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Unseen City

The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


It all started with Nathanael Johnson’s decision to teach his daughter the name of every tree they passed on their walk to day care in San Francisco. This project turned into a quest to discover the secrets of the neighborhood’s flora and fauna, and yielded more than names and trivia: Johnson developed a relationship with his nonhuman neighbors.

Johnson argues that learning to see the world afresh, like a child, shifts the way we think about nature: Instead of something distant and abstract, nature becomes real--all at once comical, annoying, and beautiful. This shift can add tremendous value to our lives, and it might just be the first step in saving the world.

No matter where we live--city, country, oceanside, ormountains--there are wonders that we walk past every day. Unseen City widens the pinhole of our perspective by allowing us to view the world from the high-altitude eyes of a turkey vulture and the distinctly low-altitude eyes of a snail. The narrative allows us to eavesdrop on the comically frenetic life of a squirrel and peer deep into the past with a ginkgo biloba tree. Each of these organisms has something unique to tell us about our neighborhoods and, chapter by chapter, Unseen City takes us on a journey that is part nature lesson and part love letter to the world’s urban jungles. With the right perspective, a walk to the subway can be every bit as entrancing as a walk through a national park.

From Publishers Weekly

May 16, 2016 – In this educational and fascinating volume, Johnson (All Natural), the food editor at Grist, encourages readers to decelerate their lives in order "to see the wonders around us." Johnson shines a spotlight on common creatures and mundane things, inspired by his young daughter Josephine's encounters with snails and ants, weeds and trees, in his Bay Area neighborhood and beyond. He brings childlike curiosity to the discussion and backs it up well with research. A chapter on gastropods, for example, includes descriptions of snails in his yard ("They appeared after rains, each about the size of a knuckle, waving its horns enthusiastically") while containing interesting information on snails in general: "They taste with their lower tentacles. They have no sense of hearing." Johnson's section on ants, which he considers "kind of amazing," proves similarly insightful. Though ants are usually dismissed as household pests, "they don't have bosses or leaders, or a corporate structure or hierarchy. They don't procrastinate. They don't need deadlines. There is no top-down organization." Johnson finds answers to rarely considered questions, and by giving ordinary phenomena in urban environments the attention they deserve, he helps to make them extraordinary.
Unseen City
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  • $11.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Biographies & Memoirs
  • Published: Apr 05, 2016
  • Publisher: Rodale
  • Seller: Rodale Inc.
  • Print Length: 256 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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