Book Club List

Books selected for the book club to read for the next few months are as follows:

February 25, 2019 – Orca: How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean’s Greatest Predator by Jason Colby
March 25, 2019 – What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz
April 22, 2019 – Katie Gale: a Coast Salish Woman’s Life on Oyster Bay by Llyn de Danaan
May 27, 2019 – Beyond the Outer Shores: The Untold Odyssey of Ed Ricketts by Eric Tamm
June 24, 2019 – Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers by Ben Goldfarb
July 22, 2019 – The Wall of Birds by Jane Kim and Thayer Walker
August 26, 2019 – Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent by Lyanda Haupt

The following books have been recommended by members of the JLT Natural History Society’s book club.

To add to this list, or to vote for your choice, please send email to Jean at

Kathleen Alcala, The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island (2016)

Author Kathleen Alcala examines her relationship with food at the local level by exploring the history of the Pacific Northwest island she calls home. She gardens and prepares foods with her neighbors, getting to know them on a deep level. She meets people who experienced the Japanese American internment during World War II, Filipino and Croatian immigrants, and members of the Native American Community.
This book combines memoir, historical records, and a blueprint for sustainability, showing how an island population can mature into responsible food stewards. We learn how food is intertwined with our present but offers a path to a better understanding of the future.

Jonathan Balcombe, What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins (2016)

What a Fish Knows will forever change how we see our aquatic cousins. We rarely consider how individual fishes think, feel, and behave.  Balcombe describes a variety of fish behaviors, such as courtship rituals and cooperative hunting behaviors. What a Fish Knows offers a thoughtful appraisal of our relationships with fishes and inspires us to take a more enlightened view of the planet’s increasingly imperiled marine life.

Juli Berwald, Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone (2017)

Jellyfish have been swimming in our oceans for well over half a billion years, longer than any other animal that lives on the planet.  Yet until recently, jellyfish were largely ignored by science, and they remain among the most poorly understood of ocean dwellers. Author Juli Berwald travelled throughout the globe to investigate the causes of recent jellyfish blooms — climate change? overfishing? coastal overdevelopment?  Spineless blends personal memoir with easy-to-understand summaries of scientific findings.  It’s also a call to realize our collective responsibility for the planet we share.

Bruce Brown, Mountain in the Clouds: A Search for the Wild Salmon (1982)

Called “profound and moving” by the Washington Post, this environmental classic launched the wild salmon movement and inspired the removal of the dams on the Elwha River, the largest dam removal project in human history. The book centers on the rivers of the Olympic Peninsula, and although written in the 1980s, is as timely as when it was first written.

Susan Casey, The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean (2011)

Susan Casey travels the globe with legendary surfer Laird Hamilton, hunting hundred-foot waves that represent the ultimate challenge.  She describes the glory and mystery of these mammoth waves, and reveals the scientific view that these waves represent something truly scary brewing in the planet’s waters. The Wave brilliantly portrays human beings confronting nature at its most ferocious.

Jason Colby, Orca: How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean’s Greatest Predator (2018)

A definitive historical account of how the view of the fierce “killer” whales was transformed into that of the beloved “orca.”

Daniel Chamovitz, What A Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses (2013)

Renowned biologist Daniel Chamovitz presents an intriguing look at how plants themselves experience the world―from the colors they see to the schedules they keep. Highlighting the latest research in genetics and more, he takes us into the inner lives of plants and draws parallels with the human senses to reveal that we have much more in common with sunflowers and oak trees than we may realize.  Covering touch, sound, smell, sight, and even memory, Chamovitz encourages us to consider whether plants might even be aware. What a Plant Knows offers us a greater understanding of botany and science and our place in nature.

Llyn de Danaan, Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman’s Life on Oyster Bay (2013)

Katie Gale was born into a Salish community in Puget Sound in the 1850s, as settlers were migrating into what would become Washington State.  Katie moved to Oyster Bay and cofounded a successful oyster business with her husband.  This carefully researched story of Katie Gale will fascinate readers interested in history of the Pacific Northwest, especially the life of Coast Salish women.

Charlotte Gill, Eating Dirt

During Charlotte Gill’s 20 years working as a tree planter she encountered hundreds of clear-cuts, each one a collision site between human civilization and the natural world, a complicated landscape presenting geographic evidence of our appetites. Charged with sowing the new forest in these clear-cuts, tree planters are a tribe caught between the stumps and the virgin timber, between environmentalists and loggers.

In Eating Dirt, Gill offers up a slice of tree-planting life in all of its soggy, gritty exuberance while questioning the ability of conifer plantations to replace original forests, which evolved over millennia into intricate, complex ecosystems. Among other topics, she also touches on the boom-and-bust history of logging and the versatility of wood, from which we have devised countless creations as diverse as textiles and airplane parts. She also eloquently evokes the wonder of trees, our slowest-growing “renewable” resource and joyously celebrates the priceless value of forests and the ancient, ever-changing relationship between humans and trees.

Ben Goldfarb, Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter (2018)

Eager is the story of one of the world’s most influential species and the ecological consequences when they are lost.  This book reveals how beavers can help us fight drought, flooding, wildfire, extinction, and the ravages of climate change. Habitat for species from salmon to swans can be restored by returning beavers to the landscape. There is a growing coalition of “Beaver Believers”―including scientists, ranchers, and passionate citizens―who recognize that ecosystems with beavers are far healthier, for humans and non-humans alike, than those without them.

Lyanda Lynn Haupt, Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin’s Lost Notebooks (2006)

This book combines observations on nature, a poetic sense, and wonderful detail on Charles Darwin. Author Lyanda Haupt (also wrote Mozart’s Starling and Urban Bestiary) focuses mostly on the birds Darwin observed, having researched meticulously some of his lesser-known writings. She describes Darwin’s transformation into a “true naturalist” while helping us understand the human relationship to the natural world.

Bernd Heinrich, Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death (2013)

Acclaimed naturalist Bernd Heinrich’s book is the result of his investigation into how the animal world deals with death.  This inquiry was inspired by the request from a good friend with a terminal illness to have a “green burial” at Heinrich’s hunting camp in Maine.  Heinrich includes both ecological and spiritual views, illuminating what happens to animals both great and small after death.

One reviewer on states, “Read this book and, true, you’ll never again look on death in quite the same way. But more interestingly, you’ll never again look on life in the same way either.”

Bernd Heinrich, Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds (2007)

Heinrich involves us in his quest to get inside the mind of the raven. He not only adopts ravens, but also travels around the world researching ravens. Mind of the Raven offers fascinating accounts of how science works in the field.  The book is both lyrical and scientific, allowing us to accompany Heinrich as he gains new insights into raven behavior.

David Helvarg, Saved by the Sea: A Love Story with Fish (2010)

This eloquent and honestly told tale of the changes in one man’s journey and the world’s ocean over the last half-century is also a profound, startling, and sometimes surprisingly funny reflection on the state of our seas and the intimate ways in which our lives are all linked to the natural world around us. Saved by the Sea will bring salt water to your eyes and small waves of hope to your heart.

Sandra Ingerman and Llyn Roberts, Speaking with Nature

This mixture of science and shamanic spirituality is based on the belief that connecting with nature and nature beings helps heal us and the Earth.  Llyn Roberts wrote her portion of the book during her two years of living on the South Fork of the Hoh River, and nature of that region is featured.

Hope Jahren, Lab Girl (2016)

(from An illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a longtime friendship; and a stunningly fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see the natural world. Hope Jahren, an acclaimed botanist, tells her life story, including her childhood, her discovery of the field of science as a career, her disappointments and triumphs in the scientific field, and her relationship with her lab partner and best friend Bill.  The book is also filled with her insights on nature.

Jane Kim and Thayer Walker, The Wall of Birds: One Planet, 243 Families, 375 Million Years (2018)

The Wall of Birds is a visual feast, essential for bird enthusiasts, naturalists, and art lovers alike.  It tells the story of the evolution of birds, family by family, continent by continent.  Full of photographs of detailed paintings of birds.

Mark Kurlansky, Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (1998)

Cod is the biography of a single species of fish.  Cod is the reason Europeans crossed the Atlantic, and cod was their staple food on that voyage, as well as of the medieval diet.  This book is a combination of history, illustrations, and recipes that convey the importance and impact of the cod fishing industry in the North Atlantic.

James Lichatowich, Salmon Without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis (2001)

Fisheries biologist James Lichatowich’s introduction states that “Fundamentally, the salmon’s decline has been the consequence of a vision based on flawed assumptions and unchallenged myths…. We assumed we could control the biological productivity of salmon and ‘improve’ upon natural processes that we didn’t even try to understand. We assumed we could have salmon without rivers.”  Salmon Without Rivers offers an eye-opening look at the roots and evolution of the salmon crisis in the Pacific Northwest. The author describes a multitude of factors over the past century and a half that have led to the salmon’s decline, and examines in depth the abject failure of restoration efforts that have focused almost exclusively on hatcheries to return salmon stocks to healthy levels without addressing the underlying causes of the decline.  Lichatowich argues that the dominant worldview of our society — a worldview that denies connections between humans and the natural world — has created the conflict and controversy that characterize the recent history of salmon; unless that worldview is challenged and changed, there is little hope for recovery.

Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams (1986)

Lopez offers a thorough examination of this obscure world-its terrain, its wildlife, its history of Eskimo natives and intrepid explorers who have arrived on their icy shores. But what turns this marvelous work of natural history into a breathtaking study of profound originality is his unique meditation on how the landscape can shape our imagination, desires, and dreams. Its prose as hauntingly pure as the land it describes, Arctic Dreams is nothing less than an indelible classic of modern literature.

Lynda Mapes, Witness Tree: Seasons of Change with a Century-Old Oak  (2017)

Environmental reporter Lynda Mapes describes a year in the life of a 100-year-old oak in the Harvard Forest, revealing the impact of climate change. The realities of climate change can be abstract and complicated to understand and even observe, but this detailed look at this one tree simplifies the perception of the reality of climate change. We learn about carbon cycles and leaf physiology, but also experience the familiar leaf budding in spring and turning color in fall.  Season by season the secrets of trees are revealed.  The book discusses details of weather, history, people, and animals, and reminds us of the possibility of renewal through people’s connection with nature.

John McPhee, Coming into the Country (1977)

An unforgettable account of Alaska and Alaskans. It is a rich tapestry of vivid characters, observed landscapes, and descriptive narrative, in three principal segments that deal, respectively, with a total wilderness, with urban Alaska, and with life in the remoteness of the bush.

Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration (2016)

Moor’s book was inspired by his experience thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.  However, this is not the story of an individual’s path to person enlightenment but rather a more scientific approach to the what, how, and why of trails throughout the world. On Trails is an exploration of how trails–ant trails, hiking paths, interstate highways, the Internet–help us understand the world.

Kathleen Dean Moore, Pine Island Paradox

Oregon author  and philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore looks at the connection between nature and humans.  Underlying these essays is her belief in an ecological “ethic of care” which embraces the land as family.

Kathleen Dean Moore, Moral Ground

Moral Ground brings together the testimony of over 80 visionaries — theologians and religious leaders, scientists, elected officials, business leaders, naturists, activists, and writers — to present a diverse and compelling call to honor our individual and collective moral responsibilities to our planet. In the face of environmental degradation and global climate change, scientific knowledge alone does not tell us what we ought to do. The missing premise of the argument and much-needed centerpiece in the debate to date has been the need for ethical values, moral guidance, and principled reasons for doing the right thing for our planet, its animals, its plants, and its people. This book encourages a newly discovered, or rediscovered, commitment to consensus about our ethical obligation to the future and why it’s wrong to wreck the world.

Nalini Nadkarni, Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connection to Trees (2009)

World-renowned canopy biologist Nalini Nadkarni has climbed trees on four continents with scientists, students, artists, clergymen, musicians, activists, loggers, legislators, and Inuits, gathering diverse perspectives. In Between Earth and Sky, a rich tapestry of personal stories, information, art, and photography, she becomes our captivating guide to the leafy wilderness above our heads. Through her luminous narrative, we embark on a multifaceted exploration of trees that illuminates the profound connections we have with them, the dazzling array of goods and services they provide, and the powerful lessons they hold for us. Nadkarni describes trees’ intricate root systems, their highly evolved and still not completely understood canopies, their role in commerce and medicine, their existence in city centers and in extreme habitats of mountaintops and deserts, and their important place in folklore and the arts. She explains tree fundamentals and considers the symbolic role they have assumed in culture and religion. In a book that reawakens our sense of wonder at the fascinating world of trees, we ultimately find entry to the entire natural world and rediscover our own place in it.

Wallace J. Nichols, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science that Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do (2015)

Wallace Nichols revolutionizes how we think about bodies of water.  He combines cutting-edge neuroscience with personal stories from athletes, scientists, military veterans, and artists.  Blue Mind illustrates the crucial importance of our connection water.

Gifford Pinchot, Breaking New Ground

This autobiography of the founder and first chief of the Forest Service has been described as “essential reading for anyone interested in understanding our present national forest policy and the origins of the conservation movement.”

David Pitt-Brooke, Chasing Clayoquot: A Wilderness Almanac (2004)

This book of natural history, environmentalism, and politics explores one of the Earth’s last primeval places: Clayoquot Sound. Pitt-Brooke takes the reader on 12 journeys, one for each month of the year. Each journey covers the outstanding natural event of that season, such as whale-watching in April, shorebird migration in May, and the salmon spawn in October.

Robert M. Pyle, Wintergreen: Listening to the Land’s Heart (1987)

In his vivid portrayal of the land, plants, people and animals of the Willapa Hills of Washington State, Bob Pyle makes the modest patch of land he writes about a metaphor for the world. Winner of the 1987 John Burroughs Medal for best natural history book of the year.

Thomas Spies and Sally Duncan, Old Growth in a New World (2016)

(from Amazon) Old Growth in a New World untangles the complexities of the old growth concept and the parallel complexity of old-growth policy and management. It brings together more than two dozen contributors—ecologists, economists, sociologists, managers, historians, silviculturists, environmentalists, timber producers, and philosophers—to offer a broad suite of perspectives on changes that have occurred in the valuing and management of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest over the past thirty years. The book encourages productive discussion on the future of old growth in the Pacific Northwest and offers options for more effective approaches to conserving forest biodiversity.

Robert Sullivan, A Whale Hunt: How a Native American Village Did What No One Thought it Could (2002)

“For centuries the hunting of the whale was what defined the Makah, a Native American tribe in Neah Bay, but when commercial whaling drove the gray whale to near extinction in the 1920s, the Makah voluntarily discontinued their tradition…after the gray whale was taken off the endangered species list, the Makah decided to hunt again…A book of many layers and revelations, A Whale Hunt is the story of the demise and attempted resurrection of a Native American nation and of…individuals…  whose lives are forever changed.”

Eric Enno Tamm, Beyond the Outer Shores: The Untold Odyssey of Ed Ricketts, the Pioneering Ecologist Who Inspired John Steinbeck and Joseph Campbell (2014)

A well-written biography of the man who was the inspiration for “Doc” in Steinbeck’s writings on Cannery Row.  Ricketts was the not formally trained but influential marine biologist who wrote Between Pacific Tides, the widely known text on intertidal zones.  His ecological and philosophical thoughts were way ahead of his time, and as the subtitle states, many of the ideas of Steinbeck and Campbell can be attributed to their association with Ricketts.

Kim Todd, Tinkering with Eden: A Natural History of Exotic Species in America (2002)

An intriguing look at non-native species in American ecosystems.  Examples are mosquitoes in Hawaii, sea lampreys in the Great Lakes, mountain goats in Olympic National Park.  Often the well-meaning efforts of scientists, explorers, and biologists have resulted in ecological catastrophes.

Gavin Van Horn and John Hausdorffer, Wildness: Relations of People and Place (2017)

A collection of writings on wildness–in wilderness, in rural areas, in urban areas. An exploration of what wildness is, how it functions, why we need it, and how we can cultivate it in our lives.

Laura Dassow Walls, Henry David Thoreau: A Life (2017)

Thoreau’s life was much more than connecting with nature at Walden Pond.  He was a member of an intellectual circle centered on Ralph Waldo Emerson, an inventor, a political activist, a manual laborer, and more. Walls researched his writings, published and unpublished, to give a complete look at the complete Thoreau. Throughout his life, he was a passionate naturalist, who, long before environmentalism, “saw tragedy for future generations in the human heedlessness around him.”

Hill Williams, The Restless Northwest: A Geological Story (2002)

An overview of the geological history of the Pacific Northwest, written by a former science writer for the Seattle Times, in a manner that explains scientific facts to the lay person.  Includes explanations of the subduction phenomenon, plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes.

Theodore Winthrop, The Canoe and the Saddle (originally publlished 1863)

This novelized memoir of Winthrop’s travels in 1853 in the territories of California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia was a bestseller when it was published in 1863.  This early account of those territories was the inspiration for Timothy Egan’s The Good Rain.

Robert Wood, The Land That Slept Late: The Olympic Mountains in Legend and History

A collection of stories of various expeditions that explored the Olympic Mountains, beginning in the 1890s.  Includes the Press Expedition, the O’Neil Expedition, and others.  Historical photos and maps.

Steve Yates, Orcas, Eagles and Kings: Georgia Strait and Puget Sound (1993)

The Natural History of the Salish Sea – Puget Sound and Georgia Strait. Illustrated with brilliant color photography. One hundred and eighty stunning images from fourteen well-known photographers showcase the scenic wonders and spectacular marine wildlife the region…coupled with a thoroughly researched and readable text.

Ed Yong, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life (2016)

(from book’s back cover) A groundbreaking, marvelously informative “microbe’s-eye view” of the world that reveals a radically reconceived picture of life on earth.

With humor and erudition, Ed Yong prompts us to look at ourselves and our fellow animals in a new light: less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are. When we look at the animal kingdom through a microbial lens, even the most familiar parts of our lives take on a striking new air.