POCATELLO — The elusive and mysterious eel is a winner in this year’s National Outdoor Book Awards, which are sponsored by the National Outdoor Book Awards Foundation, Idaho State University and the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.
The eel is the subject of the book that took top honors in the Natural History Literature category, one of 10 highly competitive categories that make up the National Outdoor Book Awards.
A total of 14 books were chosen as winners in this year's contest, which is now in its 24th year.
“The Book of the Eel” by Patrick Svensson pieces together humankind's long quest for knowledge about the creature, a quest that, interestingly enough, starts with Aristotle. Parts are also played by Sigmund Freud and Rachel Carson, but the star of the show is Johannes Schmidt who spends much of his life searching the world's oceans to find where European and American eels are birthed.
What we learn from Svensson’s work is that the eel remains as mysterious as ever. In fact, biologists still have not observed the eel’s most basic life function: reproduction in the wild.
“This is simply great writing,” said John Miles, a judge for the contest and former dean and professor of environmental studies at Western Washington University. “It is a marvelous book, done in a highly readable way, never descending into technicalities.”
Almost all of the books entered in the National Outdoor Book Awards are new books, published within the last year. The Classic category, however, accepts older books, and recognizes works that have shown to be of lasting significance in the outdoor world.
This year’s winner of the classic award is “The Only Kayak” by Kim Heacox. Heacox is an Alaska based writer and the author of a dozen books. The judges were unanimous in their assessment that “The Only Kayak” was among Heacox’s best works. “This is simply an outstanding book,” said John Miles, “with powerful writing throughout.”
In the book, Kim Heacox writes of his years living and working in Glacier Bay. It is about paddling trips with friends, intimate encounters with wildlife, his work as a ranger and excursions with an engaging young woman who, as it happens, becomes his life partner. “I was tremendously impressed with the book,” said Miles, “and believe it should be on the shelf of classics in the history of environmental writing.”
The winner of the History/Biography Category is “The World Beneath Their Feet” by Scott Ellsworth. Ellsworth covers mountaineering history from 1930 to 1953.
“What separates this book from many other climbing histories is that Ellsworth approaches mountaineering from a cultural and political perspective,” said Ron Watters, chair of the National Outdoor Book Awards.
“The British,” said Watters, “aware that the days of their great empire were numbered, sought to bolster national pride by attempting to climb the world's highest peaks. At the same time, the newly empowered Nazis looked to the Himalayas as a proving ground for Aryan superiority.”
And the Americans? “They were a motley lot of Ivy League College buddies itching to be a player in this high-stakes climbing game.”
The judges also chose a second winner in the History/Biography category: “Labyrinth of Ice” by Buddy Levy.
“Labyrinth of Ice” is about the Greely polar expedition that was forced to make a desperate escape from the frozen north. “It is one of the most harrowing expeditions of polar history,” said Watters. “Author Buddy Levy tells this epic tale with finesse and intelligence.”
The winner of the Outdoor Literature category is “Dragons in the Snow” by Edward Power. Power reconstructs avalanche accidents, dissecting what went wrong, all the while bringing in the voices of men and women on the front lines of the avalanche safety profession.
James Moss, a judge and outdoor industry attorney, calls it “an exceptionally well-done book, one that holds your interest while at the same time, offering important, and possibly life-saving, lessons on avalanche safety.”
The Design and Artistic Merit category honor outstanding photography and other forms of visual artwork. This year’s winner is “Beauty and the Beast: California’s Wildflowers and Climate Change” by Rob Badger and Nita Winter. Moss found lots to like about this colorful, large-format work. “This is a book of wonder,” he said, “and a celebratory feast for the eyes.”
Complete reviews of these and the other 2020 winners may be found at the National Outdoor Book Awards website at www.noba-web.org.
Here is a list of winners.
Natural history literature. Winner. “The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World.” By Patrik Svensson. Ecco / HarperCollins, New York. ISBN 9780062968814
History/biography. Winner. “The World Beneath Their Feet: Mountaineering Madness and the Deadly Race to Summit the Himalayas.” By Scott Ellsworth. Little, Brown and Company, New York. ISBN 9780316434867
History/biography. Winner. “Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition.” By Buddy Levy. St. Martin’s Press, New York. ISBN 9781250182197
Outdoor literature. Winner. “Dragons in the Snow: Avalanche Detectives and the Race to Beat Death in the Mountains.” By Edward Power. Mountaineers Books, Seattle. ISBN9781680512960
Classic. Winner. “The Only Kayak: A Journey into the Heart of Alaska.” By Kim Heacox. Lyons Press, Guilford, Conn. ISBN 9781493049400
Design and artistic merit. Winner. “Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change.” By Rob Badger and Nita Winter. Winter Badger Press and California Native Plant Society, Sausalito and Sacramento, Calif. ISBN 9781733104401
Children's Category. Winner. “Nature Play Workshop for Families: A Guide to 40+ Outdoor Learning Experiences in All Seasons.” By Monica Wiedel-Lubinski and Karen Madigan. Quarry Books, Beverly, Mass. ISBN 9781631598685
Nature and the environment. Winner. “Secrets of Snakes: The Science Behind the Myths.” By David A. Steen. Texas A&M University Press, College Station, Texas. ISBN 9781623497972
Nature and the environment. Winner. “America's Great Mountain Trails: 100 Highcountry Hikes of a Lifetime.” By Tim Palmer. Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York. ISBN 9780847865420.
Nature Guidebooks. Winner. “Foraging Southern California: 118 Nutritious, Tasty and Abundant Foods.” By Douglas Kent. Adventure Publications, Cambridge, Minn. ISBN 9781591939153
Instructional. Winner. “Peak Nutrition: Smart Fuel for Outdoor Adventure.” By Maria Hines and Mercedes Pollmeier. Mountaineers Books, Seattle. ISBN 9781680512052
Instructional. Honorable mention. “Crack Climbing: The Definitive Guide. By Pete Whittaker.” Illustrations by Alex Poyzer. Mountaineers Books, Seattle. ISBN 9781680512151.
Outdoor adventure guides. Winner. “Fly Fishing Austin and Central Texas.” By Aaron Reed. Imbrifex Books, Las Vegas. ISBN 9781945501241.
Outdoor Adventure Guides. Winner. “Hiking Lassen Volcanic National Park: A Guide to the Park's Greatest Hiking Adventures.” By Tracy Salcedo. Falcon Guides, Guilford, Conn. ISBN 9781493044047
Hometowns of authors:
Natural history literature. Winner. Patrik Svensson (Malmo, Sweden)
History/biography. Winner. Scott Ellsworth (Ann Arbor, Minn.)
History/biography. Winner. Buddy Levy (Moscow, Idaho)
Outdoor literature. Winner. Edward Power (Eden, Utah)
Classic. Winner. Kim Heacox (Gustavus, Alaska)
Design and artistic merit. Winner. Rob Badger (Sausalito, Calif.) and Nita Winter (Sausalito, Calif.)
Children's Category. Winner. By Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Baltimore, Md.) and Karen Madigan (Owings Mills, Md.)
Nature and the environment. Winner. David A. Steen (Gainesville, Fla.)
Nature and the environment. Winner. Tim Palmer (Port Oxford, Ore.)
Nature guidebooks. Winner. Douglas Kent (Orange, Calif.)
Instructional. Winner. Maria Hines (Seattle, Wash.) and Mercedes Pollmeier (Seattle, Wash.)
Instructional. Honorable mention. Pete Whittaker (Sheffield, UK). Illustrations by Alex Poyzer (London, UK).
Outdoor adventure guides. Winner. Aaron Reed (Georgetown, Texas)
Outdoor adventure guides. Winner. Tracy Salcedo (Glen Ellen, Calif.)