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Meadowland: the private life of an English field [Hardcover]

John Lewis-Stempel
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
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Book Description

22 May 2014

What really goes on in the long grass?

Meadowland gives an unique and intimate account of an English meadow’s life from January to December, together with its biography. In exquisite prose, John Lewis-Stempel records the passage of the seasons from cowslips in spring to the hay-cutting of summer and grazing in autumn, and includes the biographies of the animals that inhabit the grass and the soil beneath: the badger clan, the fox family, the rabbit warren,the skylark brood and the curlew pair, among others. Their births, lives, and deaths are stories that thread through the book from first page to last.

In Meadowland Lewis-Stempel does for meadows what Roger Deakin did for woodland and rivers in his bestselling books Wildwood and Waterlog.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (22 May 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0857521454
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857521453
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 13.8 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Lewis-Stempel is a writer predominantly known for his books on nature and history. He lives in Herefordshire, on the very edge of England before it runs into Wales, and within a stone's throw (with a decent gust of wind) from where his family were farming in the 1300s. His many books include the best-selling Six Weeks, Fatherhood: The Anthology, England: The Autobiography, The Autobiography of the British Soldier (Sunday Express '5 stars') and The Wild Life (Sunday Telegraph 'Timely and Compelling') and Foraging: The Essential Guide to Free Wild Food. His books have been published in languages as diverse as Brazilian Portuguese and Japanese, are available on all continents apart from Antarctica, and have sold more than a million copies. He has two degrees in history, writes books under the pen name Jon E. Lewis, is married with two children, and also farms. The Guardian's video interview with him about The Wild Life can be seen at
Six Weeks, his book about British frontline officers in the First World War, published in November 2010 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson was described by The Literary Review as 'the most moving book I have ever read on the First World War' and Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey) said it was 'the best research resource ever.' The book became a number 1 bestseller in WW1 category on Amazon.His 'The War Behind the Wire', about the life, death and glory of British PoWs in WW1 was published in January 2014, and his Sunday Times Top 30 hardback non-fiction bestseller Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field was released in May 2014. The book was featured on Radio 4's Start the Week, and was Countryfile's Book of the Month.
He writes a column on the Great War for the Sunday Express.

Product Description



Fascinating ... Books have been written about entire countries that contain a less interesting cast of characters than Lewis-Stempel's account of one field on the edge of Wales. Foxes, red kites and voles become as intricately shaded as characters in an HBO drama, the readers' sympathies swinging between them and their adversaries. Not every English meadow contains such a vast variety of wildlife as Lewis-Stempel's, and he's lucky to live somewhere so unspoilt, but his immense, patient powers of observation – along with a flair for the anthropomorphic – mean he is able to offer a portrait of animal life that's rare in its colour and drama.

Lewis-Stempel's eye for detail and the poetic imagery of sentences such as "Behind me the river shouts with the abandon of a football crowd" or "Someone has stirred the clouds into milk pudding" are reminiscent of the late, brilliant Roger Deakin...

There is barely a creature in Meadowland that I didn't learn at least one interesting new fact about (the occasional tendency of badgers to hold funerals for one another is a particular favourite).

" (Tom Cox Observer)

"Engaging, closely-observed and beautiful ... this author’s deep love of the world around him is as inspiring as it is entertaining. This wonderful book ... is most of all, a moving hymn of gratitude from a man so rooted, so full of joy that he likens his land to a cathedral and knows that: ‘To stand alone in a field in England and listen to the morning chorus of the birds is to remember why life is precious'." (Bel Mooney Daily Mail)

"[JLS] has a sharp eye, a fluent pen and that omnivorous, innocently English curiosity about wild creatures... There are lyrical moments aplenty but this is not the cloying 'regardez-moi maman' nature writing. JLS's tone is level, involved, humorous and even self-deprecating... This is a rich, interesting book, generously studded with raisins of curious information." (Angus Clarke The Times)

"My holiday reading: [John Lewis-Stempel] knows not only all about the different kinds of life in such a place and how they all fit together, but can also write so vividly." (Philip Pullman The Guardian)

"My book of the year. Meadowland is a seasonal journey of discovery, a pilgrimage that nurtures the soul and gives meaning to life; all life. Each beautifully crafted sentence provides a stepping-stone to absorb and understand the land, with the writer’s lyrical voice acting as guide and trusty staff as well as illuminating the mind’s eye with wonderful imagery and perceptive literary devices." (Stuart Winter Sunday Express)

Book Description

A love song to the land. A magical month by month observation through parted grass of the flora and fauna of a meadow.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best read in a long time.... 30 May 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The most beautifully written book I have read in a long time. I could not put it down. If you love the countryside and wildlife you will love this book. I was so wrapped up in reading the winter chapters on the train last night that the warmth of the air as I got off the train took me completely by surprise - totally transported to cold, but beautiful Herefordshire fields and hedgerows. And to reassure vegetarians - this is a love affair with nature, not all about shooting things - if it was I wouldn't have got past the first few pages either.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Elegy in an English Field 9 Jun 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The structure is simple - a 12 month diary of a 40acre English meadowland, starting in a bitter January. After the 12 months are pondered and described, there are itemised lists of all the flora and fauna described, storied and mused on. Read it alone to find out about bugles, bush vetch, quaking grass and stichwort. And odd little stories of curlews, gall wasps, red kites and springtails. Nature is leaned into, respected, even loved at moments, but Lewis-Stempel stays cool and well-read throughout, balancing the force and severity of the natural beats with his English detachment. It is a calm yet emotional read, and should make us all stop for a moment, or longer, to ponder how much we are removed from the vital world around us. Lewis-Stempel would never say so, but I sense he believes this is an important book. He has certainly put soul and much heart into this arresting and melancholic work.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars See your world in a different light. 1 July 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This may be stating the obvious but we are surrounded by fields and, probably, never even notice them. They are taken totally for granted. We look at buildings and immediately there are clues to their age. But a field? A field is just a field isn't it? Well, no it isn't and in this bookJoun Lewis-Stempel draws you, almost seductively into his world. A world of beauty and casual violence, but a world that is teeming with life.
His love for the land, and it's citizens, shines out from every page, as does a genuine understanding of nature's annual cycle. The book is written as a diary but whether your interest is in ornithology, botany, biology, agriculture or just a desire to learn more about your surroundings, this book is a page turner. If you enjoy walking, and wish to know more about the land you are walking through, this book is a 'must read'.
Meadowland is true to its title, it isn't about impressive scenery, it is about a meadow. But the author succeeds in making that simple field, simply, impressive. By the end of the book, the reader is left with the feeling that this has been a really worthwhile journey to have taken.A journey through the, apparently, but far from, ordinary. A thoroughly recommended read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a delight 28 Jun 2014
This account of a meadow and its inhabitants throughout the year is exquisitely written with allusions to various poems and writings by others. The prose is spare and lyrical. The writer is full of respect and love for the grasses, flowers, trees and creatures of the meadow, from cows and sheep to buzzards, dung beetles and badgers. One review warned, Vegetarians beware. Well, I've been a veggie for 30 years, woman and girl, and found nothing offensive here.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing 18 Jun 2014
By Kiwi
Marvellous. Lewis-Stempel writes of his month-by-month observations of nature at work in a few acres of his Hereford farm.

I'm left in awe of the following: firstly, the quite astonishing range of flora and fauna thus seemngly-simple exercise encompasses (the list of same at the book's end runs to five pages), all under our eyes but largely never seen (or more accurately, never noticed). Second, the amazing powers of Lewis-Stempel's observation; his, compared to most of us, is x-ray vision - he can even find interesting things to see in the digging of a post-hole. A man to be envied, totally engaged with an intricate eco-system by the simple expedient of using his eyes.

A simple concept, an absorbing read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful read. 22 Jun 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Stunning. For anyone who wonders what we might be losing in the modern world, and where we might still find it, this book is a spectacular read. Beautiful. Poetic. Loving. Honest.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A poetic and plangent narrative 10 Jun 2014
"A meadow is not a natural habitat," farmer and writer John Lewis-Stempel believes, "it is a relationship between nature, man and beast." In this intimate account of 'the private life of an English field', Lewis-Stempel records the passing seasons in an ancient meadow on his farm "in the far west of Herefordshire, where England runs out".

For him, this meadow is a magical place, "a vast square stage in which I am the last person on earth ... the sort of field where, as you step in, you breathe out". It is a place where he can muse on the cycle of birth, life and death in the natural world, in a poetic and plangent narrative. "This is how it is," he concludes, "has been, and shall be evermore".
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb and minutely-observed account 10 Jun 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a book to attract superlative-ridden reviews for it is beautifully written. An account of 12 months in the life of an English hay meadow might not sound the most promising material but John Lewis-Stempel transports us into that field so convincingly that we can feel the changing seasons, see and hear the wildlife, and gain an intimate understanding of every rustle in the undergrowth. The author's command of prose is masterful.

The book is structured into 12 monthly chapters plus other material. Reading on Kindle it is easy to start and stop at will, but I was increasingly driven to read in conventional chapter-length sessions as each told a distinct story about that part of the season. The concluding lists of flora and fauna are interesting, but the author's natural history bibliography is invaluable.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who wishes to improve their appreciation of the English countryside, whether that be so just to enjoy it better, or as a student of the natural environment you seek a deeper understanding of the management of that priceless yet diminishing resource, the English meadow.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, fascinating and witty
Loved it. A real insight into British wildlife. Recommended to anyone who has an interest in nature, conservation. Recommended. C
Published 2 days ago by merseybeat
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very well written and an interesting subject
Published 28 days ago by Mr. James E. Flute
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read
A good read. I enjoyed the book. It would have been even better with a few colour illustrations - maybe that might be for a future edition.
Published 1 month ago by James Blades
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful, Interesting and informative read, thoroughly enjoyable!
By Karen Blyth

A beautifully written book, with so much detail, it was a pleasure to read. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Twiggy44
1.0 out of 5 stars meadowland
as a lover of old meadows and the English countryside for over sixty years I found this book dull and boring not written from the heart he appears to get a lot of information from... Read more
Published 1 month ago by trigger
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Arrrived on time, and is a fab. book, so very well written and full of interest.
Published 1 month ago by jem
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Great stuff
Published 1 month ago by P. F. Dinneen
5.0 out of 5 stars So beautifully written; brings back happy childhood memories of the...
Not quite finished the book; but enjoying it immensely. So beautifully written; brings back happy childhood memories of the Cheshire countryside.
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. Sheila Burcul
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Beautifully written and transports you away from the current news broadcasts a about war.
Published 2 months ago by Maggie H.
5.0 out of 5 stars Wish more people appreciated the natural world like this; too many...
Wish more people appreciated the natural world like this; too many nowadays see Nature as something to be obliterated. Read more
Published 2 months ago by bete8noir
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