Verlyn Klinkenborg’s books include Several Short Sentences About Writing and Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile.
 (December 2019)


What Were Dinosaurs For?

A life-size model of the early Cretaceous tyrannosaur Yutyrannus huali; from Mark Norell’s The World of Dinosaurs: An Illustrated Tour. Originally part of the American Museum of Natural History’s 2016 exhibition ‘Dinosaurs Among Us,’ curated by Norell, it is twenty-three feet long and is now in the permanent collection of the Dinosaur Gallery at the Center of Science and Industry, Columbus, Ohio.

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World

by Steve Brusatte

Dinosaurs Rediscovered: The Scientific Revolution in Paleontology

by Michael J. Benton
As I was reading some recent books on dinosaurs, I kept wondering, “What were dinosaurs for?” It’s a ridiculous question, and I wondered why I was wondering it. After all, dinosaurs were “for” exactly what we are “for,” what every organism has been “for” since life began. Every species that has ever lived is a successful experiment in the enterprise of living, and every species is closely kinned at the genetic level with all other species. This is harder to grasp than it seems, partly because the logic of that Satanic preposition—“for”—is so insidious, so woven through the problem of time. Teleology is the moralizing of chronology, and nowadays science tries to keep watch for even the slightest trace of it, any suggestion that evolution has a direction tending to culminate in us or in what we like to call intelligence or in any other presumably desirable end point.

The Voice of the Landscape

Barry Lopez; drawing by Karl Stevens


by Barry Lopez
In his first nonfiction book, Of Wolves and Men (1978), Barry Lopez described the appalling American slaughter of wolves—a long and ongoing vendetta driven by economic and political motives and by a quality of hatred that humans usually reserve for one another. “It seems to me,” he says, “that somewhere …

Green and Pleasant Land

Edward Hicks: The Cornell Farm, 1848

The American Farmer in the Eighteenth Century: A Social and Cultural History

by Richard Lyman Bushman

This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm

by Ted Genoways
Industrial agriculture—shaped by the USDA, by chemical and seed companies, by the vagaries of domestic and export markets—relies on a picture of the family farmer to soften its image. It wants it both ways. It wants to celebrate its technical innovations, like genetically modified crops, computer-driven tractors, and satellite-monitored fields. And yet it also wants to foster our national nostalgia for farming and the men and women who do it. The contradiction is intolerable, especially to farmers.

A Horse Is a Horse, of Course

‘Dark Horse,’ Wyoming, 2005; photograph by Jack Spencer from his book This Land: An American Portrait, published by University of Texas Press

Farewell to the Horse: A Cultural History

by Ulrich Raulff, translated from the German by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
In 1937, a car carrying Rebecca West got stuck in a snowdrift on a Croatian hilltop. “Peasants ran out of a cottage near by,” she wrote, “shouting with laughter because machinery had made a fool of itself, and dug out the automobile with incredible rapidity. They were doubtless anxious to …

‘At the Peak of the Terror’

Iraqi policemen and American soldiers waiting while their commanders plan a joint patrol of southern Baghdad, 2010; photograph by Peter van Agtmael from his book Disco Night Sept. 11, published by Red Hook Editions


by Phil Klay
Redeployment is a collection of twelve brutally effective first-person stories about the uselessness of stories. They are fictions from the Iraq war, but they draw on many conversations between soldiers and the author, Phil Klay, an ex-marine. Who tells them? Among the narrators are a military chaplain, a soldier in …


The Uncrowded Country of the Bomb

Overview of Frenchman Flat, Looking West, Nevada Test Site, 1997

America’s underground tests of nuclear devices in Nevada—many hundred of them over more than three decades—left a pox-like pattern of craters in the desert some sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas. The landscape looks almost lunar. Some of the circles do indeed look like the top of a fallen cake or the entrance to a subterranean ant colony. But each one is a subsidence crater, the slumping cone that results when hundreds of thousands of tons of earth and rock are vaporized far below ground. In 1996 and 1997, the Department of Energy and the US Air Force allowed the photographer Emmet Gowin to take photographs of Nevada’s nuclear landscape from a helicopter. Now gathered in a new book, The Nevada Test Site, his images are a stark monument of deliberate ruin.

John Ruskin, a Wreath of Emotion

Lausanne (detail), attributed to John Ruskin, undated

I can no longer sum up John Ruskin as neatly as I did when I was working at the Morgan Library. I was a young, privateering scholar then, conducting swift, efficient raids on the legacy of one writer after another as the manuscript exhibition came together. Ruskin was a prescient critic of the industrializing world around him and an early witness of climate change, as Tim Barringer notes in Unto This Last: Two Hundred Years of Ruskin, the catalog accompanying the exhibition of the same name currently showing at the Yale Center for British Art. Ruskin’s lectures called “The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century”—delivered in 1884 and based on a lifetime of cloud-watching—portray the “plague-wind” that originated, he believed, in the smokestacks of industrial England. “By the plague-wind every breath of air you draw is polluted, half round the world.”