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A Sand County Almanac

Leopold writing at bench

Aldo Leopold’s seminal work, A Sand County Almanac achieved prominence around the first Earth Day in 1970, and has been reborn for Earth Day 50. The 2020 edition of this timeless writing meets a new generation of readers with an introduction by famed author and conservationist, Barbara Kingsolver.

“Aldo Leopold, a man who died before I was born, is part of my inner circle. I always look forward to cracking open his door, A Sand County Almanac, for another chat.” Barbara Kingsolver, introduction to A Sand County Almanac, 2020 edition

In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold’s “The Land Ethic” essay is an appeal for moral responsibility to the natural world. Ethics direct all members of a community to treat one another with respect. A land ethic, Leopold wrote, “simply enlarges the boundaries of the community” to include not only humans, but also soils, waters, plants, and animals—or what Leopold called “the land.”

Leopold recognized that his dream of a widely accepted and implemented set of values based on caring—for people, for land, and for all the connections between them—would have to “evolve… in the minds of a thinking community.”

 

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The Writing of A Sand County Almanac

Aldo Leopold’s pen had always been productive and provocative. Beginning with the letters he wrote home in his youth, Leopold used writing to explore and express his relationship with nature. His correspondence was his reprieve from school work, his literary training ground, his naturalist notebook, and his connection to family. Most importantly, it was the practice by which he detailed and reflected upon his experiences.

Leopold’s strength as a writer grew and evolved over his lifetime. By 1937, Leopold already had a strong reputation as one of the conservation movement’s most committed and effective writers. His output of scientific papers, reports, editorials, policy statements, articles, and essays already amounted to some 200 publications.

As Leopold’s essays accumulated and his understanding of the natural world grew, he began to think more self-consciously about his role as a writer. Realizing the public is where conservation’s success ultimately rested, Leopold became increasingly committed to bringing his conservation philosophy into focus and reaching a larger audience.

In 1937, Leopold’s writing took a distinctively poetic turn as he began compiling his literary masterpiece A Sand County Almanac, which was informed by his developing philosophies and the family’s effort to transform the landscape surrounding their Shack near Baraboo, Wisconsin. Leopold spent the next 11 years crafting the essays that inspired readers to understand how the natural world worked and to care for all wild things.

“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.” -Aldo Leopold, “Foreword” to A Sand County Almanac

Not only was this influential book late to develop in Leopold’s life, it nearly wasn’t completed. After a series of rejections from various publishers, Leopold’s manuscript was finally accepted by Oxford University Press on April 14th, 1948. Tragically, just one week later, Leopold died of a heart attack while fighting a grass fire less than a hundred yards from where the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center stands today.

While Aldo Leopold was writing in the 1940s, he could not have imagined the far-reaching impact his book would have. Admired by an ever-growing number of readers and imitated by hundreds of writers, A Sand County Almanac serves as one of the cornerstones of modern conservation science, policy, and ethics. First published by Oxford University Press in 1949, it has become a conservation classic.

Through science, history, humor, and prose, Leopold uses A Sand County Almanac and its call for a land ethic to communicate the true connection between people and the natural world. The hope: that readers will begin to treat the land with the love and respect it deserves.

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Since its publication in 1949, A Sand County Almanac has been translated into 14 languages and more than two million copies have been printed. Click here for a full list of translations.