Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books




This Earth is teeming with Life – from single-cell organisms to blue whales and giant redwoods. Somewhere in the middle, size-wise, is humanity – the most destructive species ever to live on this planet . . . learn more about Biodiversity»

The books recommended below celebrate the breathtaking extent and diversity of life on Earth. They explore the mysteries of evolution, the challenges of stemming extinctions, the creative adaptions that organisms make to changing habitats, and the science of maintaining biodiversity.

Recommended Books on Biodiversity

The AntsThe Ants
Bert Hölldobler and E.O. Wilson

This beautifully written and accessible scientific study of one of the most diverse animal groups on earth won the Pulitizer Prize in 1991. From the Arctic to South Africa, making up nearly 15% of the entire terrestrial animal biomass, ants fascinate by their highly organized and complex social system. Their caste system, the division of labor, the origin of altruistic behavior, and their complex forms of chemical communication makes them the most interesting group of social organisms. Ants are the premier soil turners, channelers of energy and dominatrices of the insect fauna. 1990, Belknap Press

Between SpeciesBetween Species: Celebrating the Dolphin-Human Bond
Toni Frohoff and Brenda Peterson

This interesting collection brings together essays by writers, scientists, poets and even musicians, all of whom claim some ambassadorship to the cetacean world. Fascinating and thought-provoking. 2003, Sierra Club Books

Blue FrontierBlue Frontier: Dispatches from America's Ocean Wilderness
David Helvarg

Veteran journalist David Helvarg fuses his passion for the sea and his reportorial savvy into a panoramic chronicle of America's maritime history and the challenges that our coastal and marine environments face today. He profiles the growing efforts by coastal citizens and local governments to restore and protect the health of our oceans in the face of wide-open development along our coasts and offshore. 2006, Sierra Club Books

The Botany of DesireThe Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
Michael Pollan

Working in his garden one day, Michael Pollan had an idea: do plants, he wondered, use humans as much as we use them? The result is a fascinating and engaging look at the true nature of domestication. The book focuses on the relationship between humans and four specific plants: apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. Pollan elegantly combines literary, historical, philosophical, and scientific references with engaging anecdotes, giving readers much to ponder while weeding their gardens.
ABA Book Sense Book of the Year Award, 2002
2002, Random House

Butterflies of the WorldButterflies of the World
Myriam Baran and Gilles Martin

One in every ten insects is a butterfly or moth. Butterflies are among the planet's most majestic creatures, their delicate forms sprinkled with brilliant color and rich with texture. Spectacular images of butterflies are complemented by a wealth of detail on the ecology, anatomy, behavior, and life cycle of lepidopterans. 2006, Harry N. Abrams

Coast RedwoodCoast Redwood: A Natural and Cultural History
Michael G. Barbour

This book combines magnificent photographs as well as historical, scientific, and cultural information about the redwood forest. It details how the management and conservation of coastal redwoods has for well over a century been a focus of popular passions and public policies. 2001, Cachuma Press

The Condor's ShadowThe Condor's Shadow: The Loss and Recovery of Wildlife in America
David S. Wilcove

Environmental Defense Fund ecologist Wilcove's important report takes the reader on a chilling tour of the killing fields of America: the abused ecosystems where one-third of all U.S plant and animal species are in immediate danger of extinction or are severly threatened. This eloquent study is written from an ecological perspective showing how the disruption of one element in an ecosystem affects all components of the larger system. 2000, Anchor

The DeepThe Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss
Claire Nouvian

Only five percent of the sea floor has been mapped, and scientists estimate that there are between ten million and thrity million species in the deep yet to be found by man. The ones that we do know are gloriously bizarre creatures that bear weird names such as Naked Sea Butterflies, Spook Fish, Pig Butt Worms, Glass Head Grenadiers, and Yeti Crabs. This stunning collection of color photos brings these deep-sea denizens alive. 2007, University of Chicago Press

The Diversity of FishesThe Diversity of Fishes
Gene S. Helfman

"The Diversity of Fishes is a massive enterprise. The book explores the diversity of fish in terms of anatomy, taxonomy, phylogeny, physiology, ecology and behavior, even science history, and also importantly, their future." 1997, Wiley

The Diversity of Life
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The Diversity of Life
Edward O. Wilson

In this book a master scientist tells the story of how life on earth evolved. Pulitzer Prize winner Wilson eloquently describes how the species of the world became diverse and why that diversity is threatened today as never before. "The most important scientific book of the year." The Boston Globe 2010, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press


Dolphin societiesDolphin Societies: Discoveries and Puzzles
Karen Pryor, Kenneth S. Norris

This edited collection of articles covers field and aquarium studies on whale and dolphin communication. The chapters cover a variety of topics such as the behavior of dolphins inside tuna nets, analyses of feeding and hunting strategies and many other facets of cetacean behavior. 1998, University of California Press

Evolution of the InsectsEvolution of the Insects
David Grimaldi

Put all of the insects on the Earth on a giant scale, and they will outweigh all other animals, whales and elephants included. Insects are ecologically essential. If all humans decided to leave for Mars, life on Earth would not change much. But if the insects disappeared, catastrophe would ensue: forests would collapse, rivers and oceans would be poisoned, and many other animals would starve. This book chronicles the amazing success story of insects with text, photos, line drawings, and diagrams. 2005, Cambridge University Press

The Evolution of PlantsThe Evolution of Plants
K. J. Willis

This engagingly written book incorporates many recent studies on the morphological evolution of plants and enlivens the subject with current research on ancient DNA and other biomolecular markers. It clearly explains plant evolution in the context of climate change and mass extinction. 2002, Oxford University Press

Eye of the AlbatrossEye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival
Carl Safina

In this dazzling volume, Safina, a MacArthur award recipient, recounts his travels to remote portions of the northwest Hawaiian Islands to witness albatross breeding season, during which parent birds fly across entire oceans as much as 25,000 miles to hunt sufficient food to nourish their single chicks. This book eloquently tells a story of struggle and hope and the power of sheer persistence and life's resilience.
Winner, John Burroughs Medal for Natural History
2003, Owl Books

Forest Giants of the Pacific Coast

Nature and Environmental Book Review

Forest Giants of the Pacific Coast
Robert Van Pelt

This passionately beautiful account of giant trees focuses on magnificent individual specimens of Pacific Coast conifers. Featured in the book are the author's compelling line drawings of the trees, which capture the structural complexity of their crowns in a way not possible with photographs. A must for all tree lovers. 2002, University of Washington Press



Forest PrimevalForest Primeval: The Natural History of an Ancient Forest
Chris Maser

This unique 'biography' encompasses a thousand years of the natural history and evolution of an old-growth forest in the western Cascade Mountains of Oregon. Forest Primeval traces the life cycle of a forest from its fiery inception in the year 987 to the present day, when logging threatens the forest and its inhabitants. 2001, Oregon State University Press

HispaniolaHispaniola: A Photographic Journey through Island Biodiversity
Eladio Fernández, Timothy J. Baroni, Brian Farrell, Ricardo García

A short flight from the Florida coast, Hispaniola offers unique opportunities to evolutionary biologists. At 40 million years, Hispaniola is far older than the Galapagos. Its considerable age, along with the diversity of its habitats makes this island one of the most spectacular troves of biota on the planet. This extraordinary richness of species is showcased here in nearly 400 photographs, accompanied by essays by the experts who know them best. 2007, Belknap Press; Bilingual edition

James Cameron's Aliens of the DeepJames Cameron's Aliens of the Deep: Voyages to the Strange World of the Deep Ocean
Joe Macinnis

Acadamy Award-winning film maker, James Cameron, and scientist, Joe Macinnis, collaborate to take readers miles below the sea to hydrothermal vents where super-heated water flows from the earth's crust into the cold deep ocean. These vents are surprising oases of life, unknown until 1970 and still largely unexplored. Stunning photographs of undersea creatures are accompanied by an illuminating text. 2005, National Geographic

Large Carnivores and the Conservation of BiodiversityLarge Carnivores and the Conservation of Biodiversity
Justina Ray,, editors

Large Carnivores and the Conservation of Biodiversity is the first detailed, broad-scale examination of the empirical evidence regarding the role of large carnivores in biodiversity conservation in both marine and terrestrial ecosystems. It contributes to a much more precise and global understanding of when, where, and whether protecting and restoring top predators will directly contribute to the conservation of biodiversity. Everyone concerned with ecology, biodiversity, or large carnivores will find this volume a unique and thought-provoking analysis and synthesis. 2005, Island Press

The Last Tasmanian TigerThe Last Tasmanian Tiger: The History and Extinction of the Thylacine
Robert Paddle

An insightful examination of the history and extinction of one of Australia's most enduring folkloric beasts, the book argues that rural politicians, ineffective political action by scientists, and a deeper intellectual prejudice about the inferiority of marsupials actually resulted in the extinction of this once proud species. 2002, Cambridge University Press

Life in the UndergrowthLife in the Undergrowth
David Attenborough

This wonderful exploration of invertebrates exceeds the requirements for a great nature book through the strength of its photographs and the quality of its prose. It traces the broad history of the development of the vast invertebrate world which constitutes by far the greatest numbers of both species and individuals on earth. 2006, Princeton University Press

Listening to WhalesListening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us
Alexandra Morton

Morton writes eloquently of the orcas' social groupings, strong mother-child bonds, migration patterns, and interactions with humans. Her book graphically describes the effects of fish farming, logging, development, and whale-watching expeditions on the environment. 2005, Ballantine Books

Terry A. Vaughan

Mammalian diversity - and the remarkable adaptations of living and fossil mammals - are the topic of this updated version of the standard text on mammalian biology. 1999, Brooks Cole

Marine Conservation BiologyMarine Conservation Biology: The Science of Maintaining the Sea's Biodiversity
Marine Conservation Biology Institute

This book brings together for the first time in a single volume leading experts from around the world to apply the lessons and thinking of conservation biology to marine issues. The contributors offer penetrating insights on the nature of marine biodiversity, what threatens it, and what humans can and must do to recover the biological integrity of the world's estuaries, coastal seas, and oceans. 2005, Island Press

Microbial Ecology of the OceansMicrobial Ecology of the Oceans
David L. Kirchman

This book focuses on the processes related to global carbon cycling and studies the role of viruses in determining species diversity of marine microbes, the controls of bacterial growth rates and production, viability of marine bacteria, marine symbiosis, and thermal vents as the source of marine hyperthermophiles. 2000, Wiley-Liss

No Way Home

Nature and Environmental Book Review

No Way Home: The Decline of the World's Great Animal Migrations
David S. Wilcove

Today's migratory travelers face unprecedented dangers. Skyscrapers and cell towers lure birds and bats to untimely deaths; fences and farms block herds of antelop;, salmon are caught en route between ocean and rive;, breeding and wintering grounds are paved over or plowed under; and global warming disrupts the synchronized schedules of predators and prey. Wilcove writes, "Protecting the abundance of migration is key to protecting the glory of migration." This book offers powerful inspiration to preserve those glorious journeys. 2007, Island Press



Robert Dinwiddie

This magnificient volume encourages eyes, mind and spirit to attend more closely to the fragile otherworld of the ocean. Crafted by devoted scientists and visual artists, Ocean offers page after page of stunning images and vital information. 2008, DK Adult

One PlanetOne Planet: A Celebration of Biodiversity
Nicolas Hulot

Text and photographs of eight ecosystems - oceans, deserts, grasslands, polar regions, wetlands, mountains, forests, and cities - portray the beauty of the natural world as well as images of its destruction. This splendid and bracing global overview summons up a renewed sense of connection and commitment to the planet. 2006, Harry N. Abrams

Franklin B. Gill

This encyclopedic compendium of knowledge of everything ornithological is filled with intriguing, delightful and thought-provoking information, including explanation of avian behavior, intelligence, biology, sensory abilities, and navagation. 2006, W.H. Freeman

Precious Heritage
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Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States
Bruce A. Stein

This comprehensive book analyzes patterns of biological diversity in the U.S. The country's 200,000 species are not faring well. Roughly one-third are at risk: 500 are already extinct or missing. Precious Heritage identifies the first ever "hot spots" where conservation efforts would be especially important and challlenges us to consider the scale of habitat conservation that will be needed to protect entire ecological systems. 2000, Oxford University Press

Thomas Marent

In this evocative work of dazzling photographs, each inhabitant of the rainforest becomes memorable for its clever camouflage, ingenious coexistence with the other species of this fragile world, or even its sheer size, in the case of the 42-inch wide Rafflesia flower. An invaluable survey of the rainforest's abundance and diversity of life. 2010, DK Publishing

The Redwood ForestThe Redwood Forest: History, Ecology, and Conservation of the Coast Redwoods
Save-the-Redwoods League

The Redwood Forest offers a case study for ecosystem-level conservation and gives conservation organizations the information, technical tools, and broad perspective they need to evaluate redwood sites and landscapes for conservation. It contains the latest information from ground-breaking research on such topics as redwood canopy communities, the role of fog in sustaining redwood forests, and the function of redwood burls. 1999, Island Press

SociobiologySociobiology: The New Synthesis, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition
Edward O. Wilson

Sociobiology attempts to explain biologically why groups of animals behave the way they do when finding food or shelter, confronting enemies, or getting along with one another. Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Wilson explains how group selection, altruism, hierarchies, and sexual selection work in populations of animals and identifies evolutionary trends and sociobiological characteristics of all animal groups, up to and including man. A classic work. 2000, Belknap Press

Song for the Blue Ocean
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Song for the Blue Ocean: Encounters Along the World's Coasts and Beneath the Seas
Carl Safina

In this lyrical and heartfelt account of the North Atlantic Blue Tuna and Pacific Salmon, Safina describes how populations have fallen by more than 90% in just the last few decades - the result of changing global temperatures, overfishing, pollution, and inland watershed destruction. Safina argues that we must extend our sense of biological community to ocean animals before it is too late.  1999, Owl Books

Sparing NatureSparing Nature: The Conflict Between Human Population Growth and Earth's Biodiversity
Jeffrey K. McKee

Every day there is a net gain of more than 200,000 people on the planet. McKee demonstrates that nature is too sparing to accomodate both a richly diverse living world and a rapidly expanding number of people. He argues that the single most effective measure to save earth's biodiversity is to slow the growth of human populations. 2005, Rutgers University Press

Species Diversity in Space and TimeSpecies Diversity in Space and Time
Michael L. Rosenzweig

Species diversity is marked by some interesting facts - such as larger areas have more species, and diversity is particularly high near the equator. As evolutionary ecologists race to understand biodiversity before it is too late, this book will help set the agenda for diversity research. 1995, Cambridge University Press

Sustaining LifeSustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity
Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein, editors

The massive scientific effort reported by Sustaining Life has a surprising finding: species diversity acts as a kind of insurance policy for humans, by buffering stresses to the environment. The "mosaic of ecosystems" provide "services" (food, timber, air and water purification, waste decomposition, climate regulation) necessary for life that, due to their complexity and scale, are almost impossible to substitute. Natural systems are robust but vulnerable: the vultures of southern Asia, for instance, are threatened with extinction because their natural diet-carrion-has been poisoned with medicine routinely prescribed for livestock and humans. Criticizing modern, industrial-scale marine fishing and agricultural practices, this volume holds forth organic farming as a viable alternative.
2008, Oxford University Press

Voyage of the TurtleVoyage of the Turtle: In Pursuit of the Earth's Last Dinosaur
Carl Safina

MacArthur fellow Safina presents an impassioned account of the plight of ocean-dwelling turtles, especially the largest, the leatherback -- "the closest thing we have to a living dinosaur." Leatherbacks, which can weigh over a ton, range across the oceans to nesting sites on beaches along the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards. Human activities threaten these turtles with extinction: poaching, longline fishing nets in which the turtles can drown and depletion of the turtles' food supply due to overfishing and global warming. Safina's eloquent book is a battle cry in the struggle for the survival of one of the world's most beautiful and endangered creatures. 2007, Holt

When Life Nearly DiedWhen Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time
M.J. Benton

The Permian extinction event which occurred 250 million years ago was the earth's most severe, with 96% of all marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species becoming extinct. The recovery of life on earth took significantly longer than after other extinction events. This book tells this fascinating story and draws parallels to the global crises of our time. 2005, Thames & Hudson

Where Worlds CollideWhere Worlds Collide: The Wallace Line
Penny Van Oosterzee

This lively historical narrative tells the story of Alfred Russel Wallace, the father of biogeography whose legacy is the Wallace Line, a faunal barrier separating the Asian from the Australian: monkeys from kangaroos, weaver birds from cockatoos, and pheasants from parrots. This invisible boundary and the difference between the species it divides catalyzed Wallace's theory of evolution and prodded Darwin to articulate his own theory. 1997, Cornell University Press

Wildlife Ecology, Conservation and ManagementWildlife Ecology, Conservation and Management
A.R.E. Sinclair

The first genuine integration of the three all-too-disconnected disciplines of the title, Wildlife Ecology presents an up-to-date overview including the latest theories on population dynamics and conservation. 2005, Wiley

Win-Win EcologyWin-Win Ecology: How the Earth's Species Can Survive in the Mmidst of Human Enterprise
Michael L. Rosenzweig

Rosenzweig explains the revolutionary common ground between development and conservation, called reconciliation ecology: creating and maintaining species-friendly habitats in the very places where people live, work, or play. The Nature Conservancy, for instance, has a cooperative agreement with the Department of Defense, with more than 200 conservation projects taking place on more than 170 bases in 41 states. The book shows that reconciliation ecology is the missing tool of conservation, the practical, scientifically-based approach that, when added to the rest, will solve the problem of preserving Earth's species. 2003, Oxford University Press

World Atlas of BiodiversityWorld Atlas of Biodiversity: Earth's Living Resources in the 21st Century
Brian Groombridge and Martin D. Jenkins

Filled with an amazing breadth of textual information, World Atlas of Biodiversity is arranged into eight thematic chapters. The first four of these cover the biosphere, the phylogenetic tree, changes in biodiversity on a geological timescale, and human needs and impacts. The next three chapters deal with issues in terrestrial, marine, and inland water biodiversity, and the final chapter addresses global management responses. 2002, University of California Press

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