YELLOWSTONE: The Book Version
In August, National Geographic Books will publish my latest book, Yellowstone: A Journey through America’s Wild Heart. The origins of this project lie in my longtime relationship with National Geographic Magazine, and my 32 years’ residence in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and are worth describing.
In May 2014, National Geographic published a special issue, devoted entirely to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and its iconic place within America’s perception of the natural world. The occasion was the centennial of the National Park Service (1914-2014), which the magazine is celebrating with a number of parks-related stories throughout the year and this all-Yellowstone issue as the crescendo. The editor-in-chief who conceived the Yellowstone project, Chris Johns, gave me the assignment—a flattering opportunity, a daunting responsibility—of writing the whole text. It was, I’ve been told, though I haven’t checked the archives, the first time in the 148-year history of National Geographic that a single author was invited to write a complete issue. The research took me two years, off and on, during which I was also researching a very different literary effort, my Tree of Life book for Simon & Schuster (forthcoming next year). For the Yellowstone issue, I interviewed a broad range of scientists and other people, traveled throughout the ecosystem, and got to parts of the Yellowstone backcountry (by horse, by foot, on skis, and by bush plane and helicopter) that I’d never seen before. What I finally produced was a 15,000-word essay on a topic I framed as “Yellowstone: the Paradox of the Cultivated Wild.” The title as published was slightly different, but that was the guiding concept.
My text was matched in the issue with brilliant images by a large team of National Geographic photographers (led by Nick Nichols), expert maps and graphics, sidebars and captions by my friend and colleague Todd Wilkinson, and the superb work of many other members of the National Geographic team. The issue sold out quickly at newsstands across the country, and has since, for those who missed it, become hard to acquire. But in the meantime we have turned it into a book.
At the request of my National Geographic editors, I expanded the original magazine text, almost doubling its length. To do that, I restored some passages cut earlier for reasons of space, and I wrote several new sections on aspects of the subject that I had always considered relevant and interesting, but for which in the magazine there hadn’t been room. The book gave me a wonderful chance to present this fuller treatment. For instance, I added sections on social attitudes toward wolves; on the unexpected connections among grizzlies, elk, wolves and earthworms at Heart Lake; on Yellowstone as an island ecosystem and the implications of island biogeography; and on the importance of large private ranches as components of Greater Yellowstone. And I tried to reaffirm a point underlying the original version: Yellowstone is a big national park, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is bigger still, but the ideas and values that these places represent—the decisions and commitments they demand—are as big as America itself.
The result is Yellowstone: A Journey Through America’s Wild Heart , containing my enlarged text and a rich assemblage of amazing photography—more than could be offered in the magazine. If you still want to read the historic May issue, and your subscription had lapsed, and you missed it on the newsstands, your best option, I suppose, is to spend an extra half-hour in your dentist’s waiting room before your next appointment. (Or read it on this website.) Better still, though, you can lay hands on the new hardback, a beautiful package for the eye and (I hope) a stimulating incentive to deeper appreciation and understanding of America’s first national park. It becomes available on August 23, wherever books are sold, at a price far more appealing than root canal.
David Quammen is an author and journalist whose books include The Song of the Dodo (1996), The Reluctant Mr. Darwin (2006), and Spillover (2014), a work on the science, history, and human impacts of emerging diseases (especially viral diseases), which was short-listed for eight national and international awards and won three. More recently he has released two short books drawn from Spillover and updated to stand alone: Ebola (2014) and The Chimp and the River (2015). In the past thirty years he has also published a few hundred pieces of short nonfiction—feature articles, essays, columns—in magazines such as Harper’s, National Geographic, Outside, Esquire, The Atlantic, Powder, and Rolling Stone. He writes occasional Op Eds for The New York Times and reviews for The New York Times Book Review. Quammen has been honored with an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and is a three-time recipient of the National Magazine Award. He is a Contributing Writer for National Geographic, in whose service he travels often, usually to wild and remote places. Home is Bozeman, Montana.
Throughout the rest of this website, he will not refer to himself in the third person.