Peter Matthiessen

Milne Special Collections has a comprehensive collection of Matthiessen's books, many of them in multiple editions. For a list of books in the Peter Matthiessen collection, see the UNH Library catalog.

Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014) was born in New York City, NY and died in Sagaponack, NY. He was an American novelist, naturalist, Buddhist monk, and wilderness writer whose work deals with the destructive effects of encroaching technology on pre-industrial cultures and the natural environment. Both his fiction and nonfiction works combine remote settings, lyrical description, and passionate advocacy for the preservation of the natural world.

After serving in the US Navy (1945-47), Matthiessen attended the Sorbonne and Yale University (B.A., 1950). He moved to Paris, where he associated with other expatriate American writers such as William Styron, James Baldwin, and Irwin Shaw. There he helped to found and edit the literary journal The Paris Review.

A dedicated naturalist, Matthiessen embarked on a tour of every wildlife refuge in the United States during the mid-1950s. He wrote more than 15 books of nonfiction, including Wildlife in America (1959), a history of the destruction of wildlife in North America; The Cloud Forest: A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness (1961); Under the Mountain Wall: A Chronicle of Two Seasons of the Stone Age (1962), about his experiences as a member of a scientific expedition to New Guinea; Blue Meridian: The Search for the Great White Shark (1971); and The Snow Leopard (1978), set in remote regions of Nepal, which won both the National Book Award and the American Book Award.

Matthiessen continued to range far and wide, producing African Silences (1991), Indian Country (1992), and Baikal: Sacred Sea of Siberia (1992). His book In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1983), about the conflict between federal agents and the American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973, was the subject of a prolonged libel suit that blocked all but an initial printing and was not settled until 1990. In 1991 the book was republished.

Matthiessen's novels include Race Rock (1954); the acclaimed At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1965; filmed 1991), a surrealistic work involving missionaries, Yanomami Indians, and an expatriate U.S. pilot in the South American rainforest; Far Tortuga (1975), a complex work about events leading up to the death of the crew of a turtle-fishing boat in the Caribbean; and a trilogy set in the Florida Everglades at the turn of the century, composed of Killing Mister Watson (1990), Lost Man's River (1997), and Bone by Bone (1999).