Welcome to the world of shielings, orthliths, and zawns. In the third chronicle of his travels, the mountaineer and prodigious walker Robert Macfarlane introduces The Old Ways (Viking, $27.95) of Britain, its coastal islands, and the water routes in between. Traversing a variety of drove roads, pilgrim paths, and green lanes, some so old and half-forgotten that they’re more legend than passage, Macfarlane meditates on a past that kept our species in motion around fields and shores; he calls this work “biogeography” and traces the reciprocal shaping of landscape and human practices. But if his rigorous hikes and sea voyages in a tiny, century-old craft give him a taste of previous eras, they also root him firmly in the here-and-now. As he describes the sounds, smells, and sheer spectacle of being awakened by skylarks before dawn or watching the sunset shatter in a set of bog pools, he offers some of the crispest, most immediate nature writing around.
What was it like aboard a whaling ship in 1880? Ask Arthur Conan Doyle. Making a snap decision to replace a friend as ship’s surgeon, the twenty-year-old medical student set sail for the Arctic. During the seven-month voyage, the budding writer kept a detailed, illustrated journal, which is reproduced here in facsimile and in transcription. ‘Dangerous Work’: Diary of an Arctic Adventure (Univ. of Chicago, $35), edited by Jon Lellenberg and Daniel Stashower (editors also of Doyle’s letters and first novel) is a remarkable look at both a little-known episode of a well-known life and at a bygone era. Doyle called this expedition his coming-of-age, and its lessons ranged from how to stay upright on ice to how to face losing a patient to how to countenance the slaughter of whales, seals, and bears. Doyle also took from the experience plenty of material for fictional tales and nonfiction articles. This volume includes samples of each along with photos of the young Doyle, the S.S. Hope, and its captain and crew.