Hundreds of books and articles have been written urging private citizens to do something ("Write your Congressman, now!") about the destruction of the nation's natural beauties, but the most persuasive volume of all contained not a word of impassioned argument, not a single polemic. As filled with breathtaking beauty as the wilderness itself, the Sierra Club's In Wildness Is the Preservation of the" World, published back in 1962, made its point by bringing the nature it celebrated to the reader in simple words and pictures: the words by Henry David Thoreau, the pictures by Eliot Porter, a photographer every bit as sensitive to the moods of nature as the Walden philosopher himself.
"Most men, it seems to me," wrote Thoreau, "do not care for nature and would sell their share in all her beauty for a given sum." "I hoped," wrote Porter of his photographs, "to be able to complement in feeling and spirit Thoreau's thinking and to show the peril we face by our ever faster destruction, of life not our own."
That Porter succeeded in his ambition was made abundantly clear in the fact that the original handsomely bound and packaged edition sold some 48,000 copies at a high price. The problem was that, outside of those 48,000 affluent ones, most readers could not. afford the $25 per volume it cost to get that close to the Thoreau-Porter miracle. Now Ballantine Books and the Sierra Club have brought the miracle right to everyone's doorstep with a paperback edition of In Wildness that preserves, at $3.95, most of the high quality of the original. It includes all of the 72 full-page color photographs from the original hard-cover edition, and the quality of reproduction is uniformly excellent. Many of the pictures—leaves riding a gentle stream or wild flowers wet with dew—are so vibrant that the reader will want to put out a finger to touch them.
This is the first venture into the paperback field of the club that has been dedicated since 1892 to preserving the nation's scenic resources. It could hardly have chosen a better way to encourage interest in its cause than by putting within the price range of the general public a book such as this. What Porter brings home to the ordinary book buyer through his photography is that much of what Thoreau loved best in nature is still all around us. But, warns Joseph Wood Krutch, quoting the author of Walden in an introduction to this edition: "The squirrel has leaped to another tree, the hawk has circled further off and is settled now upon a new eyrie, but the woodman is preparing to lay his axe at the root of that also."