Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



African Animals

Africa was the birthplace of modern humans, our ancestral home. It’s also home to the most complete surviving array of animals including large predators, which have been mostly wiped out in Europe and North America.

Children grow up with stories of elephants, zebras and giraffes, or see them in the zoo or at the circus. The books recommended here take you much closer, to understand these magnificent animals in their natural habitat, with highly evolved social and biological mechanisms that we are only beginning to understand. We’re in a race with time, to learn from these creatures before their survival in the wild becomes untenable. There are signs of hope in the development of large national preserves whose function is conservation and cooperation with indigenous peoples resident in the area.

Recommended Books and DVDs on African Animals

African CalliopeAfircan Calliope
Edward Hoagland

Open this book and enter into a richly detailed landscape and an exotic society. Follow Hoagland's travels, from equatorial mountain forests to the Sahara desert; from small Sudanese towns in the south and west to short stays in the capital, Khartoum. Hoagland's eye for detail presents the reader with electrifying images of life in the Sudan - rotten diets, disease, coups and civil war, the traders, poachers, tribal headmen, and those who come to help.
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 1979
National Book Award Finalist 1982

1995, The Lyons Press

African Elephants
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

African Elephants
Reinhard Kunkel

Few wildlife photographers have worked in such close proximity with their subjects as Reinhard Kunkel. His close observation and decades of familiarity with these majestic animals are on display in the amazing photographs in this book. The 120 color plates capture elephants in all aspects of their daily lives: eating, bathing, mating, traveling, socializing, playing and fighting. A gorgeous volume. 1999, Harry N. Abrams


African SilencesAfrican Silences
Peter Matthiessen

Matthiessen reports on the almost total devastation of wildlife in Senegal, Gambia, and the Ivory Coast and describes an expedition searching for the rare Congo peacock and gorillas in the Virunga Mountains of Zaire. He accompanied ecologist David (Jonah) Western to the Central African Republic, Gabon, and Zaire to survey populations of the forest elephant and visit the Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Forest. Matthiessen's delight in the Mbuti and his cautious optimism about the effects of the recent ban on ivory trafficking somewhat softens his otherwise grim message about the fate of the people and wildlife of Africa. 1992, Vintage

Africa the Serengeti DVDAfrica the Serengeti (DVD)
George Casey, director

This spectacular DVD takes you on an extraordinary journey to view The Great Migration -- more than two million wildebeests, zebras and antelopes in their annual 500-mile trek across the Serengeti Plains, with lions and other great predators stalking them along the way. Filmed entirely on location in Kenya and Tanzania, with stunning vistas and dynamic aerial photography. 2005, Razor

Africa's Wildlife CollectionAfrica's Wildlife Collection (6 DVD set)

Witness the realities of birth, death, and survival in the wilds of Africa. Through extraordinary close-up encounters, see first-hand how zebras, rhinos, crocodiles, elephants, gorillas, leopards, lions, and other African wildlife survive and thrive in their unforgiving habitats. 2007, National Geographic

Cry of the KalahariCry of the Kalahari
Mark James Owens and Cordelia Dykes Owens

Cry of the Kalahari tells the story of Mark and Delia Owens, two American researchers who lived in the isolation of the Kalahari Desert, one of the most extreme wildernesses in the world. They were there to study the region's large carnivores, arriving with little more than one change of clothes each and some basic equipment. For seven years they lived in a remote camp near the path of an ancient riverbed in a place appropriately named Deception Valley. Their insights into the behavior and range lions, cheetahs, wildebeests and hyenas were invaluable to scientific discovery and led to lasting conservation efforts.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1985
1992, Mariner Books

Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou, directors

Blending humor with seriousness, innocence with wisdom, an African griot (storyteller) uses the evocative language of myth and fable to relate the birth of the universe and the stars, the fiery beginnings of our planet and the appearance of life on earth - but this is a true story, the story of all of us. He tells us of time, matter, birth, love and death. Animals are the main players in this flamboyant, modern, yet timeless Genesis. 2006, Image/ThinkFilms

Into AfricaInto Africa
Craig Packer

Into Africa gives a vivid, day-by-day view of field biologists at work. In fall 1991 Packer spent seven weeks in Tanzania orienting new assistants to lion research, helping a doctoral student collect fecal samples from lions and baboons and retrieving files from Jane Goodall's house. Twenty years earlier, he had worked with Goodall at Gombe; later, he studied lions in the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater. Here, he explores the social lives of the animals and the threats to their survival. He also tells of coping with vehicle breakdowns, physical exhaustion, personality conflicts and political upheavals. In the tradition of Jane Goodall and George Schaller, Packer has written an engaging account of his African experience.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1995
1996, University of Chicago Press

Meerkat Manor - Complete First SeasonMeerkat Manor - Complete First Season (4 DVD set)

This documentary drama/animal soap opera series follows a real family of loveable and interesting meerkats in the Kalahari Desert, South Africa. Flower is the leader and dominant female of the clan. Zaphod is her partner and dominant male; Youssarian is Zaphod's younger brother and Flower's ex-lover. There is plenty of drama as we follow a year in the life of this intriguing group. There are fights with an archrival group, the Lazuli; storms; death; family politics; and the disappearance of a meerkat we had gotten to know very well. 2006, Discovery Channel

Meerkat Manor - Complete Second SeasonMeerkat Manor - Complete Second Season (4 DVD Set)

State of the art camera technology above and below ground tracks the animals' movements 24 hours a day, showing the complex social arrangements of the meerkat tribe. From vicious fights with rival gangs to infighting within the group, snake attacks, births of two dozen pups, and tragic deaths Meerkat Manor includes animal behavior never recorded before. 2007, Animal Planet

On this Earth
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

On this Earth: Photographs from East Africa
Nick Brandt

Nick Brandt depicts the animals of East Africa with an intimacy and artistry unmatched by other photographers who choose wildlife as their subject. He creates these majestic sepia and blue-tone photos contrasting moments of quintessential stillness with bursts of dramatic action by engaging with these creatures on an exceptionally intimate level, without the customary use of a telephoto lens. Evocative of classical art, from dignified portraits to sweeping natural tableaux, Brandt's images artfully and simply capture animals in their natural states of being. On This Earth is a gorgeous portfolio of some of the last wild animals and a heartfelt elegy to a vanishing world. 2005, Chronicle Books

Sand RiversSand Rivers
Peter Matthiessen

Sand Rivers is based on a safari into the Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania, one of the last great wildernesses left on Earth. Selous is a ''reserve,'' not to be confused with such famous game parks as the Serengeti or Ngorongoro. It is an area of some 22,000 square miles, approximately the size of Maryland. The reserve has an estimated mammal population of 750,000 creatures, an incredible density of animal life. Matthiessen’s prose has a glistening, sculpted character: “At dark a hyena whoops and another answers, for the clan is gathering, but their ululations are soon lost in a vast staccato racket, an unearthly din that sweeps in rhythmic waves up and down the river bars, rising and falling like the breath of earth - then silence, a shocked ringing silence, as if the night hunters have all turned to hear this noise.” As with most of Mr. Matthiessen's work, the sense of beauty and mystery is indelible.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1982
African Wildlife Leadership Foundation Award

1982, Bantam Dell

The Tree Where Man Was BornThe Tree Where Man Was Born
Peter Matthiessen

On the great East African plain it is the human who feels himself the intruder. Here, and perhaps only here, the world is that of the animals. It is they who belong, as humans do not. In the more sensitive traveler this evokes a feeling of being privileged to observe ancient forms, settings and behavior that have survived intact from pre-history.

"Matthiessen has the language to express this feeling of awe...Matthiessen also goes into the relationships between humans past and present in East Africa's great fauna with many a flash of insight into the instincts each has bred in the other...This is the Africa book par excellence." - Saturday Review 2010, Penguin Classics

Wildebeest - The Great African Migration (DVD)Wildebeest - The Great African Migration (DVD)

The annual wildebeest migration in Serengeti is a spectacle of life and death witnessed by few humans. This film shows the greatest migration of land animals on the planet, in vivid, riveting detail. The migration, a million and a half strong, is plagued with predators: cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs, leopards, lions and crocodiles take their toll of the weak. But just as in every year, the wildebeest complete their great migration while birthing an incredible half a million young along the way. 2005, Reel Productions

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