Joseph Wood Krutch

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Joseph Wood Krutch
Joseph Wood Krutch.jpg
Born(1893-11-25)November 25, 1893
DiedMay 22, 1970(1970-05-22) (aged 76)
EducationUniversity of Tennessee
Columbia University
  • Writer
  • critic
  • naturalist
Known for
  • Pantheistic philosophy
  • ecology
  • conservation

Joseph Wood Krutch (/kr/;[1] November 25, 1893 – May 22, 1970) was an American author, critic, and naturalist who wrote nature books on the American Southwest. He is known for developing a pantheistic philosophy.


Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, he was educated at the University of Tennessee and received a Ph.D. in English literature from Columbia University.[2] After serving in the army in 1918, he traveled in Europe for a year with his friend, Mark Van Doren. Following World War I, he taught English composition at Brooklyn Polytechnic.[3]: 118 

In 1924, Krutch became the theater critic for The Nation, a position he held until 1952.[3]: 131 

As an author, Krutch first achieved prominence when he published The Modern Temper in 1929. There he challenged then-fashionable notions of scientific progress and optimism, arguing that science leads logically to a bleak view of the human condition.[3]: 319  In the 1940s he wrote widely read biographies of Samuel Johnson and Henry David Thoreau and—largely inspired by Thoreau—published his first nature book, The Twelve Seasons (1949).

From 1937 to 1952, he served as a professor of English at Columbia University, where he was a popular lecturer. In 1955, Krutch won the National Book Award for The Measure of Man (1954). In that work, he partially retreated from the gloomy pessimism of his early years and argued that there are aspects of human beings, such as reason, consciousness, free will, and moral judgment, that cannot be explained by mechanistic, deterministic science.[3]: 321–326 

After moving to Tucson, Arizona in 1952, partly for reasons of health, Krutch wrote several books about natural issues of ecology, the southwestern desert environment, and the natural history of the Grand Canyon, winning renown as a naturalist, nature writer, and an early conservationist. Like Aldo Leopold, who greatly influenced him, Krutch believed that human beings must move beyond purely human centered conceptions of "conservation" and learn to value nature for its own sake.[4]

In The Great Chain of Life that he published in 1956, was a chapter entitled "The Vandal and the Sportsman". In that chapter he wrote, "When a man wantonly destroys one of the works of Man we call him Vandal. When he wantonly destroys one of the works of God we call him Sportsman".[5]

Krutch defended the use of clichés in writing.[6]

Krutch developed a pantheistic philosophy.[7] Historian Donald Worster commented that Krutch "became a kind of pantheist or ethical mystic, caught up in the joy of belonging to something greater than one's self."[8]

Notable family members[edit]

His brother, Charles Krutch, was the renowned Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) photographer. His uncle, Charles Christopher Krutch, was a painter known for his depiction of Smoky Mountain scenes.[9][10]


At the age of 76, Krutch died from colon cancer in Tucson, Arizona on May 22, 1970. One of the last interviews with Krutch before his death was conducted by Edward Abbey and appears in Abbey's 1988 book, One Life at a Time, Please (ISBN 0805006036).


Many of Krutch's manuscripts and typescripts are held by the University of Arizona, where the Joseph Wood Krutch Cactus Garden was named in his honor in 1980.[11] Upon his death, The New York Times lauded Krutch in an editorial, declaring that concern for the environment by many young Americans "should turn a generation unfamiliar with Joseph Wood Krutch to a reading of his books with delight to themselves and profit to the world."[12]

Selected works[edit]

  • Edgar Allan Poe: A Study in Genius (1926)
  • The Modern Temper (1929)
  • Experience and Art: Some Aspects of the Esthetics of Literature (1932)
  • The American Drama Since 1918: An Informal History (1939)
  • Samuel Johnson: A Biography (1944)
  • Henry David Thoreau (1948)
  • The Twelve Seasons (1949)
  • A Kind of Pantheism The Saturday Review (10 June 1950) 33: 7–8, 30–34
  • The Desert Year (1951)
  • The Best of Two Worlds (1953)
  • The Measure of Man (1954)
  • The Voice of the Desert (1954)
  • The Great Chain of Life (1956)
  • The Grand Canyon: Today and All Its Yesterdays (1957)
  • The Sportsman or the Predator? A Damnable Pleasure The Saturday Review (August 17, 1957): pp. 8–10, 39–40. Concerning "killing for sport"[13][14]
  • Human Nature and the Human Condition (1959)
  • The Forgotten Peninsula (1961)
  • The World of Animals; A treasury of lore and literature by great writers and naturalists from the 5th century B.C. to the present (1961)
  • More Lives Than One (1962)
  • And Even If You Do; Essays on Man, Manners, and Machines (1967)
  • The Best Nature Writing of Joseph Wood Krutch (anthology, University of Utah Press, 1995; ISBN 0874804809)


  1. ^ "Krutch". Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  2. ^ Rowley, Robert. (1995). Joseph Wood Krutch: The Forgotten Voice of the Desert. The American Scholar 64 (3): 438–443.
  3. ^ a b c d Joseph Wood Krutch, More Lives than One. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1962.
  4. ^ Joseph Wood Krutch, The Voice of the Desert: A Naturalist's Interpretation. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1954, pp. 186207.
  5. ^ Krutch, Joseph Wood, "The Vandal and the Sportsman", The Great Chain of Life (1956), Chapter 9, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2009, p. 148.
  6. ^ Krutch, Joseph (August 31, 1958). "Great Cliche Debate; In reply to Bergen Evans, who denounced cliches, Mr. Krutch argues there are times when the cliche is le mot juste. Great Cliche Debate (Cont.)". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 13 May 2023.
  7. ^ Holtz, William. (1974). We Didn't Mind His Saying So: Homage to Joseph Wood Krutch: Tragedy and the Ecological Imperative. The American Scholar 43 (2): 267–279.
  8. ^ Worster, Donald. (1994). Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521468343
  9. ^ "Charles Krutch, Tennessean; Photographed T.V.A. Growth". The New York Times. October 28, 1981.
  10. ^ "Krutch Park".
  11. ^ "The Joseph Wood Krutch Cactus Garden" Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine, University of Arizona Alumnus magazine, Spring 2002.
  12. ^ Krutch, The Voice of the Desert, back cover.
  13. ^ Wildlife and People: The Human Dimensions Of Wildlife Ecology, via Google Books, cited by Gary G. Gray (1995 University of Illinois Press), p. 64. Retrieved 8/4/09.
  14. ^ Article title detail at JSTOR. Found at Google search "a damnable pleasure krutch."

Further reading[edit]

  • Wild, Peter (1978). "11: Joseph Wood Krutch: Quite Voice for 'The Devil's Domain'". Pioneer Conservationists of Western America. Edward Abbey (Introduction). Missoula: Mountain Press Publishing. pp. 130–139. ISBN 0878421076.

External links[edit]