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2023 National Outdoor Book Award Winners Announced

November 15, 2023

Snapshot of several of the National Book Award winning books

A riveting 1937 river journey of two women botanists through the Grand Canyon. A vivid recounting of the disastrous 1913 Canadian Arctic Expedition. A captivating story of Arctic explorers and brawling newspaper tycoons, all too happy to distort facts to sell papers. These and more are among the winners of 2023 National Outdoor Books.  

A total of 16 books were chosen as winners in this year's contest which is now in its 27th year. Sponsors of the program include the National Outdoor Book Awards Foundation, Idaho State University and the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.

Ron Watters, a professor emeritus with the Idaho State University Department of Human Performance and Sports Studies Department, has been the chair of the book awards program since its inception.  

“This was our largest year in terms in the number of entries,” said Watters.  “We received over 150 different titles from publishers throughout the US and Canada.”

The Outdoor Adventure Center at Idaho State University serves as the awards program’s home base. Throughout the summer, publishers send their entries into the center.  

“Early in the fall,” said Watters, “Adventure Center staff and student volunteers help me pack and prepare the books for the national judging panels. The books are evaluated and scored by the judges – and from that, we determine the winners.”

Awards are presented in 10 categories ranging from outdoor literature to children’s books. This was an intensely competitive year, and in many of the categories, the judges assigned two winners. Below are some winner highlights.

History/Biography Category  
Two winners were chosen in the History/Biography category.  One of the winners is “Brave the Wild River” by Melissa Sevigny. This is a fascinating account of two women who in 1937 undertook the first serious study of plants in the Grand Canyon. It’s about the struggle of women trying to make it in the scientific world counterpoised against the timeless beauty of the canyon and a gripping ride down the rapids of the Colorado River.    

The other History/Biography category winner is “Empire of Ice & Stone” by Buddy Levy.  In this wonderfully told historical work, Levy chronicles the story of the ill-fated 1913 Canadian Arctic Expedition. Shortly after getting underway, the expedition ship is crushed by ice. The crew must find their way to a remote island – and, once there, somehow go for help.

Outdoor Literature Category  
The Outdoor Literature category has two winners. The first is “Battle of Ink and Ice” by Darrell Hartman.  Hartman writes of the rivalry between two dominant New York newspapers. Each paper supports a different American explorer.  Both explorers have claimed to reach the North Pole – but had they? Meticulously researched, and superbly told, it is a fascinating story of newspaper tycoons, ambitious explorers, and the vast unknown reaches of the frozen north.

The second winner is “What an Owl Knows.” This is a delightfully informative book about owls and those who study them. Written in a comfortable and engaging style by Jennifer Ackerman, it is passionate, entertaining and full of surprises.

Nature and the Environment Category  
Two books rose to the top in this category. The first, “The Milkweed Lands” is a collaborative effort between watercolor artist Beverly Duncan and ecologist Eric Lee-Mäder. With Duncan’s colorful art and Lee-Mäder’s easy-to-understand text, you’ll get the scoop on the milkweed in all of its various forms.  

The other winner is Dave Showalter’s “Living River: The Promise of the Mighty Colorado.”   This is an impressive, visually striking book which blends photography, essays and interviews.  The demands on the Colorado River are great, but this is not a doom and gloom book.  Rather, it is a celebration of the river and the dedicated individuals working toward solutions.

Natural History Category
Receiving top honors in the Natural History category is “Wild New World” by Dan Flores.  An expansive work on environmental history, it covers the period of time starting some 16,000 years ago when humankind became a dominant force on the North American continent.  In a highly readable style, Flores blends genetic science, anthropology, evolutionary biology, and cultural history to trace the decline of wildlife diversity.  

The other book chosen by the judges as a winner in this category is “The Killer Whale Journals.”  In this work, Danish biologist Hanne Strager shares a sequence of stories of her encounters with orca whales, each new experience revealing more insights and details.  Through those experiences, she invites us to learn as she learns, and we come away with a better understanding of these remarkable predators of the sea.

Children’s Category
The Children’s category winner is “What Goes On Inside a Beaver Pond.”  The book by Becky Cushing Gop and illustrated by Carrie Shryock escorts eight- to ten-year-olds on an adventure to a beaver pond.  It’s about a young beaver setting out on her own, looking for a place to start a family.  Children will be drawn in by the marvelous illustrations and the enthralling story of the young beaver’s journey.

Design & Artistic Merit
The winner of the Design and Artistic Merit Category is “Seasons of Yellowstone.”  This large format book is bursting with images by Thomas Mangelsen, one of the masters of outdoor photography. Drawing from years of painstaking work, Mangelsen captures the wildlife and landscapes of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks like no other.

Classic Category
“Everest the West Ridge” by Thomas Hornbein is the winner of the Classic category. Originally published shortly after the 1963 American expedition to Everest, the book recounts one of the most remarkable ascents in all of Himalayan history. Reissued on the book’s fiftieth anniversary by the Mountaineers Books, it is beautifully designed with all of the original text and photography.

Complete reviews of these and the other 2023 winners may be found at the National Outdoor Book Awards website at:  www.noba-web.org.


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