Matthiessen, Peter 1927–
Matthiessen, Peter 1927–
PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "Math-e-son"; born May 22, 1927, in New York, NY; son of Erard A. (an architect) and Elizabeth (Carey) Matthiessen; married Patricia Southgate, February 8, 1951 (divorced, 1958); married Deborah Love, May 16, 1963 (deceased, 1972); married Maria Eckhart, November 28, 1980; children: (first marriage) Lucas, Sara C.; (second marriage) Rue, Alexander. Education: Attended Sorbonne, University of Paris, 1948–49; Yale University, B.A., 1950.
CAREER: Writer, 1950–; Paris Review, New York, NY (originally Paris, France), cofounder, 1951, editor, 1951–. Former commercial fisherman; captain of deep-sea charter fishing boat, Montauk, Long Island, NY, 1954–56; member of expeditions to Alaska, Canadian Northwest Territories, Peru, Nepal, East Africa, Congo Basin, Siberia, India, Bhutan, China, Japan, Namibia, Botswana, and Outer Mongolia and of Harvard-Peabody Expedition to New Guinea, 1961; National Book Awards, judge, 1970. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1945–47.
MEMBER: American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, New York Zoological Society (member of board of trustees, 1965–78).
AWARDS, HONORS: Atlantic Prize, 1951, for best first story; permanent installation in White House library, for Wildlife in America; National Institute/American Academy of Arts and Letters grant, 1963, for The Cloud Forest: A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness and Under the Mountain Wall: A Chronicle of Two Seasons in the Stone Age; National Book Award nominations, 1966, for At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and 1972, for The Tree Where Man Was Born; Christopher Book Award, 1971, for Sal Si Puedes: Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution; elected to National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1974; "Editor's Choice" citation, New York Times Book Review, 1975, for Far Tortuga; Brandeis Award and National Book Award for contemporary thought for The Snow Leopard, both 1979; National Book Award, general nonfiction, 1980, for paperback edition of The Snow Leopard; John Burroughs Medal and African Wildlife Leadership Foundation Award, both 1982, both for Sand Rivers; gold medal for distinction in natural history, Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, 1985; Ambassador Award, English-Speaking Union, 1990, for Killing Mister Watson; John Steinbeck Award, Long Island University, Southampton, elected to Global 500 Honour Roll, United Nations Environment Programme, and designated fellow, Academy of Arts and Science, all 1991.
Race Rock, Harper (New York, NY), 1954.
Partisans, Viking (New York, NY), 1955.
Raditzer, Viking (New York, NY), 1961.
At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Random House (New York, NY), 1965.
Far Tortuga, Random House (New York, NY), 1975.
On the River Styx, and Other Stories, Random House (New York, NY), 1989.
Killing Mister Watson, Random House (New York, NY), 1990.
Lost Man's River, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
Bone by Bone, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
Wildlife in America, Viking (New York, NY), 1959, revised edition, 1987.
The Cloud Forest: A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness, Viking (New York, NY), 1961.
Under the Mountain Wall: A Chronicle of Two Seasons in the Stone Age, Viking (New York, NY), 1962.
Oomingmak: The Expedition to the Musk Ox Island in the Bering Sea, Hastings House (New York, NY), 1967.
The Shorebirds of North America, paintings by Robert Verity Clem, Viking (New York, NY), 1967, published as The Wind Birds, illustrated by Robert Gillmor, 1973.
Blue Meridian: The Search for the Great White Shark, Random House (New York, NY), 1971.
Everglades: With Selections from the Writings of Peter Matthiessen, edited by Paul Brooks, Sierra Club-Ballantine (New York, NY), 1971.
The Tree Where Man Was Born, photographs by Eliot Porter, Dutton (New York, NY), 1972, revised edition, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Seal Pool (juvenile), illustrated by William Pene Du Bois, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1972, published as The Great Auk Escape, Angus & Robertson (London, England), 1974.
The Snow Leopard, Viking (New York, NY), 1978.
Sand Rivers, photographs by Hugo van Lawick, Viking (New York, NY), 1981.
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, Viking (New York, NY), 1983.
Indian Country, Viking (New York, NY), 1984.
Men's Lives: The Surfmen and Baymen of the South Fork, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.
Nine-Headed Dragon River: Zen Journals 1969–1982, Shambhala (Boulder, CO), 1986.
African Silences, Random House (New York, NY), 1991.
Shadows of Africa, illustrated by Mary Frank, Abrams (New York, NY), 1992.
East of Lo Monthang, Shambhala (Boulder, CO), 1995.
Tigers in the Snow, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2000.
The Peter Matthiessen Reader, Vintage (New York, NY), 2000.
The Birds of Heaven: Travel with Cranes, Harvill Press, 2002.
End of the Earth: Voyages to the White Continent, National Geographic Society (Washington, D.C.), 2003.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land: A Photographic Journey, photographs by Subhankar Banerje, foreword by Jimmy Carter, Mountaineers Books (Seattle, WA), 2003.
(Editor and author of introduction) North American Indians, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to The American Heritage Book of Natural Wonders, edited by Alvin M. Josephy, American Heritage Press, 1972. Contributor of numerous short stories, articles, and essays to popular periodicals, including Atlantic, Audubon, Conde Nast Traveler, Esquire, Geo, Harper's, Nation, Newsweek, New Yorker, New York Review of Books, and Saturday Evening Post.
ADAPTATIONS: At Play in the Fields of the Lord was produced as a motion picture by Saul Zaentz, directed by Hector Babenco, starring Aidan Quinn, Tom Be-renger, Tom Waits, Kathy Bates, and John Lithgow, and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1992; Men's Lives was adapted by Joe Pintauro and was performed on Long Island at the Bay Street Theater Festival on July 28, 1992. Adventure: Lost Man's River—An Everglades Journey with Peter Matthiessen was produced by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in 1991.
SIDELIGHTS: Peter Matthiessen is widely considered one of the most important wilderness writers of the twentieth century. In fiction and nonfiction alike, he explores endangered natural environments and human cultures threatened by encroaching technology. As Conrad Silvert noted in Literary Quarterly, Matthiessen "is a naturalist, an anthropologist and an explorer of geographies and the human condition. He is also a rhapsodist who writes with wisdom and warmth as he applies scientific knowledge to the peoples and places he investigates. Works of lasting literary value and moral import have resulted." Matthiessen also writes of the inner explorations he has undertaken as a practitioner of Zen Buddhism. His 1979 National Book Award-winning memoir The Snow Leopard combines the account of a difficult Himalayan trek with spiritual autobiography and contemplations of mortality and transcendence. According to Terrance Des Pres in the Washington Post Book World, Matthiessen is "a visionary, but he is very hardminded as well, and his attention is wholly with abrupt detail. This allows him to render strangeness familiar, and much that is menial becomes strange, lustrous, otherworldly." Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor John L. Cobbs noted: "In fiction and in nonfiction, Peter Matthiessen is one of the shamans of literature. He puts his audience in touch with worlds and forces which transcend common experience."
Critics contend that despite his pessimistic forecasts for the future of natural areas and their inhabitants, Matthiessen imbues his work with descriptive writing of high quality. According to Vernon Young in the Hudson Review, Matthiessen "combines the exhaustive knowledge of the naturalist … with a poet's response to far-out landscapes…. When he pauses to relate one marvel to another and senses the particular merging into the general, his command of color, sound and substance conjures the resonance of the vast continental space." New York Times Book Review contributor Jim Harrison wrote that Matthiessen's prose has "a glistening, sculpted character to it…. The sense of beauty and mystery is indelible; not that you retain the specific information on natural history, but that you have had your brain, and perhaps the soul, prodded, urged, moved into a new dimension." Robert M. Adams offered a similar assessment in the New York Review of Books. Matthiessen, Adams wrote, "has dealt frequently and knowingly with natural scenery and wild life; he can sketch a landscape in a few vivid, unsentimental words, capture the sensations of entering a wild, windy Nepalese mountain village, and convey richly the strange, whinnying behavior of a herd of wild sheep. His prose is crisp, yet strongly appealing to the senses; it combines instinct with the feeling of adventure."
Although Matthiessen was born in New York City, he spent most of his youth in rural New York state and in Connecticut, where he attended the Hotchkiss School. His father, an architect, was a trustee of the National Audubon Society, and Matthiessen took an early interest in the fascinations of the natural world. "I had always been interested in nature," he remembered in Publishers Weekly. "My brother and I started with a passion for snakes, and he went into marine biology, while I took courses in [zoology and ornithology] right up through college." After service in the U.S. Navy, Matthiessen attended Yale University, spending his junior year at the Sorbonne in Paris. Having realized that a writing vocation drew him strongly, he began writing short stories, one of which won the prestigious Atlantic Prize in 1951. His short fiction would be collected in On the River Styx, and Other Stories, published in 1989. Matthiessen received his B.A. degree in 1950, and after teaching creative writing for a year at Yale, he returned to Paris.
When Race Rock was published in 1954, Matthiessen returned to the United States, where he continued to write while eking out a livelihood as a commercial fisherman on Long Island. Reflecting on the early stages of his writing career in the Washington Post, Matthiessen said: "I don't think I could have done my writing without the fishing. I needed something physical, something non-intellectual." The friendships Matthiessen formed with Long Island's fishermen enabled him to chronicle their vanishing lifestyle in his book Men's Lives: The Surfmen and Baymen of the South Fork.
Matthiessen embarked on his first lengthy journey in 1956. Loading his Ford convertible with textbooks, a shotgun, and a sleeping bag, he set off to visit every wildlife refuge in the United States. He admitted in Publishers Weekly that he brought more curiosity than scientific expertise to his quest. "I'm what the nineteenth century would call a generalist," he said. "I have a lot of slack information, and for my work it's been extremely helpful. I've always been interested in wildlife and wild places and wild people. I wanted to see the places that are disappearing." Nearly three years of work went into Matthiessen's encyclopedic Wildlife in America, published in 1959 to high critical acclaim. A commercial success as well, Wildlife in America initiated the second phase of Matthiessen's career, a period of two decades during which he undertook numerous expeditions to the wild places that captured his curiosity. Since 1959, he has supported himself solely by writing.
The popularity of Matthiessen's nonfiction somewhat overshadows his equally well-received fiction. Three of his first four books were novels, and critics found them commendable and promising works. In a New York Herald Tribune Book Review piece about Race Rock, Gene Baro commented: "Mr. Matthiessen's absorbing first novel, apart from being a good, well-paced story, offers the reader some depth and breadth of insight. For one thing, Race Rock is a vivid but complex study of evolving character; for another, it is a narrative of character set against a variously changed and changing social background. Mr. Matthiessen has succeeded in making from many strands of reality a close-textured book." New York Times contributor Sylvia Berkman observed that with Race Rock, Matthiessen "assumes immediate place as a writer of disciplined craft, perception, imaginative vigor and serious temperament…. He commands also a gift of flexible taut expression which takes wings at times into a lyricism beautifully modulated and controlled." Cobbs wrote in Dictionary of Literary Biography that although Race Rock "does not anticipate the experimental techniques or exotic subject matter of Matthiessen's later fiction, the novel shows the author's early concern with fundamental emotions and with the tension between primitive vitality and the veneer of civilization."
Partisans and Raditzer, Matthiessen's second and third novels, garnered mixed reviews. According to M.L. Barrett in the Library Journal, the action in Partisans, "notable for its integrity and dramatic quality, is realized in real flesh-and-blood characters." New York Times contributor William Goyen stated: "The characters [in Partisans] seem only mouthpieces. They are not empowered by depth of dramatic conviction—or confusion. They do, however, impress one with this young author's thoughtful attempt to find answers to ancient and serious questions." Critics were more impressed with the title character in Raditzer, a man Cobbs found "both loathsome and believable." In the Nation, Terry Southern described Raditzer's anti-hero as "a character distinct from those in literature, yet one who has somehow figured, if but hauntingly, in the lives of us all. It is, in certain ways, as though a whole novel had been devoted to one of [Nelson] Algren's sideline freaks, a grotesque and loathsome creature—yet seen ultimately, as sometimes happens in life, as but another human being." Cobbs concluded: "A skillful ear for dialect and an immediacy in sketching scenes of violence and depravity saved Raditzer's moral weightiness from being wearisome, and the novel proved Matthiessen's ability to project his imagination into worlds far removed from that of the intellectual upper-middle class."
At Play in the Fields of the Lord enhanced Matthies-sen's reputation as a fiction writer when it was issued in 1965; the novel would increase his renown still further after it was filmed as a motion picture directed by Hector Babenco in 1992. Set in a remote jungle village in the Amazon region, the work is, in the words of New York Times Book Review contributor Anatole Broyard, "one of those rare novels that satisfy all sorts of literary and intellectual hungers while telling a story that pulls you along out of sheer human kinship." The story recounts the misguided efforts of four American missionaries and an American Indian mercenary to "save" the isolated Niaruna tribe. Cobbs suggested that the book shows "a virtuosity and richness that few traditional novels exhibit. There is immense stylistic facility in shifting from surreal dream and drug sequences to scrupulous realistic descriptions of tropical nature." Nation contributor J. Mitchell Morse voiced some dissatisfaction with At Play in the Fields of the Lord, claiming that Matthiessen "obviously intended to write a serious novel, but … he has unconsciously condescended to cheapness." Conversely, Granville Hicks praised the work in the Saturday Review: "[Matthiessen's] evocation of the jungle is powerful, but no more remarkable than his insight into the people he portrays. He tells a fascinating story, and tells it well…. It is this firm but subtle evocation of strong feeling that gives Mat-thiessen's book its power over the imagination. Here, in an appallingly strange setting, he sets his drama of familiar aspirations and disappointments."
Matthiessen's 1975 novel, Far Tortuga, presents a stylistic departure from his previous fictional works. As Cobbs described it, "the deep penetration of character and psychology that characterized At Play in the Fields of the Lord yields to an almost disturbing objectivity in Far Tortuga, an absolute, realistic reproduction of surface phenomena—dialogue, noises, colors, shapes." In Far Tortuga Matthiessen creates a fictitious voyage of a Caribbean turtling schooner, using characters' conversations and spare descriptions of time, weather and place. "The radical format of Far Tortuga makes the novel a structural tour de force and assured a range of critical reaction," Cobbs noted. Indeed, the novel's use of intermittent blank spaces, wavy lines, ink blots, and unattributed dialogue has elicited varying critical responses. Saturday Review contributor Bruce Allen called the work an "adventurous failure…. It exudes a magnificent and paradoxical radiance; but beneath the beautiful surface [it lacks] anything that even remotely resembles a harmonious whole." Most reviewers expressed a far different opinion, however. Newsweek's Peter S. Prescott praised the book as "a beautiful and original piece of work, a resonant, symbolical story of nine doomed men who dream of an earthly paradise as the world winds down around them…. This is a moving, impressive book, a difficult yet successful undertaking." And New York Review of Books contributor Thomas R. Edwards felt that the novel "turns out to be enthralling. Matthiessen uses his method not for self-display but for identifying and locating his characters…. What, despite appearances, does not happen in Far Tortuga is a straining by literary means to make more of an acutely observed life than it would make of itself."
Killing Mister Watson details, through the linked recollections of ten individuals, life in the Florida Everglades a century ago. Basing his story on actual events, Matthiessen novelizes the life of Edgar J. (Jack) Watson, who settled in the area in 1892 and became a successful sugar-cane farmer. Tales of a dark past begin to circulate among his neighbors: tales of murder, of past wives, of illegitimate children. People are mysteriously murdered, and Watson's volatile temper and mean streak are common knowledge. Despite, or perhaps because of, his wealth, strong physical charisma, and the golden tongue of a born politician, Watson eventually becomes the object of resentment and even fear in his community; he is a man approached with submission. Eventually, Watson is killed by a group of his neighbors—shot with thirty-one bullets—upon returning to town after the hurricane of 1910. "Aggressive and gregarious, without ethics or introspection, both hugely talented and dangerously addicted to untamed power, Edgar Watson finally seems to represent great potential gone awry, or America at its worst," noted Ron Hansen in the New York Times Book Review. But the act of his murder remains incomprehensible: "since accounts of the man differ so radically, we are left, like the detective-historian, with more questions than answers, and with a sense of frustration," remarked Joyce Carol Oates in the Washington Post Book World. "The more we learn about Watson, this 'accursed' figure, the less we seem to know."
Lost Man's River picks up on the story of Edgar Watson and forms the second installment in the "Watson" trilogy. While Killing Mr. Watson approached the tale of the central figure through patching together many documentary sources, Lost Man's River retraces this forceful man's life and his death through the single perspective of his son Lucius. Lucius, an academic and self-proclaimed failure, is haunted by his father's legacy, and fifty years later he begins to research the circumstances surrounding his death and comes across a new piece of evidence. The quest leads him into a dark and complicated family past and a tragic history, which is tied, as always, to the exploitation of the wilderness. The New York Times Book Review's Janet Burroway, while praising Matthiessen for his "perfect ear for the cadences of Southern speech," suggested that the complex maze of familial connections and impostures is "hard on the reader…. Our involvement depends very much on our sharing Lucius's determination to thread this maze, and Lost Man's River does not entirely persuade us to do so." However, Kit Miniclier, a critic for the Denver Post, commented that Matthiessen "pulls his readers through the darkness of those human souls occupying the morose, flickering light of the deep Florida Everglades." And a Kirkus Reviews writer described Matthiessen's accomplishment in these glowing terms: "Interweaving a lament for the lost wilderness, a shrewd, persuasive study of character, and a powerful meditation on the sources of American violence, Matthiessen has produced one of the best novels of recent years."
Matthiessen's novel Bone by Bone, published in 1999, completed the trilogy, with the brawling Florida planter telling his story in his own words. This time the novel also explores Watson's youth back in Civil War days with a vicious father who beats both him and his mother. "The roots of Watson's violence aren't just familial but societal, however, which is evident in the first pages of the book as the boy observes a murdered runaway slave with a mix of sorrow and cool indifference," wrote Barbara Hoffert in Library Journal. As Watson recounts his tale, readers see how Watson dreamed of recovering the family plantation after the Civil War and his success as a gifted planter. Also portrayed are the violence of the times and how Watson is ultimately brought down by both his own failings and the failings of those around him. A Publishers Weekly contributor called Watson "a monumental creation, and in bringing him and his amazing period to life with such vigor Matthiessen has created an unforgettable slice of deeply true and resonant American history." Not all reviewers praised the novel. John Skow, writing in Time, felt that Bone by Bone and its predecessor in the trilogy were "two novels too many." Hoffert, however, commented, "A rich, provocative novel, sometimes overwritten, but who cares?" Peter Filkins, writing in World and I, commented "that the two powers grappling for control of Bone by Bone, if not the trilogy as a whole, are history and psychology, two very different approaches to the interpretation of individual experience." Filkins went on to note, "In the end, this urge to regenerate oneself and the freedom to do so, even in its most reckless state, are at the core of both the American spirit and Matthiessen's ambitious effort to capture that spirit."
Human victims form the core of Matthiessen's later writings about the United States. In Sal Si Puedes: Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution, Matthiessen chronicles the efforts of migrant worker Cesar Chavez to organize farm laborers in California. In a review for the Nation, Roy Borngartz expressed the opinion that in Sal Si Puedes Matthiessen "brings a great deal of personal attachment to his account of Chavez and his fellow organizers…. He makes no pretense of taking any objective stand between the farm workers and the growers…. But he is a good and honest reporter, and as far as he was able to get the growers to talk to him, he gives them their say…. Matthiessen is most skillful at bringing his people to life."
A similar sympathy for oppressed cultures provides the focus for Indian Country and In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. New Republic contributor Paul Zweig noted that the author "has two subjects in Indian Country: the destruction of America's last open land by the grinding pressure of big industry, in particular the energy industry; and the tragic struggle of the last people on the land to preserve their shrinking territories, and even more, to preserve the holy balance of their traditions, linked to the complex, fragile ecology of the land." According to David Wagoner in the New York Times Book Review, what makes Indian Country "most unusual and most valuable is its effort to infuse the inevitable anger and sorrow with a sense of immediate urgency, with prophetic warnings…. Few people could have been better equipped than Mr. Matthiessen to face this formidable task. He has earned the right to be listened to seriously on the ways in which tribal cultures can teach us to know ourselves and the earth."
The focus of In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, while still directed toward the historic treatment of Native Americans, is more journalistic in nature than Indian Country. In fact, the book itself was the subject of much press when it became the subject of a lawsuit the year after its publication. Claiming that they were libeled in the book, both an FBI agent and then-governor of South Dakota, William Janklow, sued Matthiessen and Viking, the book's publisher, for a combined forty-nine-million dollars. While the two lawsuits were eventually thrown out by a federal appeals court, the actions of the two men effectively kept the book out of circulation for several years. A reading of the work makes their efforts understandable. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse presents an effective indictment of the FBI and other government offices in crushing the efforts of the American Indian Movement (AIM) to recover sacred Sioux lands illegally confiscated by the U.S. government. The discovery of uranium and other mineral deposits on the land prompted federal officials to go to desperate lengths, including, Matthiessen claims, framing AIM activist Leonard Peltier for murder. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse was reissued by Matthiessen in 1991, after new evidence came to light further reinforcing the author's contentions.
The Snow Leopard is perhaps the book that best integrates many of Matthiessen's themes—the abundance and splendor of nature, the fragility of the environment, the fascinations of a foreign culture—with contemplations of a more spiritual sort. The book is an autobiographical account of a journey Matthiessen took, in the company of wildlife biologist George Schaller, to a remote part of Nepal. New York Times columnist Anatole Broyard wrote of Matthiessen: "On this voyage he travels to the outer limits of the world and the inner limits of the self…. When he looks in as well as outward, the two landscapes complement one another." Jim Harrison likewise noted in a review in the Nation: "Running concurrent to the outward journey in The Snow Leopard is an equally torturous inward journey, and the two are balanced to the extent that neither overwhelms the other." As part of that "inward journey," Matthiessen remembers his second wife's death from cancer and opens himself to the spiritual nourishment of Zen. Terrance Des Pres, in the Washington Post Book World, suggested that as a result of these meditations, Mat-thiessen "has expressed, with uncommon candor and no prospect of relief, a longing which keeps the soul striving and alert in us all."
The Snow Leopard elicited wide critical respect, earning a second National Book Award for general nonfiction in 1980. In the Saturday Review, Zweig commented that the book "contains many … passages, in which the naturalist, the spiritual apprentice, and the writer converge simply and dramatically." Atlantic Monthly contributor Phoebe-Lou Adams concluded of the work: "It is as though [Matthiessen] looked simultaneously through a telescope and a microscope, and his great skill as a writer enables the reader to share this double vision of a strange and beautiful country." As a conclusion to his review, Des Pres called The Snow Leopard "a book fiercely felt and magnificently written, in which timelessness and 'modern time' are made to touch and join."
Though Matthiessen writes about Zen in The Snow Leopard and in Nine-Headed Dragon River: Zen Journals 1969–1982, he still expresses reservations about offering his personal philosophies for public perusal. "One is always appalled by the idea of wearing your so-called religion on your sleeve," he told Publishers Weekly. "I never talked about Zen much…. If people come along and want to talk about Zen, that's wonderful, but I don't want to brandish it. It's just a quiet little practice, not a religion … just a way of seeing the world…. And I find myself very comfortable with it." He elaborated briefly: "Zen is a synonym for life, that's all. Zen practice is life practice. If you can wake up and look around you, if you can knock yourself out of your customary way of thinking and simply see how really miraculous and extraordinary everything around you is, that's Zen."
Matthiessen has focused his more recent writings primarily on nature and the human relationship with the surrounding environment. In Tigers in the Snow, the author explores the realm of the Siberian tiger while recounting a research project that began in 1990 with photographer Maurice Hornocker, director of the Hornocker Wildlife Institute. The research was conducted as a joint Russian-American venture, and Matthiessen's account of the effort to save this endangered species is accompanied by Hornocker's photographs. Edelle Marie Schaefer, writing in Library Journal, pointed out that the book has a "very readable, engaging text" and called it "essential reading for everyone interested in wildlife and the preservation of endangered species." Booklist contributor Nancy Bent noted that Matthiessen "brings his lyrical eye to an account of the plight of the Amur (or Siberian) tiger."
In The Birds of Heaven: Travel with Cranes, published in 2002, the author turns his focus on cranes as he journeys on five continents in search of the fifteen known species of cranes. Matthiessen discusses the growing threats to these birds' existence by an increasingly industrialized world. Nevertheless, as pointed out by a reviewer writing in Whole Earth, "This isn't just a litany of losses. Matthiessen celebrates scientists and conservationists struggling to save the cranes." Kevin Krajick, writing in the Smithsonian, commented, "The real intrigue of this, Matthiessen's twenty-eighth book, is in his evocation of people and landscapes." The reviewer went on to note, "The crane connection is not always obvious, but with Matthiessen questions of life and death are sources of eloquent meditations." Time International contributor Bryan Walsh said, "In addition to the marvelous flow of his prose, Matthiessen's greatest gift as a writer may be his ability to combine precise observation with a radiant sense of spiritual wonder. Despite a lifetime of globe-trotting, his remarkable talent for conveying the freshness of encounters with new places is undiminished."
Despite being in his seventies, Matthiessen showed no signs of slowing down as he traveled to Antarctica and wrote about his voyage through the islands surrounding Antarctica in End of the Earth: Voyages to the White Continent, published in 2003. In addition to describing the wildlife and environment that he encountered, Matthiessen also recounted much of the region's history, including stories about the pioneers and adventurers of the past who traveled to the region. Matthiessen and the crew also encountered their own adventure as they suddenly found themselves in the midst of an unrelenting hurricane that battered their ship and injured, in some way, everybody on board. A Publishers Weekly contributor found Matthiessen's descriptions to be "antiseptic." Donna Seaman, however, noted in Booklist that the author "describes with arresting lyricism the spiritual cleansing one experiences in this pristine, wind-scoured kingdom of ice." In a review in Sports Illustrated, Stephen J. Bodio commented, "End of the Earth is a splendid book, a celebration of Antarctica and an eloquent evocation of its appeal."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 7, 1977, Volume 11, 1979, Volume 32, 1985, Volume 64, 1991.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 6: American Novelists since World War II, second series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
Dowie, William, Peter Matthiessen, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1991.
Nicholas, D., Peter Matthiessen: A Bibliography, Orirana (Canoga Park, CA), 1980.
Parker, William, editor, Men of Courage: Stories of Present-Day Adventures in Danger and Death, Playboy Press, 1972.
Styron, William, This Quiet Dust and Other Writings, Random House (New York, NY), 1982.
Atlantic Monthly, June, 1954; March, 1971; November, 1972; June, 1975; September, 1978, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of The Snow Leopard; March, 1983.
Birder's World, August, 2002, Christopher Cokinos, review of The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes, p. 58.
Bloomsbury Review, September-October, 1990, pp. 22, 24.
Booklist, January 1-15, 1996, p. 779; February 15, 1999, Benjamin Segedin, review of Bone by Bone, p. 1004; December 1, 1999, Nancy Bent, review of Tigers in the Snow, p. 660; September 15, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of End of the Earth: Voyages to the White Continent, p. 179.
Chicago Tribune Book World, April 5, 1981; March 13, 1983; June 24, 1990, pp. 1, 5; July 28, 1991, pp. 6-7.
Christian Science Monitor, March 11, 1983.
Denver Post, December 7, 1997, Kit Miniclier, "Killing 'gators, running guns, smuggling drugs," review of Lost Man's River, p. G5.
Hudson Review, winter, 1975–76; winter, 1981–82.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1997, review of Lost Man's River.
Library Journal, August, 1955, M.L. Barrett, review of Partisans; March 15, 1999, Barbara Hoffert, review of Bone by Bone, p. 110; January, 2000, Edell Marie Schaefer, review of Tigers in the Snow, p. 152.
Literary Quarterly, May 15, 1975.
Los Angeles Times, March 22, 1979; November 16, 1990, p. E4; May 30, 1991, p. E1; November 8, 1992, p. L9.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 10, 1981; March 6, 1983; May 18, 1986; August 24, 1986; May 14, 1989, pp. 2, 11; July 8, 1990, pp. 1, 5; July 28, 1991, p. 4; December 6, 1992, p. 36. Maclean's, August 13, 1990, p. 59; July 22, 1991, p. 41.
Nation, February 25, 1961, Terry Southern, review of Raditzer; December 13, 1965, J. Mitchell Morse, review of At Play in the Fields of the Lord; June 1, 1970, Roy Borngartz, review of Sal Si Puedes: Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution; May 31, 1975; September 16, 1978, Jim Harrison, review of The Snow Leopard.
New Republic, June 7, 1975; September 23, 1978; March 7, 1983; June 4, 1984; November 5, 1990, Paul Zweig, review of Indian Country, pp. 43-45.
Newsweek, April 26, 1971; May 19, 1975, Peter S. Prescott, review of Far Tortuga; September 11, 1978; December 17, 1979; April 27, 1981; March 28, 1983; August 11, 1986; June 11, 1990, p. 63.
New Yorker, May 19, 1975; April 11, 1983; June 4, 1984.
New York Herald Tribune Book Review, April 4, 1954, Gene Baro, review of Race Rock.
New York Review of Books, December 23, 1965; January 4, 1968; August 31, 1972; January 25, 1973; August 7, 1975, Thomas R. Edwards, review of Far Tortuga; September 28, 1978; April 14, 1983; September 27, 1984; January 31, 1991, p. 18.
New York Times, April 4, 1954, Sylvia Berkman, review of Race Rock; October 2, 1955, William Goyen, review of Partisans; November 8, 1965; April 23, 1971; August 24, 1978; March 19, 1979; May 2, 1981; March 5, 1983; June 19, 1986; October 11, 1986; July 7, 1990, p. A16; August 22, 1991; July 26, 1992.
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Progressive, April, 1990, pp. 28-29.
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Smithsonian, March, 2002, Kevin Drajick, review of The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes, p. 108.
Spectator, June 13, 1981; May 23, 1992, p. 34.
Sports Illustrated, December 22, 2003, Stephen J. Bodio, review of End of the Earth, p. A10.
Time, May 26, 1975; August 7, 1978; March 28, 1983; July 7, 1986; July 16, 1990, p. 82; January 11, 1993, pp. 42-43; May 17, 1999, John Skow, review of Bone by Bone, p. 89.
Time International, March 11, 2002, Bryan Walsh, review of The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes, p. 52.
Times Literary Supplement, October 23, 1981; March 21, 1986, p. 299; September 22, 1989, p. 1023; August 31, 1990; July 17, 1992, p. 6.
Vanity Fair, December, 1991, p. 114.
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Whole Earth, spring, 2002, review of The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes, p. 95.
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World and I, October, 1999, review of Bone by Bone, p. 276.