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Growing up in the East Bay as the son of an astrophysicist and a psychologist, Obi Kaufmann spent most of high school practicing calculus and breaking away in the evenings to scramble around Mount Diablo and map its creeks, oak forests, and sage mazes. Into adulthood, he would continue to regularly journey into the mountains, spending more summer nights without a roof than under one. For poet, painter, and naturalist Obi Kaufmann, California is a magic network of living systems that connect in a grand, quilted array of ecology and beauty that holds enough science, mythology, and language for a hundred field atlases to come.
In Kaufmann’s first book, the lavishly illustrated, 550-page California Field Atlas (HEYDAY, 2017), readers are taken off the beaten path and outside normal conceptions of California. Myriad ecologies, topographies, and histories are revealed along with hundreds of exquisite hand-painted maps and trail paintings. Obi Kaufmann blends science and art to illuminate the multifaceted array of the natural world, forming a uniquely elemental narrative based on the shaping forces of earth, air, fire, and water, connecting systems like no other book has done before. Kaufmann depicts nature, layer by layer, delighting in the grand scale and details alike. The effect is staggeringly beautiful: presented alongside California divvied into its fifty-eight counties, for example, we consider California made up of dancing tectonic plates, of watersheds, of wildflower gardens. Maps are enhanced by spirited illustrations of wildlife, keys that explain natural phenomena, and a clear-sighted but reverential text. Full of character and color, the California Field Atlas is the ultimate road trip companion and love letter to a place.
Since the California Field Atlas hit stores across California, it has become a classic, accumulating awards (including the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco’s Gold Medal for Significant Contribution to Publishing and the Book of the Year 2018 by the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association) and it enjoyed nearly two months in the number one spot for non-fiction paperback bestsellers in the San Francisco Chronicle.
For his second book, The State of Water, Understanding California’s Most Precious Resource, Kaufmann turns his artful yet analytical attention to the Golden State’s single most complex and controversial resource: water. Full-color maps unravel the braided knot of California’s water infrastructure and ecosystems, exposing a history of unlimited growth in spite of natural resources — a history that has led to its current precarious circumstances. But this built world depends on the biosphere, and in The State of Water Kaufmann argues that environmental conservation and restoration efforts are necessary not only for ethical reasons but also as a matter of human survival. Offering nine perspectives to illustrate the pressing challenges facing California water’s infrastructure, from dams to species revitalization, Kaufmann reveals pragmatic yet inspiring solutions to how water in the West can continue to support agriculture, municipalities, and the environment, interspersed throughout with trail paintings of animals that might survive under a caring and careful water ethic. Kaufmann shows how California can usher in a new era of responsible water conservation, and — perhaps most importantly — how we may do so together.
An avid conservationist, Obi Kaufmann regularly travels around the state, presenting his work and vision of ecological restoration and preservation to such groups as the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildland center, the Mojave Desert Land Trust, The Anza Borrego Foundation, The Mono Lake Committee, the Peninsula Open Space Trust, The California Native Plant Society, the Wilderness Society, and the Audubon Society.
A life-long resident of California, Obi Kaufmann makes his home base in Oakland and is currently working on Field Atlases to come:
Books to come by Obi Kaufmann
- The Forests of California, the California Lands Trilogy, Vol 1 (HEYDAY, fall 2020)
- The Coasts of California, the California Lands Trilogy, Vol 2 (HEYDAY, spring 2020)
- The Deserts of California, the California Lands Trilogy, Vol 3 (HEYDAY, fall 2021)
- The State of Fire, Understanding Why, Where and How California Burns (HEYDAY, spring 2022)