Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Diane Ackerman  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Non-Fiction Poetry

Born: October 7, 1948 in Waukegan, Illinois

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Illinois Connection

Ackerman was born and raised in Waukegan, Illinois.

Biographical and Professional Information

Diane Ackerman, born Diane Fink, is an American author, poet, and naturalist known best for her work ''A Natural History of the Senses''. Her writing style, can best be described as a blend of poetry, colloquial history, and easy-reading science. She has taught at various universities, including Columbia and Cornell, and her essays regularly appear in distinguished popular and literary journals.Diane currently resides in Ithaca, New York.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

The planets: A cosmic pastoral : [poems]
ISBN: 0688030882

Morrow. 1976

Wife of light: [poems]
ISBN: 0688032869

Morrow. 1978

Book by Ackerman, Diane

Twilight of the tenderfoot: A Western memoir
ISBN: 0688036058

Morrow. 1980

In the twenty-some years since award-winning writer Diane Ackerman first visited the Tequesquite ranch in New Mexico, she has delighted readers with her rich, observant prose in such books as A Natural History of the Senses and, most recently, Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden. However, her first nonfiction book, Twilight of the Tenderfoot, reveals the strong beginnings of a writer who renders the experience of nature and place into an intimate and magical affair. Now back in print, Twilight of the Tenderfoot lets readers once more glimpse the backbreaking, soul-satisfying work of ranching. Growing up in rural Illinois, Diane Ackerman "knew" the West through film and television. Her abiding love of horses led her to one day seek to ride alongside cowboys on a traditional New Mexican ranch. "At 5:30 the next morning, I buckled on my chaps, and rode out to herd cattle for the first time in my life, not knowing exactly what I would find in an American past mine only by association, a landscape alien as Mars, a desert heat and physical labor so hard it leaves you aching all over."

As a tenderfoot-and a woman in a man's world-Ackerman undergoes an often hilarious initiation: but she is game and spirited, up to the challenges of red-hot chiles, Red Man chewing tobacco, revved-up horses, snakes dangling from brooms, and tough work well before sunrise. For Ackerman, and for her readers, what happened remains indelibly branded in memory.

Lady Faustus
ISBN: 0688023967

William Morrow & Co. 1983

Poems portray the author's experiences and explore a variety of themes, including dreams, flight, music and sports

On Extended Wings : An Adventure in Flight
ISBN: 0689115407

Atheneum. 1985

In this remarkable paean to flying, award winning poet Diane Ackerman invites us to ride jump seat as she takes -- literally and figuratively -- to the sky. OnExtended Wings tells the story of how she gained mastery over the mysteries of flight and earned her private pilot's license, of her frustration and exhilaration during hours of lessons and seemingly endless touch and go's of her first solo and her first cross-country flights, of the teachers and pilots and aviation enthusiasts, she befriended and flew with.

A Natural History of the Senses
ISBN: 0679735666

Vintage. 1991

Diane Ackerman's lusciously written grand tour of the realm of the senses includes conversations with an iceberg in Antarctica and a professional nose in New York, along with dissertations on kisses and tattoos, sadistic cuisine and the music played by the planet Earth.

“Delightful . . . gives the reader the richest possible feeling of the worlds the senses take in.” —The New York Times

Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: New & Selected Poems
ISBN: 0679402144

Random House. 1991

In A Natural History of the Senses Diane Ackerman revealed herself as a naturalist who writes with the sensuous immediately of a great poet. Now Jaguar of Sweet Laughter presents the work of a poet with the precise and wondering eye of a gifted naturalist.

Ackermans's Olympian vision records and transforms landscapes from Amazonia to Antarctica, while her imaginative empathy penetrates the otherness of hummingbirds, deer, and trilobites. But even as they draw readers into the wild heart of nature, Ackerman's poems are indelible reminders of what it is to be a human being -- the "jaguar of sweet laughter" that, according to Mayan mythology, astonished the world because it was the first animal to speak.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden
ISBN: 0060199865

Harper. 2001

In the mode of her esteemed bestseller A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman's new book, Cultivating Delight celebrates the sensory pleasures she discovers in her garden.

Ackerman delights in her garden through all the seasons. Whether she is deadheading flowers or glorying in the profusion of roses, offering sugar water to a hummingbird or studying the slug, she welcomes the unexpected drama and extravagance as well as the sanctuary her garden offers. She chronicles instances of violence in nature but also intuits loneliness and desire in the clamor of male crickets in the spring. And there is wonderment and marvel as she happens upon a tiny frog asleep inside the petals of a tulip. Visitors to her garden range from botanical explorers of earlier centuries to the nature mystic John Muir to the brilliant British garden writer Gertrude Jekyll.

The author's garden nourishes its creator, who imaginatively returns the favor and seizes privileged moments to leap from science and metaphor to meditation on the human condition. Written in sensuous, lyrical prose, Cultivating Delight is a hymn to nature and to the pleasure we take in it.

Origami Bridges: Poems of Psychoanalysis and Fire
ISBN: 0060199881

Harper. 2002

The author of twenty celebrated books of poetry and nonfiction, Diane Ackerman offers a new collection of masterfully crafted poems with an unusual focus.

At the heart of Origami Bridges is the delicate relationship of trust between analyst and patient, a relationship that grows out of the emotional give-and-take of the psychoanalytic process. In this collection, Diane Ackerman, with astonishing candor, lays bare her desires, anger, jealousy, fears, and anxiety as she probes not only her psychic landscape but also her past. And what gradually rises to the surface is an understanding of how the poet uses verse to purge her demons, express her delight, or confess secret longing, and through this process come to a better understanding of the self.

Ackerman's energy and passion are everywhere in evidence, and "she makes the task of putting words to the wordless seem effortless" [Manchester Journal]. Exuberant, lyrical, these are deeply felt poems about life and one of its most important relationships. This collection is Diane Ackerman at the height of her powers as a poet.

Animal Sense
ISBN: 0375923845

Knopf Books for Young Readers. 2003

A stapler with its tiny fangs
Cannot outwit orangutangs.
Rocks are very good at sitting,
but never walk or take up knitting.
Living things all feel and sense
their way through every happenstance. . . .

In this delightfully witty collection of poems, bestselling author Diane Ackerman shows how the senses shape and enrich
the experiences of all living beings. With enchanting illustrations by Peter Ss, Animal Sense is sure to capture the imagination of readers young and old.

From the Hardcover edition.

An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain
ISBN: 0743246721

Scribner. 2004

The author of A Natural History of the Senses celebrates the fantasia of the human brain, lending a woman's perspective to neuroscience while reporting on the latest discoveries, the nature of consciousness, language development, and more. 60,000 first printing.

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story
ISBN: 0393061728

W. W. Norton & Company. 2007

The New York Times bestseller soon to be a major motion picture starring Jessica Chastain.

A true story in which the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands.

When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw―and the city's zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen "guests" hid inside the Zabinskis' villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants―otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes.With her exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages us viscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers, and their hidden visitors. She shows us how Antonina refused to give in to the penetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her. 8 pages of illustrations

Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day
ISBN: 0393338754

W. W. Norton & Company. 2010

"It's easy to live in the moment when you're immersed in Ackerman's glorious prose." ―Washington Post

In an eye-opening sequence of personal meditations through the cycle of seasons, one of our most celebrated storyteller-poet-naturalists awakens us to the world at dawn. Diane Ackerman draws from sources as diverse as meteorology, world religion, etymology, art history, and poetry in order to celebrate that moment in which the deepest arcades of life and matter become visible. From spring in Ithaca, New York, to winter in Palm Beach, Florida, Dawn Light is an impassioned call to revel in our numbered days on a turning earth.

A Los Angeles Times Favorite Book, Booklist Editors Choice Award, Library Corner Best of List, and San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2009.

8 pages four-color illustrations

One Hundred Names for Love: A Memoir
ISBN: 0393341747

W. W. Norton & Company. 2012

Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
Finalist for the National Book Circle Critics Award

"A testament to the power of creativity in language, life―and love." ―Heller McAlpin, Washington Post

No other writer can blend the science of the brain with the love of language like Diane Ackerman. In this extraordinary memoir, she opens a window into the experience of wordlessness―the language paralysis called aphasia. In narrating the recovery of her husband, Paul West, from a stroke that reduced his vast vocabulary to a single syllable, she evokes the joy and mystery of the brain’s ability to find and connect words. Deeply rewarding to readers of all kinds, Ackerman has given us a literary love story, accessible insight into the science and medicine of brain injury, and invaluable spiritual sustenance in the face of life’s myriad physical sufferings.

The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us
ISBN: 0393240746

W. W. Norton & Company. 2014

As Diane Ackerman writes in her brilliant new book, The Human Age, "our relationship with nature has changed…radically, irreversibly, but by no means all for the bad. Our new epoch is laced with invention. Our mistakes are legion, but our talent is immeasurable."

Ackerman is justly celebrated for her unique insight into the natural world and our place in it. In this landmark book, she confronts the unprecedented reality that one prodigiously intelligent and meddlesome creature, Homo sapiens, is now the dominant force shaping the future of planet Earth.

Humans have "subdued 75 percent of the land surface, concocted a wizardry of industrial and medical marvels, strung lights all across the darkness." We tinker with nature at every opportunity we garden the planet with our preferred species of plants and animals, many of them invasive and we have even altered the climate, threatening our own extinction. Yet we reckon with our own destructive capabilities in extraordinary acts of hope-filled creativity: we collect the DNA of vanishing species in a "frozen ark," equip orangutans with iPads, and create wearable technologies and synthetic species that might one day outsmart us. With her distinctive gift for making scientific discovery intelligible to the layperson, Ackerman takes us on an exhilarating journey through our new reality, introducing us to many of the people and ideas now creating―perhaps saving―our future and that of our fellow creatures.

A beguiling, optimistic engagement with the changes affecting every part of our lives, The Human Age is a wise and beautiful book that will astound, delight, and inform intelligent life for a long time to come.


  • Poetry Prize, Academy of American Poets, 1972
  • Peter B. Lavin Poetry Award in 1985

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