Nature Writing Four Fields by Tim Dee

Published on September 11th, 2013


Four Fields by Tim Dee

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Blurb: In his first book since the acclaimed The Running Sky Tim Dee tells the story of four green fields. Four fields spread around the world: their grasses, their hedges, their birds, their skies, and their natural and human histories. Four real fields – walkable, mappable, man-made, mowable and knowable, but also secretive, mysterious, wild, contested and changing. Four fields – the oldest and simplest and truest measure of what a man needs in life – looked at, thought about, worked in, lived with, written.

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Dee’s four fields, which he has known for more than twenty years, are the fen field at the bottom of his Cambridgeshire garden, a field in southern Zambia, a prairie field in Little Bighorn, Montana, USA, and a grass meadow in the exclusion zone at Chernobyl, Ukraine. Meditating on these four fields, Dee makes us look anew at where we live and how. He argues that we must attend to what we have made of the wild, to look at and think about the way we have messed things up but also to notice how we have kept going alongside nature, to listen to the conversation we have had with grass and fields.

Four Fields is a profound, lyrical book by one of Britain’s very best writers about nature.

(Jonathan Cape, 2013)

Kathleen Jamie, The Guardian

“I didn’t open the book with much enthusiasm. Fields, at least in this country, seem to be semi-industrialised areas of scant attraction for wildlife or anyone else. But Dee’s interest in fields is more imaginative … Four Fields is an enthralling and unexpected book – or four short books – about what we have made of the natural world. The language itself is rich and loamy. There is evidence of much thought here, as well as a naturalist’s profound observation.”

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Hugh Thomson, The Independent 

“As with much of the “new nature writing”, Four Fields is an austere read, packaged to look like a Joy Division album; there is only one joke, on page 203, and by then we’ve reached Chernobyl. Earlier exponents of the genre, like Jefferies or the engaging Robert Gibbings, could temper their vision of nature red in tooth and claw with more bucolic moments. Good as this is – and it is very good indeed – one can’t help wishing that Tim Dee might occasionally turn his sublime gifts to sunnier pastures: if not a summer in Tuscany, at least a picnic on the Downs.”

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Derwent May, The Times 

“His book is at times overwritten, with too high a density of literary and historical allusions, and especially of bird similes and metaphors … Here and there one can scarcely see the foliage for the verbiage. But all this springs from Dee’s intense desire to convey his feelings about grass, the level lands where it grows, and the life, both natural and human, that accompanies it — and he succeeds mightily in doing that.”

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Olivia Laing, New Statesman 

“The language is almost overwhelmingly rich and ripe … One of the persistent tensions of the genre is how to handle the people in the landscape. Dee, thoughtful about the problems of the past historic, the caricatures of fen folk in moleskin gaiters romping through the tabulations of gentlemen-historians, runs into sticky ground on his third field, a contested stretch of Montana where the battle of the Little Bighorn was fought in 1876. It is a place to consider the colonial imperatives of farming and its costs, yet Dee seems baffled and unsettled by the spectacle of the dispossessed and disheartened Crow tribe and their tatty reservations.”

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