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. If you’ve read a natural history related book that you would like to add to this list, please e-mail your ideas to Kathy at email@example.com.
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.
Kelly Brenner, Nature Obscura: A City’s Hidden Natural World (2020) Through explorations of a rich and varied landscape, Brenner reveals the complex micro-habitats and surprising nature found in the middle of a city. In her hometown of Seattle, which has plowed down hills, cut through the land to connect fresh- and saltwater, and paved over much of the rest, she exposes a diverse range of strange and unknown creatures, many of which can be found throughout the Pacific Northwest. From shore to wetland, forest to neighborhood park, and graveyard to backyard, Brenner uncovers how our alterations of the land have affected nature, for good and bad, through the often unseen wildlife and plants that live alongside us. These stories meld together, forming an eloquent tapestry, in the same way that ecosystems, species, and humans are interconnected across the urban environment.
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.
Craig Childs, Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild (2009)
The Animal Dialogues tells of Craig Childs’ own chilling experiences among the grizzlies of the Arctic, sharks off the coast of British Columbia and in the turquoise waters of Central America, jaguars in the bush of northern Mexico, mountain lions, elk, Bighorn Sheep, and others. More than chilling, however, these stories are lyrical, enchanting, and reach beyond what one commonly assumes an “animal story” is or should be. The Animal Dialogues is a book about another world that exists alongside our own, an entire realm of languages and interactions that humans rarely get the chance to witness.
Charlotte Gill, Eating Dirt (2011) 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.
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.
Holly Hughes, Passings (2019) Passenger pigeon. Carolina parakeet. Eskimo curlew. In this timely collection of elegies, award-winning poet Holly J. Hughes gives voice to these and other bird species that no longer fill our skies. If their names sound a litany of the hundreds of species we’ve lost, these fifteen poems serve as a reminder that their stories are still with us, offering a cautionary tale for the many species whose habitats face threats from climate change. In her afterword, Hughes reminds us that it’s not too late to learn from these birds’ extinction and take action to protect the species that remain. “Take note,” she writes. “These birds are still singing to us. We must listen.”
Sandra Ingerman and Llyn Roberts, Speaking with Nature (2015) 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.
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.
William Bryant Logan, Air: The Restless Shaper of the World (2012)
Logan’s exploration of the most fundamental element of the earth opens our eyes to the physics, chemistry, biology, history, art, and even music of the air. All life takes place in the medium of air, yet it is usually just taken for granted, until there is a problem. This book is a touchstone for nature lovers and environmentalists, a book that will make readers think more about the air that surrounds them every living moment.
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.
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.
Kathleen Dean Moore, Pine Island Paradox (2005) 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: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril (2010)
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.
Gordon Orians, Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare: How Evolution Shapes Our Loves and Fears (2014) In this ambitious and unusual work, evolutionary biologist Gordon H. Orians explores the role of evolution in human responses to the environment, beginning with why we have emotions and ending with evolutionary approaches to aesthetics. Orians reveals how our emotional lives today are shaped by decisions our ancestors made centuries ago on African savannas as they selected places to live, sought food and safety, and socialized in small hunter-gatherer groups.
Gifford Pinchot, Breaking New Ground (1972; 1998) 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.
Richard Powers, The Overstory (2019) From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers’s twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.
Robert Michael Pyle, Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide (1997)
Robert Michael Pyle trekked into the Dark Divide, where he discovered a giant fossil footprint; searched out Indians who told him of an outcast tribe that had not fully evolved into humans; and attended the convocation in British Columbia called Sasquatch Daze, where he realized that “these guys don’t want to find Bigfoot-they want to be Bigfoot.” Ultimately Pyle discovers a few things about Bigfoot – and a lot about the human need for something to believe in and the need for wilderness in our lives.
David Quammen, Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction (1997)
In The Song of the Dodo, we follow Quammen’s keen intellect through the ideas, theories, and experiments of prominent naturalists of the last two centuries. We trail after him as he travels the world, tracking the subject of island biogeography, which encompasses nothing less than the study of the origin and extinction of all species. Why is this island idea so important? Because islands are where species most commonly go extinct — and because, as Quammen points out, we live in an age when all of Earth’s landscapes are being chopped into island-like fragments by human activity.
Through his eyes, we glimpse the nature of evolution and extinction, and in so doing come to understand the monumental diversity of our planet, and the importance of preserving its wild landscapes, animals, and plants. We also meet some fascinating human characters. By the book’s end we are wiser, and more deeply concerned, but Quammen leaves us with a message of excitement and hope.
Thomas Spies and Sally Duncan, Old Growth in a New World (2016)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (1995)
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.
George Wuerthner, Eileen Crist and Tom Butler (eds.), Keeping the Wild: Against the Domestication of Earth (2014) In Keeping the Wild, a group of prominent scientists, writers, and conservation activists responds to the Anthropocene (age of human dominion)-boosters who claim that wild nature is no more (or in any case not much worth caring about), that human-caused extinction is acceptable, and that “novel ecosystems” are an adequate replacement for natural landscapes. With essays from Eileen Crist, David Ehrenfeld, Dave Foreman, Lisi Krall, Harvey Locke, Curt Meine, Kathleen Dean Moore, Michael Soulé, Terry Tempest Williams and other leading thinkers, Keeping the Wild provides an introduction to this important debate, a critique of the Anthropocene boosters’ attack on traditional conservation, and unapologetic advocacy for wild nature.
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.