As we head into a new year, nothing beats a good book by the wood stove on a cold winter night. Here are some recent classics I recommend.
Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose (1996, Simon & Schuster) and Our Natural History: the Lessons of Lewis and Clark by Daniel Botkin (1995, Grosset/Putnam) describe life and nature along the Missouri River and beyond as it was circa 1804.
Nothing Like It in the World: the Men who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869 by Stephen Ambrose (2000, Simon & Schuster) describes a monumental overland engineering feat. It seems like no big deal today, but imagine crossing the Rockies with a railroad in the 1860s.
The Path Between the Seas: the Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough (1977, Simon & Schuster) is an awesome tale of man vs. nature.
Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America by Eric Jay Dolan (2007, Norton) focuses on what whaling was, not what it has become.
Fur, Fortune, and Empire: the Epic History of the Fur Trade on America by Eric Jay Dolan (2010, Norton) documents the importance of wildlife in American history.
The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt & the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan (2009, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) explains how the biggest forest fire in American history led to the conservation of wild lands.
Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators by William Stolzenburg (2008, Bloomsbury) offers superlative explanations of the role of natural predators, from starfish and sea otters to wolves and killer whales.
Winter World: the Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich (2003, HarperCollins) explains how everything from kinglets and frogs to bears and butterflies survive the big chill.
The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik (2004, Free Press) describes how three men, independent of each other, devote the entire year of 1998 to competitive birding. With a major motion picture adaptation of the book scheduled for release next year, I can’t wait to see how Hollywood treats extreme birders.
A Plague of Rats and Rubber Vines: the Growing Threat of Species Invasions by Yvonne Baskin (2002, Island Press) is an indictment of exotic species that seem capable of destroying any new ecosystem they invade.
The Swamp: the Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise by Michael Grunwald (2006, Simon & Schuster) describes the near destruction of the Everglades and the resurrection that is currently underway.
No Way Home: the Decline of the World’s Great Animal Migrations (2008, Island Press) examines how farming, uncontrolled harvests, urbanization, highways, and cell towers threaten the world’s long-distance migrants.
An Orchard Invisible: a Natural History of Seeds by Jonathan Silvertown (2009, University of Chicago Press) celebrates the lives waiting to burst forth from seemingly insignificant seeds.
Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Douglas Tallamy (2007, Timber Press) explains the importance of native plants and wildlife and the destructive nature of invasive exotic species. This book belongs in every gardener’s library.
The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing the Climate and What it Means for Life on Earth by Tim Flannery (2005, Atlantic Monthly Press) describes climate change from a historical perspectives and, among other things, explains the critical role played by the planet’s oceans.
Nature Journaling: Learning to Observe and Connect with the World Around You by Claire Walker Leslie and Charles E, Roth (1998, Storey Books) teaches budding naturalists, young and old, how to sketch and write about the world around them.
Complete Survival Manual: Expert Tips from Four World-Renowned Organizations Plus Survival Stories of National Geographic Explorers by Michael Sweeney (2008, National Geographic) is an essential reference for all outdoor enthusiasts. Learn to deal with survival situations, at-home emergencies, broken bones, and more with tips from the American Red Cross, the U.S. Army, and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.