Over the course of two decades living in Montana’s remote Yaak Valley, Houston-bred Rick Bass has produced 21 books—largely about the wilderness that surrounds him—and acquired a reputation as a zealous, not to say rabid, environmental activist. Why I Came West is his attempt to redefine himself as a writer and family man relative to his all-consuming crusade to gain a “permanent wilderness designation” for areas of the Yaak and protect them from road building and uncontrolled logging. Bass might have done well to crib his work’s title from chapter 10, wherein he dubs himself “the most hated man in the largest county in the United States,” a distinction earned from his conflicts with logging companies, neighbors, and the government as a founder of the Yaak Valley Forest Council. And though not given to self-pity, he pours his heart out with palpable relief over the threats, attacks, and bureaucratic wrangling that have monopolized years of his time. He is clearly ready to pass the baton to younger hands and return to the only calling he ever wanted—writing fiction. Why I Came West could have been a tree hugger’s angry polemic, but Bass has produced a complex portrait of one man standing at the crossroads where poetry and wilderness intersect with commerce and civilization. Houghton Mifflin, $24