Book Review: Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra

First posted in August, 2008

Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the SierraI received Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra by Jordan Fisher Smith as an unexpected loan at work. It just showed up in my mailbox one day with a post-it note from a coworker, a bio tech in the natural resources division. The note said that it had been interesting to read what law enforcement rangers do and that he thought I might enjoy the book (and, if I wasn't interested, to pass it on to one of the other rangers).

I borrowed the book I hadn't asked to borrow, expecting to find lots of war stories. I wasn't disappointed in that regard, but there was a lot more to it than that. Smith is an excellent writer, a thoughtful man who's filled with poetry. As a ranger, I related to him on many levels--understanding the necessity of the job that we do, not always enthusiastic about the clientele, sad to see the loss of innocence in the world, frustrated by political realities, fascinated by the science of the world around us, and constantly amazed by natural beauty.

All of the stories are compelling and make you keep reading, smaller threads of a larger tale that he weaves about the fabric of a place caught in limbo. Some of the stories are fairly mind boggling, even to a ranger like me who's seen some crazy stuff and heard many first-hand accounts of even crazier stuff. All this, with a very unexpected and heart-wrenching twist at the end that I don't think anyone will expect.

I originally reviewed this over at, where I was forced to place a star rating on it. I gave it four out of five. Smith seems to be overfond of a certain (very common but not my favorite) writing technique where he tells you a little, then seemingly abandons that thought and tells you something else, and then keeps flip-flopping between the two until he expertly draws the two things together with a common conclusion. I'd mostly seen this done in fiction (Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer comes to mind immediately, for instance), but it's not something I've often seen in non-fiction. Regardless, I don't think the technique works any better here. Had Smith not used it, I'd have given it four and a half stars (except I don't think you can give half-star ratings on Goodreads). Five is reserved for... well... the very best, and I'd be hard pressed to give you very many five star books.