Remembering Nature Writer Barry Lopez – Obituary

Barry Lopez Obituary

Barry Lopez Obituary
6 January 1945 – 25 December 2020

Today is the birthday of Barry Lopez — one of the great American nature writers, among the likes of Wendell Berry, Rachel Carson, and Aldo Leopold. Lopez died over the holidays, on Christmas Day 2020. We remember him here on the occasion of his birthday.

One of the great living nature writers, Robert Macfarlane, described Barry Lopez’s work in a review essay for The Guardian:

Lopez is, to my mind, the most important living writer about wilderness. And the defining quality of a wilderness, for Lopez, is that it make us “stumble”. It removes a step from our stairs. In so doing, it draws our attention to the “narrow impetuosity” of our human schedules. “It is precisely because the regimes of light and time in the Arctic are so different,” he writes in his masterpiece Arctic Dreams (1986), “that this landscape is able to expose in startling ways the complacency of our thoughts about land in general.”

There is an old idea that we go to wildernesses to be healed and consoled. For Lopez, wildernesses are neither therapeutic nor comforting. They are harshly tutelary. Arctic Dreams is filled with stories of people whose expectations are confounded by the polar environment, sometimes fatally. … The Arctic, Lopez once wrote, has “the classic lines of a desert landscape: spare, balanced, extended, and quiet” (one notes with admiration the adjectival balance of that second clause). The same, unmistakably, is true of Lopez’s prose. Of all the great landscape writers, Lopez’s austere style seems most purely to embody the terrain it describes. [ Read the full essay ]

A couple of Barry Lopez’s most important books, for those who want to start reading his work:

Barry Lopez ObituaryArctic Dreams (1986)

National Book Award Winner – Non Fiction

“Dazzling. . . . Treats the distant, snowy world of the Arctic as a place that exists not only in the mathematics of geography but also in the terra incognita of our imaginations.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Buy Now:  [ IndieBound ] [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ] [ Audible ]

Of Wolves and Men (1978)

National Book Award Finalist

“A remarkable book, both biologically absorbing and humanly rich, and one that should be read by every concerned American.” – John Fowles
Buy Now:  [ IndieBound ] [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]


Listen to a brief audio obituary for Barry Lopez from NPR:

IMAGE CREDIT: Screen capture from Barry Lopez on Storytelling (YouTube)


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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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