Steinhart, Peter 1943–
STEINHART, Peter 1943–
Born August 17, 1943, in San Francisco, CA; son of John H. (an attorney) and Jean (a homemaker) Steinhart; married Judith Holland (a teacher), August 17, 1968; children: Jonah, Caitlin. Education: Stanford University, B.A., 1965; University of California, Los Angeles, M.A., 1967.
Home and Office—Palo Alto, CA.
Writer, editor, educator, and naturalist. U.S. Peace Corps, Washington, DC, volunteer in Kenya, 1967-69; Stanford University, Stanford, CA, lecturer in English and communications, 1977-87; University of California, Santa Cruz, lecturer, 1995. Peninsula Conservation Center Foundation, past president of board of directors; Coyote Point Museum, member.
East Palo Alto Historical and Agricultural Society.
Silver Medal from Commonwealth Club, 1995, for Two Eagles/Dos Aguilas.
Tracks in the Sky (photographs by Tupper Ansel Blake), Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1987.
California's Wild Heritage, Sierra Books (San Francisco, CA), 1990.
Two Eagles/Dos Aguilas: The Natural World of the U.S. Mexico Borderlands (photographs by Blake), University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1994.
The Company of Wolves, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.
The Undressed Art: Why We Draw, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
Work represented in anthologies, including The Norton Book of Nature Writing, Norton (New York, NY). Author of "Essay," a column in Audubon, 1979-91; environmental affairs columnist, California, 1984-86. Contributor to magazines and newspapers, including Harper's, Reader's Digest, Mother Jones, National Wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife, and Pacific Discovery. Field editor, Solar Times, 1979-81; contributing editor, Audubon, 1983-91.
Peter Steinhart told CA: "I grew up in California's Santa Clara Valley when it was still a world of plum orchards and wheat fields. As a boy, I summered in the back country of the Sierra Nevada when it was possible to travel for days without meeting other people. I watched the Santa Clara Valley change from a rural and personal society into the haste, avidity, and anonymity of Silicon Valley. I lived for periods in New York City and Los Angeles and then, in my twenties, lived for two years in relatively undeveloped parts of East Africa, where people were struggling through the transformation from a tribal culture to a nationalistic culture in a setting that sometimes left nature and humankind undifferentiated. Much of my writing has been about what we do to our own character and outlook when we change the setting in which we live. I am convinced that the more we remove ourselves from the complexity and diversity of nature, the more we resign ourselves to selfishness, stupidity, and small-mindedness.
"I grew up in an age and in a household that believed in nobility of character and encouraged service to one's community. My father, an attorney, was active in Jewish charities and also a member of the United States Civil Rights Commission. Wallace Stegner, a college teacher of mine, was an eloquent and assertive spokesman for wilderness and the preservation of open space. There were many examples of men and women whose private efforts made the world a better place. I suppose that, from such examples, I derived the conviction that good writing should not merely divert; it should engage the reader with the wider world and encourage reflection, civility, care, and generosity.
"Perhaps with this sense of service in mind, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya. When I returned to the United States, I wrote for a time without success, and then I began to write op-ed pieces for the Los Angeles Times. That experience may have joined what I felt about the human consequences of environmental change with what I believed about social responsibility, and I have been writing about natural history and environmental affairs ever since. In time, I joined the op-ed form to the more traditional nature essay, and the resulting voice seemed to me immensely satisfying. For twelve years I wrote columns for Audubon and California. In both columns, the recurrent theme was that what we do to nature changes us, often in dramatic ways.
"In recent years, I have devoted more time to books. Tracks in the Sky is an exploration of the Pacific Flyway, from Ecuador to the Arctic Circle, and a warning about the plight of wetlands everywhere. California's Wild Heritage, published jointly by the California Department of Fish and Game, the California Academy of Sciences, and Sierra Books, is a guide to threatened and endangered animal species in the Golden State. Two Eagles/Dos Aguilas: The Natural World of the U.S. Mexico Borderlands is an exploration of the rich, but highly threatened biodiversity of the United States-Mexico borderlands; it argues that the cultural views we bring to unfamiliar settings often blind us to their real nature. The Company of Wolves is a natural and human history of wolves which explores the ways we use other species to think about critical issues in our own social and spiritual lives."
In a review of Two Eagles/Dos Aguilas for the Geographical Review, Daniel D. Arreola called the book "the first volume of its kind to emphasize the theme of nature and its destruction across the range of this diverse border zone." Arreola also added: "The text essay … is laced with useful and little-appreciated information about environmental destruction."
Mary E. Curtiss, writing in Society, noted that in The Company of Wolves, the author "spends a good deal of time trying to understand the source of our archetypal fears of the wolf." Commenting on the author's extensive research for the book and numerous interviews he conducted with people who both oppose and favor the reintroduction of the wolves into the American wilderness, Curtiss wrote: "The most unusual chapters in Steinhart's book explore how wolves think, by comparing wolf behavior to that of dogs." In a review for the Economist, a contributor commented that Steinhart "is able to assess and explain the emotional as well as the scientific debates over a complex piece of wilderness engineering. It is a rare talent."
In his book The Undressed Art: Why We Draw, Steinhart, who is an amateur artist and founded an amateur art group nearly two decades ago, writes about the satisfaction derived from art. He also reflects on what he sees as a renaissance in amateur art groups who focus on figure drawing as opposed to abstract art. Steinhart writes about his life as an amateur artist and also explores why others also take time out of their busy lives to attend art classes. For Steinhart and many others, their pursuit of learning how to draw and paint not only teaches them how to be better artists but also, in a sense, helps them to understand the world around them. "Steinhart's theme is that drawing is one of the most fundamental modes of human expression," wrote an American Artist contributor, who also commented: "There are many good stories here, about the physical demands of posing, the reactions of inexperienced artists to nude models, and the rewards of a mutually beneficial artist-model relationship." The reviewer also added that the book "is remarkably well conceived and well executed." Edward Sorel, writing in the New York Times Book Review, wrote: "Steinhart wants us to know that a renaissance of drawing has arrived, not only here but around the world." Sorel also noted: "Steinhart is one of those lucky writers who can't help being entertaining, even when he's making a serious inquiry. I wasn't long into the book before I felt I was in the presence of a friend."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Artist, October, 2004, review of The Undressed Art: Why We Draw, p. 77.
Economist, July 15, 1995, review of The Company of Wolves, p. 73.
Geographical Review, July, 1996, Daniel D. Arreola, review of Two Eagles/Dos Aguilas: The Natural World of the United States-Mexico Borderlands, p. 473.
New York Times Book Review, September 12, 2004, Edward Sorel, review The Undressed Art, p. 7.
Society, September-October, 1996, Mary E. Curtis, review of The Company of Wolves, p. 86.