Book Talk: John Taliaferro on Grinnell at the Grinnell

Author John Taliaferro will be at the Grinnell on Tuesday evening, March 3, 2020, to talk about George Bird Grinnell, the subject of his prize-winning biography, Grinnell: America’s Environmental Pioneer and His Restless Drive to Save the West. The event, which begins at 7:00 p.m., is open to the public, free of charge. The Grinnell apartment building, at the corner of Riverside Drive and 158th Street, is named for the Grinnell family and sits on property they used as a cow pasture in the second half of the nineteenth century, when the surrounding area was as suburb known as Audubon Park.

The author will sign books after the presentation. Please note that books will not be on sale at the event, but copies are available at your local bookseller and

Hailed as “a fine biography of a significant environmental champion” by the Kirkus Review, Grinnell traces George Bird Grinnell’s life from his ante-bellum childhood in the Park through his death a few years before the United States entered World War II.

Book Talk with John Taliaferro at the Grinnell

800 Riverside Drive @158th Street

Tuesday, March 3, 2020 at 7:00 p.m.

This event is sponsored by the Audubon Park Alliance.


Winner of the National Outdoor Book Award for History/Biography

Longlisted for the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography

Open Letters Review: Best Books of 2019: Biography

Grinnell CoverAbout the Book

(from the Liveright website)

Before Rachel Carson, there was George Bird Grinnell―the man whose prophetic vision did nothing less than launch American conservation.

George Bird Grinnell, the son of a New York merchant, saw a different future for a nation in the thrall of the Industrial Age. With railroads scarring virgin lands and the formerly vast buffalo herds decimated, the country faced a crossroads: Could it pursue Manifest Destiny without destroying its natural bounty and beauty? The alarm that Grinnell sounded would spark America’s conservation movement. Yet today his name has been forgotten―an omission that John Taliaferro’s commanding biography now sets right with historical care and narrative flair.

Grinnell was born in Brooklyn in 1849 and grew up on the estate of ornithologist John James Audubon. Upon graduation from Yale, he dug for dinosaurs on the Great Plains with eminent paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh―an expedition that fanned his romantic notion of wilderness and taught him a graphic lesson in evolution and extinction. Soon he joined George A. Custer in the Black Hills, helped to map Yellowstone, and scaled the peaks and glaciers that, through his labors, would become Glacier National Park. Along the way, he became one of America’s most respected ethnologists; seasons spent among the Plains Indians produced numerous articles and books, including his tour de force, The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Ways of Life.

More than a chronicler of natural history and indigenous culture, Grinnell became their tenacious advocate. He turned the sportsmen’s journal Forest and Stream into a bully pulpit for wildlife protection, forest reserves, and national parks. In 1886, his distress over the loss of bird species prompted him to found the first Audubon Society. Next, he and Theodore Roosevelt founded the Boone and Crockett Club to promote “fair chase” of big game. His influence among the rich and the patrician provided leverage for the first federal legislation to protect migratory birds―a precedent that ultimately paved the way for the Endangered Species Act. And in an era when too many white Americans regarded Native Americans as backwards, Grinnell’s cries for reform carried from the reservation, through the halls of Congress, all the way to the White House.

Drawing on forty thousand pages of Grinnell’s correspondence and dozens of his diaries, Taliaferro reveals a man whose deeds and high-mindedness earned him a lustrous peerage, from presidents to chiefs, Audubon to Aldo Leopold, John Muir to Gifford Pinchot, Edward S. Curtis to Edward H. Harriman. Throughout his long life, Grinnell was bound by family and sustained by intimate friendships, toggling between the East and the West. As Taliaferro’s enthralling portrait demonstrates, it was this tension that wound Grinnell’s nearly inexhaustible spring and honed his vision―a vision that still guides the imperiled future of our national treasures.

Editorial Reviews

“Without a doubt, the United States is a better place because of George Bird Grinnell…. [We] finally have an exhaustively detailed biography of an inexhaustible man who deserves his place in the pantheon of environmental founders…. Grinnell’s memory lives on in the wild. And with this book, he is given the fresh look that he deserves.”

Timothy Egan, New York Times Book Review

“An impressive, eminently readable biography of the great conservationist George Bird Grinnell…. Anyone who’s ever set foot in a national park and wondered how it came to be will find an important part of the answer in this expansive look at an equally expansive life.”

Publishers Weekly, starred review

“The best book I read this decade was: Grinnell: America’s Environmental Pioneer by John Taliaferro.”

Jeff Ament, bassist of Pearl Jam

“In Grinnell: America’s Environmental Pioneer and His Restless Drive to Save the West, the first full-length biography of the man, John Taliaferro seeks to restore [Grinnell] to his rightful place among the giants of the early conservation movement in the United States. . . . Alas, our current environmental crises reach well beyond the problems that Grinnell and his clique aimed to solve. Even so, his life and work offer valuable lessons.”

Andrew Graybill, Wall Street Journal

About the Author

John Taliaferro is a graduate of Harvard College and a former senior editor at Newsweek. He is the author of five previous books: All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt (winner of the  2013 Douglas Dillon Award for a Book of Distinction on the Practice of American Diplomacy); Charles M. Russell: The Life and Legend of America’s Cowboy Artist; Tarzan Forever: The Life of Edgar Rice Burroughs; Great White Fathers: The Story of the Obsessive Quest to Create Mount Rushmore; and In a Far Country: The True Story of a Mission, a Marriage, a Murder, and the Remarkable Reindeer Rescue of 1898. He and his wife, artist Malou Flato, live in Austin, Texas, and Pray, Montana.