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The Hour of Land

A Personal Topography of America's National Parks

Author: Terry Tempest Williams

The Hour of Land

The Hour of Land


About This Book

America’s national parks are breathing spaces in a world in which such spaces are steadily disappearing, which is why more than 300 million people visit the parks each year. Now Terry Tempest Williams,...

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Book Details

America’s national parks are breathing spaces in a world in which such spaces are steadily disappearing, which is why more than 300 million people visit the parks each year. Now Terry Tempest Williams, the author of the environmental classic Refuge and the beloved memoir When Women Were Birds, returns with The Hour of Land, a literary celebration of our national parks, an exploration of what they mean to us and what we mean to them.

From the Grand Tetons in Wyoming to Acadia in Maine to Big Bend in Texas and more, Williams creates a series of lyrical portraits that illuminate the unique grandeur of each place while delving into what it means to shape a landscape with its own evolutionary history into something of our own making. Part memoir, part natural history, and part social critique, The Hour of Land is a meditation and a manifesto on why wild lands matter to the soul of America.

Imprint Publisher

Sarah Crichton Books



In The News

“A collection of essays that’s a personal journey as much as a meditation on the purpose and relevance of national parks in the 21st century . . . Williams’s language has its own visceral beauty . . . The Hour of Land is one of the best nature books I’ve read in years, filled with seductive prose . . . It’s impossible to do Williams’s thought-provoking insights and evocative images justice in a short review. My only advice is to read the book. And then read it again, with pen in hand. And then visit a national park, because as Williams reminds us, they are ‘portals and thresholds of wonder,’ the ‘breathing spaces for a society that increasingly holds its breath.’” —Andrea Wulf, The New York Times Book Review

The Hour of Land is about National Parks as battlegrounds. What it means to hold land in trust, who defines its best uses, the tangibility of park boundaries, and whether and how we will reconcile our history with our present and future, are all tested on these lands . . . It's a heady book. But it is an important one, too, because the chronically underfunded National Park Service—and more broadly, all our public lands—are confronting a staggering list of stressors right now . . . The Hour of Land is part of a conversation to kick off the next 100 years.” —Outside Magazine

“It would have been easy for Terry Tempest Williams to fall back on ‘the best idea we ever had’—an interpretation articulated by Wallace Stegner in 1983 and popularized by Ken Burns in 2009. Instead, Williams asks hard questions about the current relevance and original goodness of America’s parks. She offers a poetic revision to the Organic Act of 1916, which mandated the conservation of scenery and wildlife for the enjoyment of the public in such a manner as to leave them unimpaired. In her 400-page mission statement, Williams updates ‘enjoyment’ to spiritual renewal, specifies that ‘the public’ means more than white people, and insists that ‘unimpaired’ means what it says . . . a sincerely disobedient book.” Jared Farmer, Science

“[A] necessary new book . . . Williams shows how national parks can be both symbols of and actual catalysts for the things that are best about America, offering a montage of grandeur that can not only make one tear up in gratitude and an embarrassing sort of patriotic pride but also demonstrate the real value of these ‘wholesome’ feelings to human emotional life, spurring one to engage differently with the world . . . Williams’ is only one voice in the polyphonic story of the American landscape. But it is an especially valuable one in addressing how land, even that which is nominally preserved in a state of Edenic purity, shifts with this country’s social history as much as it does through geology and time.” — Jenny Hendrix, Slate

“Whether contemplating the spiritual life she finds ‘inside the heart of the wild’ or marveling at the peaks and monuments that comprise ‘our best idea’ – the National Parks system – Williams movingly urges us to remember that ‘heaven is here.’” —O Magazine

“Readers who like their prose ardent and their politics leaning left will take particular pleasure in The Hour of Land . . . Williams is frequently a lyrical writer and an intrepid thinker . . . Reading her is better than buying a commemorative postage stamp — she delivers us into a more thoughtful grove.” —Karen R. Long, Newsday

“A provocative, heartfelt collection of essays . . . As Tempest Williams turns her attention to 12 different parks, from Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska to Acadia National Park in Maine, she considers both the large-scale forces—economical, ecological, political—bearing upon these landscapes, and the smaller scope of her personal relationships with these individual parks . . . we are reminded that the parks are preserved only by the grace of people, and Tempest Williams insists, in the end, that ‘the history of our national parks and monuments is a history of subversion, shaped by individuals.’” —Jeffrey Zuckerman, Pacific Standard Magazine

“An impassioned call to preserve and protect our national park system, America’s network of natural splendor, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year . . . Repeatedly, [Williams] calls for us to listen to the land, to respect it, to behave more responsibly . . . [She] raises issues about movements to sell public lands, off-road vehicle damage and other ‘acts of greed,’ water use, toxic emissions from oil and gas development apparently causing increased infant mortality, and other problems. Williams awakens readers to present issues easily obscured by the National Park Service’s carefully cultivated, idyllic image . . . she hopes to shake us from our fondness for souvenir T-shirts.” Irene Wanner, The Seattle Times

“Williams (When Women Were Birds, 2012), an ardent, often rhapsodic, always scrupulous witness to the living world and advocate for the protection of public lands, celebrates the centennial of the National Park Service in this enrapturing and encompassing chronicle of her deeply inquisitive, meditative, and dramatic sojourns in a dozen national parks. Guided by a finely calibrated moral compass and acute attunement to the spirit of the land . . . this is a uniquely evocative, illuminating, profound, poignant, beautiful, courageous, and clarion book about the true significance of our national parks.”—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“Williams (When Women Were Birds), a longtime environmental activist, adds a meditative element to memoir as she shares her abiding love for America’s open spaces . . . In passionate and insightful prose, Williams celebrates the beauty of the American landscape while reinforcing the necessity of responsible stewardship." —Publishers Weekly

“[Williams’s] writing is poetic, passionate and unexpected . . . By turns sad, despairing, and hopeful, even thrilled in the presence of natural beauty, The Hour of Land is emotive, intelligent and well-traveled. It is only right that Williams should celebrate the Park Service's centennial with such a remarkable collection of wisdom and scintillating lines." —Julia Jenkins, Shelf Awareness

"A broadly ambitious and deeply impassioned collection of essays . . . There are few nonfiction writers who can capture the essence of the American wilderness landscape as eloquently as Williams . . . her distinctive prose style is capable of conveying a deep spiritual dimension within the physical setting . . . An important, well-informed, and moving read for anyone interested in learning more about America’s national parks." —Kirkus Reviews

"Taking us through American national parks and monuments, their history, their present reality, the rocks and birds and trees of them, traveling through place, the memory of place, its history, somehow, whether through the spectrum of poetry or personal story, natural history, history, or science, The Hour of Land reveals the very bones and sinew of our land. A redheaded woodpecker, Theodore Roosevelt’s grief, Terry Tempest Williams’s straight-backed father, a horseback ride with her husband through the terrain of the Civil War--slowly, place by place, our country begins to emerge. The South’s Civil War outlook is linked to that of today’s Sagebrush Rebellion here in the West; a planned wall in Big Bend to the inevitable desecration of nature; fratricidal rage to the glorious indifference of the Arctic, righteous rage to the devastation of oil spills, of the earth; Alcatraz to injustice everywhere. The conflagration of Glacier National Park sets the pages on fire, and yet the monument to Cesar Chavez offers the possibility of change: the Hour of Land is at hand. Terry Tempest Williams has literally shown us our country, its physical body, the bones of its history, the urgent reality of our roles in its future. A manifesto that everyone must read and then act upon." --Betsy Burton, The King’s English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, Utah

About the Creators

The Hour of Land

The Hour of Land