-The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural HIstory of the Northwest
(available October 1, 2009)
- The Mapmaker's Eye: David Thompson on the Columbia Plateau
- Sources of the River: Tracking David Thompson across Western North America
- Purple Flat Top: In Pursuit of a Place
- Singing Grass, Burning Sage: Discovering Washington's Shrub-Steppe
- Visible Bones: Journeys through Time in the Columbia River Country
“David Douglas was one of the brave and talented breed of naturalist-gardener-explorers who in the decades before Darwin laid the foundations of modern botany – and died, tragically young, apparently from the curiosity and impetuosity that made him so outstanding. Here is a rich tale, excellently told”.
author of The Tree
"We've long needed a modern biographer of naturalist David Douglas and who better to write it than Jack Nisbet, one of the Northwest's great storytellers. Douglas followed in the wake of explores like Captain James Cook, with whom he shared a tragic end of life in Hawaii, and Meriwether Lewis, whose botanizing was dwarfed in its breadth and depth by the Scotsman's efforts. In crossing Douglas's path with DeWitt Clinton, John McLouglin, George Simpson, Sir John Franklin, and Spokan Garry, Nisbet has authored a narrative tapestry."
Director of the Washington State Historical Society
"Jack Nisbet's brisk, thrilling account allows us to walk, ride and paddle along with David Douglas, the tireless 19th-century Scotsman whose name is attached to Cascadia's iconic fir. Nisbet takes us on the ultimate naturalist's tour of a largely untamed, unnamed, and unknown Northwest, land of giant salmon, circling condors, and 14-inch pine cones. What nature-lover doesn't wish they could see the region as it was when explorers first arrived? Well, here you go."
--Knute Berger, author of Pugetopolis
The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest.
Nisbet, Jack (Author)
Oct 2009. 288 p. Sasquatch, hardcover, $23.95. (9781570616136). 508.795.
Intrepid. Indefatigable. Enthusiastic. Enduring. The adjectives used to describe pioneering botanist David Douglas are nearly as extensive as the list of plants this resourceful explorer introduced to the world. From the towering fir that bears his name to lowly alpine mosses, Douglas’s extensive horticultural discoveries fueled the insatiable British and European appetite for exotic plants and secured his legacy as one of the most prolific and fearless plant-hunters of the nineteenth century. Historian and naturalist Nisbet traces the unlikely evolution of this audacious adventurer from his early days as an apprentice gardener in his native Britain to the rough-and-tumble years spent traversing the daunting terrain of the Pacific Northwest and beyond in search of new species of trees, shrubs, flowers, and herbs. The result is an exhilarating biography that provides an entertaining portrait of the unfettered determination that drove one of the giants
in the field of botanical exploration and infused the young nation he viewed with a keen and zealous spirit.
— Carol Haggas, BOOKLIST (September 15, 2009 issue)
"The Collector," Jack Nisbet
The Douglas-fir takes its name from David Douglas, but we don’t know much about this hardy explorer of the Pacific Northwest. Until now, that is, thanks to Spokane’s own Jack Nisbet, one of our most important historians — and a contributor to The Inlander.
Nisbet has long been captivated by that moment when Europeans first came to our corner of North America, but just before massive settlement. His research on the way native tribes lived, as observed by the first visitors, has painted a rich panorama of Plateau cultures. David Douglas is one of those first visitors, and while this book is his story, it’s also another chance to tour the world that was lost when America was “discovered.”
Like David Thompson, the subject of Nisbet’s classic Sources of the River, Douglas is a one-of-a-kind character who left behind a trove of written recollections — something missing from most early visitors, who tended to be illiterate seekers of beaver pelts. Along his journeys — which read like epic adventures — he collects species like mad, feeding the obsession with all things horticultural that was gripping English society back home. Many plants plucked here made their way into English gardens three decades before James Glover ever laid eyes on Spokane Falls.
Nisbet’s depth of knowledge and meticulous research even leads to a surprising conclusion that Douglas may have left something much more personal behind, as local lore says he fathered a child with one of the daughters of Jaco Finlay, the Canadian fur trader who was the first white resident of the Spokane area.
Douglas was like one of our modern-day adrenaline junkies you see profiled in Outside magazine — always seeking the next adventure, which took him from Old Scone, Scotland, to the Athabasca Pass, to Hawaii, and, sadly, to an early end. But Douglas still casts a long shadow over the Pacific Northwest, and Jack Nisbet has, as usual, filled in the details beautifully.
--TED S. MCGREGOR, JR. Pacific Northwest Inlander
September 24, 2009
We need all the help we can get imagining this country when it stretched out, untouched by industry. With every passing year, the species mentioned by explorers and naturalists, the smells and sounds and the sheer profusion of wildlife become more dreamlike. David Douglas grew up in Scotland, the son of a stonemason, and studied botany in Glasgow with the great naturalist and fern expert William Jackson Hooker. In 1823, at the age of 24, he sailed with Hooker to the Pacific Northwest, where he spent 10 years collecting and keeping a journal and naming countless species (most notably the Douglas fir). He explored areas skirted by Lewis and Clark and was one of the first naturalists to collect species. What's left at book's end is the sense of plenty, of endless variety and beauty that accompanied these vistas.
--Los Angeles Times
September 27, 2009
The Mapmaker's Eye: David Thompson on the Columbia Plateau
Washington State University Press, Pullman WA 2005
I would like to point out also the very positive reaction that Jack Nisbet's extraordinary new book, The Mapmaker's Eye: David Thompson on the Columbia Plateau, is receiving in Canada. Any question about the need for an interpretative guide for David Thompson's activities has, in my mind, been made completely moot by this work. After reading Nisbet's book, I recognized within it all of the material, clearly and succinctly presented, that we need to build an interpretive case for Thompson's relevance anywhere from the Rockies west in North America.
- Bob Sandford, chair, United Nations International Year of Fresh Water
The Mapmaker's Eye's interplay of talents shared by both Thompson and Nisbet makes this a special book. It is as though Thompson's interests, abilities, and life have mentored Nisbet's own development as a writer, naturalist, and educator. The abilities enable to book to go beyond illuminating the complex chronology of Thompson's travels west of the mountains. Nisbet wants us to enter the world of Thompson through the explorer's own eyes by providing reasoned understandings of the emotional texture of his life. Written as a companion piece to the Northwest Museum of Arts & Cultures exhibit of [the same name], the combination here represents a stunning achievement for author and museum alike.
- William Layman, Columbia Magazine
American Library Association, Best of the Best University Publications of 2005
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Sources of the River: Tracking David Thompson across Western North America
Sasquatch Books, Seattle, 1994
[Sources of the River] is flat-out, one of the best-written and most fascinating books I've read about our particular corner of the continent. Nisbet's style is smooth and graceful, and he has a gift for clarity. His occasional first-person accounts...serve a valuable purpose. They remind us that this book is not about a vanished land; it's about a land that still lives and evolves.
- The Spokesman Review
Nisbet's writing style is lively and immediate, decidedly un-stodgy, displaying humor and sensitivity to nature that Thompson showed in his journals. Sources of the River is a "must read" for anyone interested in Northwest history. this superbly researched, superbly written book resonates in the memory for a long time.
- The Third Age
Murray Morgan Prize 1995
Idaho Library Book of the Year 1995
Washington Governor's Award 1995
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Purple Flat Top: In Pursuit of a Place
Sasquatch Books, Seattle 1996 (out of print; copies available through JN)
"In Jack Nisbet, an unsung corner of the West has found its troubadour. His north-of-Spokane tales of disgusted dairymen and hopeful miners, of white ravens and dancing grouse, ring with the spirit of the legend of the Sky People-- "the time when men and animals lived together as equals."
- Ivan Doig
"Purple Flat Top is everything a portrait of a place should be: intimately local yet completely universal, rich in the texture of people and other species, and spit-true...I doubt if a dozen living writers have portrayed slices of the Northwest with the grace, verve, and loving presence of Purple Flat Top."
- Robert Michael Pyle
"[Purple Flat Top] is the most pleasurable reading I've come across in a long, long time. The humor is wonderful, but so accumulative and subtle that one almost constantly feels the urge to burst out laughing without quite knowing why."
- Patrick F. McManus
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Singing Grass, Burning Sage: Discovering Washington's Shrub-Steppe
A Nature Conservancy of Washington Book, Graphic Arts Center Publishing, Portland, OR 1999
[Singing Grass, Burning Sage] seeks to dispel the myth that without irrigation, The Columbia Basin is a barren land. Through Nisbet's words, the words of tribal people and early visitors, and brilliant color photographs, readers discover a world filled with all kinds of birds, insects, plants and reptiles...teeming with life and natural value.
- Pacific Northwest Inlander
This book is a remedy. It made me want to go out and walk along a sageland creek, and it made me want to do so as softly as possible.
- Jim Kerschner, Spokesman Review
Silver medal in Environmental category of ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year 2000 Awards
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Visible Bones: Journeys through Time in the Columbia River Country
Sasquatch Books, Seattle, 2003
Nisbet's "Visible Bones" fits perfectly into the category of place-based writing. In 12 exquisite chapters, he ranges across time and tierroty to introduce us to the Columbia River country, the more than 210,000 square miles of sagebrush, basaslt, and high mountains that drain tinto the West's grandest river. It is clear that Nisbet not only kows this place but is passionate about its stories.
What makes Nisbet's story most appealing is how he weaves journal entries, century-old newspaper articles, personal reminiscences and biology, both modern and historical, to tease out the underlying tales of the land. By doing so he makes the modern terrain richer and more intriguing. His stories also make us realize what recent inhabitants have missed.
- David Williams, Seattle Times
The book resonates with history and place, and also with Nisbet's crisp voice...lavish in detail but pleasantly clear in the telling.
- Portland Oregonian
[Nisbet's] writing will pull you out of your chair and make you eager for a walk in the wild. Anyone who wants a true sense of place in the Inland Northwest needs to read this book.
Together, the stories these bones tell lay out a wholly original, hybrid history that connects nature with human endeavor, and geography with the passage of time.
- Washington Wildlands magazine
Jack Nisbet's Visible Bones accomplishes the rare combination of delighting while it instructs. Combining a scientific eye for the world with a storyteller's sensibility, Nisbet walks us (literally) through a landscape that he knows and loves. Further, the stories that he tells also immerse us in the history of the Columbia River and its surroundings. Perhaps there is no better way to praise this book than to say that it not only delights and instructs, Visible Bones forces a reader to look at his or her surroundings with a different eye — an eye more educated, curious, and engaged.
- Todd Marshall, Gonzaga University
One of The Seattle Time's Best Nonfiction books of 2003
Washington State Library Book of the Year award, 2004
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