With Field Notes on Science & Nature, editor Michael Canfield has put together a collection of essays by a variety of scientists whose goal is two-fold. One goal is to teach the younger generation what it means to keep a field journal and the importance of this skill to field (and laboratory) research. Secondly, he shows people the joys of connecting to nature in ways that most folks have not even thought about. This book is not only for the scientists, the postsecondary and secondary students, and the teachers; it is also for the layperson who wants to see how field science works and how to do something similar themselves. Indeed, in one essay the author mentions an amateur naturalist whose note-taking spanned more than 20 years and proved invaluable to increasing the knowledge base of his area and the understanding of the ecology of that land.
In the foreword, E. O. Wilson states, "If there is a heaven, and I am allowed entrance, I will ask for no more than an endless living world to walk through and explore. I will carry with me an inexhaustible supply of notebooks…. Along the way I would expect to meet kindred spirits, among whom would be the authors of the essays in this book." The authors of these essays are truly these spirits – a varied collection of life scientists who are experts in their fields and notebook-takers extraordinaire. The authors want people to understand what it means to keep a field notebook/journal and demystify the process. Canfield states in his introduction that "The value of taking field notes lies both in the actual information that is recorded as well as in what is gained in the process of recording itself." Some take a more technical route (see authors John Perrine and James Patton's essay titled Letters to the Future), while others take a more personal view of their skills and how they developed. The fact that all of the authors have included examples of writings and drawings is incredible and only adds to the nature of the book. If I had one bone to pick it would be this: why no geoscientists? These are people who are also field scientists and experts in the use and writing of field notes. The closest an author comes to this is the physical anthropologist who speaks of the rock formations. My apologies, but the communication between life and earth sciences is near and dear to my heart and with the title as is, I expected to see at least one geoscientist.
The book itself is an easy read, no overly long discourses and no overly technical information (some is necessary to describe the Grinnell Method). The authors had their goal clearly in mind while writing. The use of personal anecdotes is, I think, the key to understanding where these authors are coming from and how they became the scientists they are today. I would use this book to supplement upper-level high school classes (AP Biology and APES spring to mind) and could easily see this book being used in a college or university life science field course as a primary text. Overall, I recommend this book as one that is both enjoyable to read for personal gain and one to use with students for their learning as well.