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The Moor: Lives Landscape Literature Hardcover – 15 May 2014

4.3 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (15 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571290043
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571290048
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 3.3 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 121,270 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


A remarkable book. (John Carey Sunday Times)

An ambitious mix of history, topography, literary criticism and nature writing, in the tradition of WG Sebald, Robert MacFarlane and Olivia Laing . . . One of the strengths of Atkins's book is its resistance to the obvious. (Blake Morrison Guardian Book of the Week)

'This is a wonderful, teeming book, and those stoutly poetic souls who favour moorland over lush valleys, rolling dales and even snow-capped fells will cherish it, and consider it quite the classic.' (Rachel Cooke Observer)

'A rich and nuanced read ... an exquisite piece of topographical writing; beautifully observed and evoking a powerful, poignant sense of place.' (BBC Countryfile Magazine)

Not since Tim Binding's haunting On Ilkley Moor (2001) has a writer evoked the uncanny spirit of the moors so powerfully. Vivid with incident and exquisite description. (Philip Hoare New Statesman)

(Atkins') reflections on the ecology, legends and literature are as poetic as shrewd; they fill the empty places with subtle colour, high romance and natural history. (Iain Finlayson The Times)

The Moor is deeply enjoyable, a book worth reading and re-reading, sun or shower, indoors or out. (Spectator)

In William Atkins the moors have found their voice. Beautifully and darkly, with great learning and exquisite observation, the odd wet backbone of England from Cornwall to the Borders is made new. Never have these apparently empty places been revealed as so operative on our national psyche. His is a marvellously saturated book. (Tim Dee)

The non-fiction book of the year: an astonishing, beautiful and remarkable work of muddy brilliance. (Stuart Evers)

This is a book that is like the most perfect kind of walk. William Atkins takes us on a tour through the moorland scenery of Britain, and reveals it to be both stranger and more familiar than I had ever imagined it to be. He is a guide as familiar with nineteenth-century eccentrics as he is with the breeding habits of grouse, and as comfortable with poachers as with poets. Beautiful and memorable. (Tom Holland)

A visceral and joyous account ... perhaps Atkins' real strength beyond his impeccable writing, is his personalisation of the moors. He digs deep into the peat to unearth lesser known stories of lives lead in, on or around the moorlands ... [The moors] are harsh and wet and unforgiving and for that reason occupy a special corner of the human imagination. Atkins serves them well and might just have written a comprehensively researched and poetically-rendered future classic. (Ben Myers Caught by the River)

Exquisite, visceral, and perpetually surprising ... An extraordinary new portrait of these mythic blasted heaths. (Philip Hoare)

Book Description

The Moor: Lives Landscape Literature by William Atkins gives us the story of the moors - from Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor in the southwest up to the Scottish border, via Yorkshire and Northumberland - and how they have shaped our people, culture and industry.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ex-fiction editor William Atkins' 'The Moor' is a bid to join the slowly burgeoning list of writers, headed by Robert McFarlane (and the matchless Patrick Keillor in the world of film), whose interests lie in the margins of the British landscape; edgelands, holloways, the - to use a phrase applied to certain moorlands - 'Less Favoured Areas'.
Atkins' fascination with a small stretch of moor close to his childhood home in Bishop's Waltham opens the book, which then takes a south-to-north tour round these moody, unstable and uniquely British landscapes. In each section, the narrative cuts frequently between the lives of individuals, both past and present, who have struggled to make a living (and/or stay sane) in these boggy, mostly barren spaces, the literary writers – both well and lesser known – whose imaginations have responded to their emptiness (RD Blackmore, Henry Williamson, Ted Hughes, WH Auden, the Bronte Sisters, amongst others) and Atkins' own commentary, as he tramps - 'landlopes' - across the endless heaths and bogs, these 'blacklands', scoffing junk food and trying to inveigle himself with the locals. The book is eloquently written, well researched and highly informative. There are illuminating encounters with gamekeepers and landowners, farmers, birders, poets. Its only problem is that the descriptions of landscape inevitably become repetitious; moorland to look at has a very British mundanity to it (even if the weather there is capricious, even duplicitous): you certainly won't read another book in which the words 'peat' and 'sphagnum' are repeated quite as regularly; the manuscript could easily have been cut by 25 pages. But as a paean to the ambiguous attractions of the imperious spaces that sit damply and darkly in the British psyche, ‘The Moor’ is well worth exploring.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The current renaissance of nature writing has given us a whole plethora of new titles to explore; yet moorland remains criminally overlooked, something that William Atkins here sets out to remedy. This book explores the moorland landscapes of England and maps these against the social history that has shaped and influenced these areas of wilderness.

The book is compelling and extremely well written. For me, the everyday history of small towns and communities is just as absorbing and rich as the grandiose history we all learn about in everyday culture; indeed, these small pockets of history are brought to life superbly and coloured in with the context and landscape of their physical surroundings.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to anyone. My only criticism is that we go on this journey with Atkins, but finish the book still knowing little about the man who has guided us over the moors and across the annals of their past. It would have been nice to understand more about Atkins and how this journey shaped him. But other than that, this is truly an essential read.
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Format: Paperback
As a lad, up north, I many times climbed Jacob’s Ladder, the stone steps that lead to the vast expanse of the moor of Kinder Scout, “the place where incline gives way to flat land, and where the flat land is everywhere around you – omphalos, désert absolu.” The description by Will Atkins resonated deeply with me, memories of trudging through a landscape where “The exposed peat dominated, and soon I was walking between blocks of peat – ‘hags’ – whose flat tops alone bore a cap of crowberry and heather, sometimes mere mohicans of vegetation.”
In his journey around the moors of England, their landscapes and characters, Atkins’ writing is vibrant and affectionate – having tramped many of those moors myself, I consumed his book with enthusiasm. It is easy to think of the moor as one of the last surviving wild places, and, in some ways, in some corners, it is, but one of the things that this book brought home to me was that England’s moors are not wilderness, but profoundly man-made landscapes and ecosystems. Deforestation, the doomed attempts at drainage and agriculture, the human desire to “conquer” a landscape seen as threatening, and the “management” of the moors as hunting grounds have created strange environments of conflict between man and what we like to think of as nature.
Atkins describes this conflict in personal journeys and encounters with inhabitants of the moors, current and historical. I was struck, for example, by the tragic story of William Hannam, whose struggle to provide for his family by farming on Exmoor began in 1845 and ended in 1858, “the year the moor finally shrugged him off for good.
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Format: Kindle Edition
As someone who has been walking moors since I was a toddler (and I am now well on the way to the opposite end of life) a book on moorland was a must read. I can happily say that I enjoyed this book ranging widely over subject matter and areas. I've walked on all the areas mentioned over the years and for some areas I've visited rarely I learnt quite a bit; much less so with areas I'm fairly well acquainted with. The main problem I have with it is while I love rambling over moorland so does this book. The choice of subject matter for each moorland area is very personal and at times obviously important - the Abbot's Way on Dartmoor, Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor and Ian Brady on Saddleworth Moor are examples. However there were times when I felt that the original subject had become lost in a diversion only to suddenly reappear unexpectedly. The space given over tor some of the moorland areas is rather limited and I felt a little frustrated at times that there was insufficient about a subject I'd become interested in and more than I wanted on another subject.

Any lover of moorland will be very happy to have this on their bookshelves even if it is rather idiosyncratic in its approach. Covering industrial use, flora and fauna, social history, the environment, literature to name but a few of the subjects mainly for nine moorlands in England is bound to be a challenge but I would recommend it to those with an interest in the wonderful environment we know as "moorland". Probably more 7/10 for me.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
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