Digging Deeper on Wild New World with Author Dan Flores

Dan Flores photo

By Dee Richards

The annual Phi Beta Kappa Society Book Awards highlights outstanding publications that contribute to the advancement of public knowledge. The Ralph Waldo Emerson Award specifically highlights books that have contributed to our intellectual and cultural understandings of humanity. Among those shortlisted for The Ralph Waldo Emerson Award in 2023 was Dan Flores’ Wild New World: The Epic Story of Animals and People in America. Flores was a professor of history and A.B. Hammond Chair in Western History at the University of Montana until his retirement in 2014. Flores is the author of 11 books, including the New York Times bestseller, Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History. Wild New World has won three awards, including the Rachel Carson Award, in addition to being a finalist for The Ralph Waldo Emerson Award. On March 16, Flores joined the Santa Ynez Valley Natural History Society for an event on Zoom to discuss his remarkable publication.

As it turns out, this isn’t the first time Flores has met with the society. “In 2017, the Santa Ynez group scheduled a book talk with me,” Flores recalled. “I truly enjoyed their members and that visit, so when they asked if I would do a talk for Wild New World, I was happy to do it.” Flores attended an in-person event in 2017 to discuss his then-new title, Coyote America, which went on to win The Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. He returned in 2024 to discuss his newest work, prefacing the lecture with a statement that a synopsis of a book that “covers 66,000,000 years and 400 pages proved impossible.” He elected to give a sample chapter reading to communicate the overall feeling of the work, instead of an exhaustive outline of the topics the covered. In the reading, Flores follows U.S. government-contracted “professional assassin,” William H. Caywood, a hunter of wolves in Colorado in the 1920s. This selection opens with a heartrending tale of Caywood tracking and murdering two of the very dwindling number of wolves in the area. When asked how Flores paints such an evocative picture of history, he stated that he was “an undergrad English major, who started [his] career as a feature writer and columnist.” Flores said that “all of [his] recent books blend the literary and the scientific,” showcasing a true connection to the very spirit of Phi Beta Kappa’s dedication to liberal arts and sciences.

While Wild New World brings “the most up-to-date science” that he can deliver to a narrative, it does not neglect the art of literature. He said of this mix, “I suppose it’s an unusual blend” having a fact-focused text that is “full of stories and characters, and their development over time.” This lends a truly captivating experience in reading and makes clear why the book was a finalist for a Phi Beta Kappa book award. Flores takes pride in the accomplishments of Wild New World: “Having my books associated with prizes for named giants like Carson and Emerson is pretty thrilling!” He stated that the goal of his book was “to tell Americans a big story about us that I’m pretty certain few people knew.” Flores hopes that in garnering such accolades, Wild New World will extend to a wider audience this unknown connection to the “wild world around us” and our history with it.

Flores holds Phi Beta Kappa, and its members, in very high esteem. “Phi Beta Kappa has been promoting the highest expression of American thinking and writing in the liberal arts and sciences since the founding of this country – a project that has kept our contributions in those fields at an enviable level internationally ever since. Because of its history of excellence, Phi Beta Kappa’s recognition of my work is simultaneously exciting and humbling. I can’t think of a better commendation for my own writing goals than having Phi Beta Kappa honor my most recent book.” Phi Beta Kappa is proud to recognize the accomplishments of Dan Flores. His recent speaking engagement with the Santa Ynez Valley Natural History Society was enlightening as well as emotionally immersive. For a recording of this event, please visit Santa Ynez Valley Natural History Society’s website: synvnature.org, or click this link for instant access.

Dee Richards is a cum laude graduate of University of California, Irvine holding a B.A. in English, with a creative writing focus. Richards received the honor of induction by UC Irvine’s Mu of California chapter in June 2023, a distinction only offered to the top five percent of graduating seniors there. Richards has won three awards in creative non-fiction and has received eight anthology publications to date.

Photo of Dan Flores by Sara Dant.