The books in the list below are recommendations from book club members and is the pool of titles from which we select our upcoming reading lists. This list is in alphabetical order by author. If you’ve read a natural history related book that you would like to add to this list, please e-mail your ideas to Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also have an list of more than 100 books we have already discussed in this group on the first page of the Book Club website, so make sure your suggestion is not already there.
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.
Elizabeth Kolbert, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future (2021) The author takes a hard look at the new world we are creating. Along the way, she meets biologists who are trying to preserve the world’s rarest fish, which lives in a single tiny pool in the middle of the Mojave; engineers who are turning carbon emissions to stone in Iceland; Australian researchers who are trying to develop a “super coral” that can survive on a hotter globe; and physicists who are contemplating shooting tiny diamonds into the stratosphere to cool the earth. (recommended by Wendy)
Barry Lopez, Horizon (2019) From pole to pole and across decades of lived experience, National Book Award-winning author Barry Lopez delivers his most far-ranging, yet personal, work to date. Horizon moves indelibly, immersively, through the author’s travels to six regions of the world: from Western Oregon to the High Arctic; from the Galápagos to the Kenyan desert; from Botany Bay in Australia to finally, unforgettably, the ice shelves of Antarctica. Along the way, Lopez probes the long history of humanity’s thirst for exploration, including the prehistoric peoples who trekked across Skraeling Island in northern Canada, the colonialists who plundered Central Africa, an enlightenment-era Englishman who sailed the Pacific, a Native American emissary who found his way into isolationist Japan, and today’s ecotourists in the tropics. And always, throughout his journeys to some of the hottest, coldest, and most desolate places on the globe, Lopez searches for meaning and purpose in a broken world. (recommended by Kathy)
Jack Turner, The Abstract Wild (1996) If anything is endangered in America it is our experience of wild nature—gross contact. There is knowledge only the wild can give us, knowledge specific to it, knowledge specific to the experience of it. These are its gifts to us. We hunger for a kind of experience deep enough to change our selves, our form of life, writes Turner. Readers who take his words to heart will find, if not their selves, their perspectives on the natural world recast in ways that are hard to ignore and harder to forget. (recommended by Kathy Darrow)
Eric Wagner, After the Blast: The Ecological Recovery of Mount St. Helens (2020) On May 18, 1980, people all over the world watched with awe and horror as Mount St. Helens erupted. Fifty-seven people were killed and hundreds of square miles of what had been lush forests and wild rivers were to all appearances destroyed. Ecologists thought they would have to wait years, or even decades, for life to return to the mountain, but when forest scientist Jerry Franklin helicoptered into the blast area a couple of weeks after the eruption, he found small plants bursting through the ash and animals skittering over the ground. Stunned, he realized he and his colleagues had been thinking of the volcano in completely the wrong way. Rather than being a dead zone, the mountain was very much alive. Mount St. Helens has been surprising ecologists ever since, and in After the Blast Eric Wagner takes readers on a fascinating journey through the blast area and beyond. From fireweed to elk, the plants and animals Franklin saw would not just change how ecologists approached the eruption and its landscape, but also prompt them to think in new ways about how life responds in the face of seemingly total devastation. (recommended by Jean)
David B. Williams, Homewaters: A Human and Natural History of Puget Sound (2021)
Focusing on the area south of Port Townsend and between the Cascade and Olympic mountains, Williams uncovers human and natural histories in, on, and around the Sound. In conversations with archaeologists, biologists, and tribal authorities, Williams traces how generations of humans have interacted with such species as geoducks, salmon, orcas, rockfish, and herring. He sheds light on how warfare shaped development and how people have moved across this maritime highway, in canoes, the mosquito fleet, and today’s ferry system. The book also takes an unflinching look at how the Sound’s ecosystems have suffered from human behavior, including pollution, habitat destruction, and the effects of climate change. Witty, graceful, and deeply informed, Homewaters weaves history and science into a fascinating and hopeful narrative, one that will introduce newcomers to the astonishing life that inhabits the Sound and offers longtime residents new insight into and appreciation of the waters they call home.
E.O. Wilson, Tales from the Ant World (2020) “Ants are the most warlike of all animals, with colony pitted against colony. . . . Their clashes dwarf Waterloo and Gettysburg,” writes Edward O. Wilson in his most finely observed work in decades. In a myrmecological tour to such far-flung destinations as Mozambique and New Guinea, the Gulf of Mexico’s Dauphin Island and even his parents’ overgrown yard back in Alabama, Wilson thrillingly evokes his nine-decade-long scientific obsession with more than 15,000 ant species. A personal account by one of our greatest scientists, Tales from the Ant World is an indispensable volume for any lover of the natural world. (recommended by Wendy)