “Should be the number one source volume for everyone who embraces the philosophy of conservation.”