Biography: David George Haskell
David Haskell’s work integrates scientific, literary, and contemplative studies of the natural world.
His first book, The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature (Viking, 2012), was winner of the National Academies’ Best Book Award for 2013, finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction, winner of the 2013 Reed Environmental Writing Award, winner of the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award for Natural History Literature, runner-up for the 2013 PEN E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, and winner, in its Chinese translation, of the 2016 Dapeng Nature Writing Award. A profile by James Gorman in The New York Times said of Haskell that he “thinks like a biologist, writes like a poet, and gives the natural world the kind of open-minded attention one expects from a Zen monk rather than a hypothesis-driven scientist”. E. O. Wilson wrote that The Forest Unseen was “a new genre of nature writing, located between science and poetry.”
His next book, The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors (Viking, 2017), examines the many ways that trees and humans are connected. The book was winner of the 2018 John Burroughs Medal and the 2020 Iris Book Award, named one of the Best Science Books of 2017 by NPR’s Science Friday, selected as Favorite Science Books of 2017 by Brain Pickings, and in the 10 Best Environment, Climate Science and Conservation Books of 2017 at Forbes.com. Deborah Blum, Pulitzer winner, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook, and director of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT says of The Songs of Trees, “David George Haskell may be the finest literary nature writer working today. The Songs of Trees – compelling, lyrical, wise – is a case in point.”
Haskell’s latest book, Sounds Wild and Broken: Sonic Marvels, Evolution’s Creativity, and The Crisis Of Sensory Extinction (Viking, 2022) is a New York Times Editor’s Choice. Cynthia Barnett in The New York Times writes that “‘Sounds Wild and Broken’ affirms Haskell as a laureate for the earth … a glorious guide to the miracle of life’s sound”.
Haskell has also written about biology, ethics, and human culture for The New York Times and other publications.
The Atomic Tree, a virtual reality adaptation of the last chapter of The Songs of Trees premiered at SxSW festival in March 2019, was awarded the Best VR Experience and Jury Prizes for Immersive Impact and Journalistic Achievement at the Social Impact Media Awards, and has played at dozens of festivals around the world. The film was directed by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee and Adam Loften, with screenwriting by David Haskell, Adam Loften, and Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee.
Haskell holds degrees from the University of Oxford (BA) and from Cornell University (PhD). He is William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of the South, where he served as Chair of Biology. In 2022 he was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London. He is also a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, and an Elective Member of the American Ornithologists’ Union. His scientific research on animal ecology, evolution, and conservation has been sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the World Wildlife Fund, among others. He serves on the boards and advisory committees of local and national land conservation groups.
Haskell’s classes have received national attention for the innovative ways they combine action in the community with contemplative practice. In 2009, the Carnegie and CASE Foundations named him Professor of the Year for Tennessee, an award given to college professors who have achieved national distinction and whose work shows “extraordinary dedication to undergraduate teaching.” The Oxford American featured him in 2011 as one of the southern U.S.’s most creative teachers. His teaching has been profiled in USA Today, The Tennesseean, and other newspapers.