Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books




Watchlist 2007, the Audobon Society’s recent report on the welfare of birds in America, reports that nearly a quarter of the 700 bird species in America are threatened, usually by direct human activity, like development and gas and oil production . . . learn more about Conservation»

Conservation of our planetary heritage – the land, the water, and the living things which occupy this biosphere – is of pressing urgency. The books recommended in this section address the theory and practice of conservation and ecosystem preservation and restoration.

Recommended Books on Conservation

Blessed Unrest
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Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming
Paul Hawken

Environmentalist Paul Hawken believes that we are in the midst of a world-changing rise of activist groups, all "working toward ecological sustainability and social justice." Neither ideological nor centralized, this coalescence of activism is a spontaneous and organic response to the recognition that environmental problems are social-justice problems. Hawken compares this gathering of forces to the human immune system as people are joining together to defend life on Earth. Hopeful and inspiring. 2008, Penguin

Buying NatureBuying Nature: The Limits of Land Acquisition as a Conservation Strategy, 1780-2004
Sally K. Fairfax,

Buying Nature chronicles the evolution of land acquisition as a conservation strategy in the United States since the late 1700s. It goes beyond the usual focus on conservation successes to provide a critical assessment of both public and private land acquisition efforts. The book documents growing complexity in transactions and a blurring of public and private roles. The current emphasis on private land trust acquisitions, the authors argue, may undercut other effective governmental efforts to preserve the environment and may not be the best way to meet conservation goals. 2005, MIT Press

Conservation BiologyConservation Biology: Foundations, Concepts, Applications
Fred Van Dyke

This basic text focuses on the preservation of worldwide biodiversity through the conservation of habitats and restoration of ecosystems. A contemporary, interdisciplinary approach featuring vivid illustrations and an engaging writing style. 2008, Springer

ConservationConservation: Linking Ecology, Economics, and Culture
Monique Borgerhoff Mulder

Nearly ninety percent of the earth's land surface is directly affected by human infrastructure and activities, yet less than 5% is legally "protected" for biodiversity conservation - and even most large protected areas have people living inside their boundaries. Conservation and people must thus co-exist. This book points the way to reconciling biodiversity with human livelihoods. 2003, Princeton University Press

Conservation Through Cultural SurvivalConservation Through Cultural Survival: Indigenous Peoples And Protected Areas
Stanley Stevens

For more than a century the establishment of natural parks and protected areas was a major threat to the survival of indigenous people. Today such tragic conflicts are being superceded by new alliances for conservation. This book assesses cutting-edge efforts to establish new kinds of protected areas which are based on partnerships with indigenous peoples. 1997, Island Press

Contested Nature
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Contested Nature: Promoting International Biodiversity and Social Justice in the Twenty-First Century
Steven R. Brechin

How can the international conservation movement protect biological diversity, while at the same time safeguarding the rights and fulfilling the needs of people, particularly the poor? Contested Nature argues that to be successful in the long term, social justice and biological conservation must go hand in hand. The protection of nature is a complex social enterprise, and much more a process of politics, and of human organization, than ecology. Using case studies, the book shows that pursuing social justice enhances biodiversity conservation rather than diminishing it, and that the fate of local peoples and that of conservation are completely intertwined. 2003, State University of New York Press


The Empty OceanThe Empty Ocean
Richard Ellis

Author and illustrator Ellis uses his considerable narrative skills, along with his deft illustrator's hand, to recount the worldwide saga of human predation in the oceans. This is a historical compendium rich in anecdote, lore and details of the natural life of water-dwelling creatures. The animals discussed are not limited to the commonly known, commercially important fish and the familiar intelligent sea mammals, but also looks into the fate of lesser known seabirds and the delicate limestone formations we know as coral reefs. 2004, Island Press

The Final ForestThe Final Forest: The Battle for the Last Great Trees of the Pacific Northwest
William Dietrich

Author Dietrich, the Pulitizer Prize-winning chief science correspondent for the Seattle Times here examines the many sides of the ongoing debate over the logging of America's last remaining ancient forest on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. The author contends that the US government's short-sighted policies have not only led to loss of dignity and self-respect for the loggers, but also to the unecessary destruction of thousands of acres of old-growth trees. 1993, Penguin

Freshwater Ecoregions of North AmericaFreshwater Ecoregions of North America: A Conservation Assessment
Robin Abell

North America's freshwater habitats and the extraordinary biodiversity they contain are facing unprecedented threats from flow alteration, habitat fragmentation, introduced species, and overall land use changes. This authoritative reference from World Wildlife Fund assesses the current status of freshwater ecoregions and outlines measures that must be taken to conserve and restore native biodiversity. 1999, Island Press

From Walden to Wall StreetFrom Walden to Wall Street: Frontiers of Conservation Finance
James N. Levitt, editor

From Walden to Wall Street brings together the experience of more than a dozen pioneering conservation finance practitioners to address the daunting funding gap facing conservationists working to protect America’s landscapes that provide sustainable resources, water and wildlife habitat. Contributors present groundbreaking ideas including mainstreaming environmental markets; government ballot measures for land conservations; convertible tax-exempt financing; and private equity markets. 2005, Island Press

Fundamentals of Conservation BiologyFundamentals of Conservation Biology
Malcolm L., Jr. Hunter and James P. Gibbs

Starting with a succinct look at conservation and biodiversity this inclusive text explicates some of the subject's most complex topics such as mass extinctions, ecosystem degradation, and over-exploitation. 2006, Wiley

Hot, Flat, and CrowdedHot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America
Thomas L. Friedman

NY Times columnist Friedman takes a fresh look at two of the biggest challenges we face today: America’s surprising loss of focus and national purpose since 9/11; and the global environmental crisis, which is affecting everything from food to fuel to forests. He explains how global warming, rapidly growing populations, and the astonishing expansion of the world’s middle class through globalization have produced a planet that is “hot, flat, and crowded.” In this provocative new book, he shows how the United States can step up now and take the lead in a worldwide effort to replace our wasteful, inefficient energy practices with a strategy for clean energy, energy efficiency, and conservation that Friedman calls Code Green. 2008, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Investing in NatureInvesting in Nature: Case Studies of Land Conservation in Collaboration with Business
William Ginn

In 2004, consumers spent $5 billion purchasing bottled water while the US government only invested 5 percent of that amount to purchase critical watersheds, parks, and wildlife refuges. How can we reverse the direction of such powerful economic forces? A group of dedicated environmental entrepreneurs is pioneering a new set of tools for land conservation deals. Drawing on his vast experience William Ginn offers a practical guide to these innovative methods and a road map to the most effective way to implement them. 2005, Island Press

Lament for an OceanLament for an Ocean
Michael Harris

The northern cod have been almost wiped out. Once the most plentiful fish on the Grand Banks off the coast of Newfoundland, the cod is now on the brink of extinction. In Lament for an Ocean, Michael Harris investigates the real causes of the most wanton destruction of a natural resource in North American history since the buffalo were wiped off the face of the prairies. The story he carefully unfolds is the sorry tale of how, despite the repeated and urgent warnings of ocean scientists, the northern cod was ruthlessly exploited. 1999, McClelland and Stewart

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 Flight of the Scarlet MacawThe Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman's Fight to Save the World's Most Beautiful Bird
Bruce Barcott

The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw is the dramatic story of one woman's struggle to save the scarlet macaw in the tiny country of Belize. Sharon Matola, an eccentric American who directs the Belize Zoo, learned in 1999 that a Canadian power company planned to build a dam that would destroy the habitat of the 200 scarlet macaws remaining in Belize. Helped by native Belizeans and the Natural Resources Defense Council, Matola mounted a six-year campaign against the dam, But the combined forces of a determined corporation and a corrupt government were unrelenting. Barcott's compelling narrative is suspenseful right up to the last moment. 2009, Random House

Life in the Valley of DeathLife in the Valley of Death: The Fight to Save Tigers in a Land of Guns, Gold, and Greed
Alan Rabinowitz

The New York Times dubbed Alan Rabinowitz "the Indiana Jones of wildlife science." He has devoted - and risked - his life to protect endangered species. The lush Hukaung Valley of Myanmar is home to one of the largest tiger populations outside of India - a population threatened by rampant poaching and the recent encroachment of gold prospectors. In forests reviled as the valley of death, Rabinowitz finds new life for himself, for communities haunted by poverty and violence, and for the tigers he vowed to protect. 2007, Island Press

Myth and Reality in the Rain ForestMyth and Reality in the Rain Forest: How Conservation Strategies Are Failing in West Africa
John F. Oats

Primate ecologist Oates disagrees with current conservation theory, holding that wildlife can best be protected through the promotion of human economic development and points out that this development has had disastrous consequences for many wildlife populations, especially in West Africa. He believes that large scale political, social, and economic reforms are the most effective approach to conservation in the Third World. 1999, University of California Press

The Myth of Wild AfricaThe Myth of Wild Africa: Conservation Without Illusion
Jonathan S. Adams and Thomas O. McShane

The "myth of wild Africa" is the false notion that Africa was ever a continent untouched by the hand of man, and that its wildlife can be conserved without winning the support of its people. Romantic Western ideals of wildlife conservation are less important than pragmatic and cooperative conservation solutions with the peoples of Africa. 1997, University of California Press

Natural ConnectionsNatural Connections: Perspectives In Community-Based Conservation
David Western

Natural Connections focuses on rural societies and the conservation of biodiversity in rural areas. It offers a systematic analysis of locally-based efforts, and includes a comprehensive examination of cases from around the world where a community-based approach is used. 1994, Island Press

Nature by DesignNature by Design: People, Natural Process, and Ecological Restoration
Eric Higgs

Ecological restoration-- the process of repairing human damage to ecosystems -- involves reintroducing missing plants and animals, rebuilding soils, eliminating hazardous substances, ripping up roads, and returning natural processes such as fire and flooding to places that thrive on their regular occurrence. Thousands of these restoration projects take place in North America every year. In Nature by Design, Eric Higgs argues that profound philosophical and cultural shifts accompany these projects. He explores the ethical and philosophical bases of restoration and the question of what constitutes good ecological restoration. 2003, MIT Press

Nature's KeepersNature's Keepers: The Remarkable Story of How the Nature Conservancy Became the Largest Environmental Group in the World
Bill Birchard

This generally admiring portrait of The Nature Conservancy, the organization that preserves uniquely functioning ecosystems, focuses on nine personalities who made a difference. It is a matchless tale of a half century of organizational growth and renewal leading up to the Nature Conservancy's recently announced goal of preserving ten percent of every ecosystem on earth. 2005, Jossey-Bass

Nature UnboundNature Unbound: The Past, Present and Future of Protected Areas
Jim Igoe, Dan Brockington and Rosaleen Duffy

This groundbreaking volume is the first comprehensive examination of the rise of protected areas and their current social and economic position in our world. It examines the social impacts of protected areas, the conflicts that surround them, the alternatives to them and the conceptual categories they impose. Nature Unbound explores key debates on devolution, participation and democracy; the role and uniqueness of indigenous peoples and other local communities; institutions and resource management; hegemony, myth and symbolic power in conservation success stories; tourism, poverty and conservation; and the transformation of social and material relations which community conservation entails. 2008, Earthscan Publications

Parks in PerilParks in Peril: People, Politics, and Protected Areas
Katrina Brandon

Using the experience of the Parks in Peril Program, this book presents a broad analysis of current trends in park management and the implications for biodiversity conservation. Case studies highlight the interaction of ecosystems, local peoples, and policy in park management, describing future directions that can ensure long-term biodiversity conservation. 1998, Island Press

A Primer of Conservatio BiologyA Primer of Conservation Biology
Richard B. Primack

Dr. Primack focuses on the value of biological diversity, the threats to biological diversity, conservation at the population and species levels, protecting and managing habitats and ecosystems, and human societies and sustainable development. The book provides many examples of successful conservation approaches. 2004, Sinauer Associates

Requiem for NatureRequiem for Nature
John Terborgh

Terborgh, a tropical biologist, believes that the realities of economic development are such that where the needs of humans are weighed against the needs of the natural world, nature always loses. He believes that national conservation funds, strict policing of protected areas and the internationalization of nature protection offer hope for improving the situation. 2004, Island Press

The Return of the Wolf to YellowstoneThe Return of the Wolf to Yellowstone
Thomas McNamee

The recent reintroduction of the gray wolf to Yellowstone Park after an absence of 70 years is considered by many to be one of the true conservation highlights of this century. This richly detailed and colorful account of the restoration project covers all the bases: the history, the politics, the characters (both human and animal), and the events including the trapping in Canada, the problematic release, and the illegal shooting of Wolf Number Ten near the town of Red Lodge, Montana, and the subsequent manhunt. 1998, Owl Books

Rewilding of North America
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Rewilding North America: A Vision For Conservation In The 21St Century
Dave Foreman

Activist Dave Foreman details human impacts on species survival, including direct killing, habitat loss and fragmentation, introduction of exotic species, and climate change. He shows how wildlands networks instead of isolated protected areas are the logical next step for the conservation movement. An inspiring and empowering call to action for scientists, activists and laypeople. 2004, Island Press


Saving America's WildlifeSaving America's Wildlife: Ecology and the American Mind, 1850-1990
Thomas Dunlap

Between the mid-19th century, when wolves, coyotes and other predator animals were indiscriminately slaughtered, and today, when efforts to reintroduce these animals into the wild are well under way, lie years of radical change in American attitudes toward wildlife and the environment. Professor Dunlap traces this change, describing developments in ecology and the humane movement that have affected government policies. The book puts into perspective our changing ideas about nature and demonstrates how difficult and complicated are the processes of making and enforcing laws to protect the environment. 1991, Princeton University Press

In Service of the WildIn Service of the Wild: Restoring and Reinhabiting Damaged Land
Stephanie Mills

According to Stephanie Mills, "ecological restoration is the art and science of repairing damaged ecosystems to the greatest possible degree of historic authenticity." In her book In Service of the Wild she bridges the gap between art and science, combining a loving description of the 35 acres in northern Michigan she calls home with a detailed analysis of five well-known restoration projects: Aldo Leopold's Sandy County Midwestern farm, which is acknowledged to be the birthplace of the restoration movement; the University of Wisconsin at Madison's arboretum; prairie preserves in and around Chicago; the Mattole River in Northern California; and Auroville, a self-sufficient, ecologically attuned village in tropical India. Interviews with the professionals and amateurs involved in the projects bring each to life. 1996, Beacon Press

Silence of the SongbirdsSilence of the Songbirds: How We Are Losing the World's Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them
Bridget Stutchbury

Prof. Stutchbury paints a complex picture of the current condition of songbirds and their habitats. Songbird populations are decreasing due to industrialization and development. In their tropical winter homes, habitat is shrinking from deforestation. In their North American breeding grounds, invasive cowbirds sneak into their nests and replace songbird eggs with their own, house cats kill millions every year and logging threatens the birds' boreal forest homes. During their long, always treacherous migrations, they encounter many 21st-century perils: city lights that distract from guiding stars, and perilous radio towers and wind turbines. The good news is that we can help the birds survive, by buying shade-grown coffee and turning out city lights at night, among other ways. 2007, Walker & Company

Tending the WildTending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources
M. Kat Anderson

John Muir believed that much of California was pristine, untouched wilderness before the arrival of Europeans. But as this groundbreaking book demonstrates, what Muir was really seeing were the fertile gardens of the Sierra Miwok and Valley Yokuts Indians, modified and made productive by centuries of harvesting, tilling, sowing, pruning, and burning. Marvelously detailed and beautifully written, Tending the Wild is an unparalleled examination of Native American knowledge and uses of California's natural resources that reshapes our understanding of native cultures and shows how we might begin to use their knowledge in our own conservation efforts. 2006, University of California Press

Terrestrial Ecoregions of North AmericaTerrestrial Ecoregions of North America: A Conservation Assessment
Taylor H. Ricketts

Using a rigorous ecoregion-based approach a team of scientists from World Wildlife Fund has produced this stunning and comprehensive assessment of the current status of biodiversity of North America north of Mexico. This volume provides a road map to the ecoregion-based approach that has been adopted by many conservation groups as the most effective way to ward off massive losses of biodiversity. 1999, Island Press

The Unnatural History of the Sea

Nature and Environmental Book Review

The Unnatural History of the Sea
Callum Roberts

Marine conservation biologist Roberts presents a devastating account of the effects of fishing on the sea. Once-abundant acquatic life has declined to the point where we probably have less than 5% of the total mass of fish that once swam in Europe's seas. Industrial fishing has virtually eliminated entire species. He argues persuasively for the establishment of marine reserves - protected areas where fish stocks have a chance to recover. This book is a vivid reminder of what we've lost and a plea to save what is left. 2007, Island Press



The Whale WarriorsThe Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet's Largest Mammals
Peter Heller

Adventure writer Heller joined Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship Farley Mowat during their 2005 campaign against the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctica, and the result is this intimate and hair-raising eco-adventure. After weeks of heavy seas, fog, iceberg dodging, and cat-and-mouse with the whalers, the Farley finally encounters the Japanese fleet on Christmas day in a Force 8 gale. The reader rides the rush of adreneline and feels the dedication and passion of the Sea Shepherds as they fight to save the whales. 2007, Free Press

Where the Land is GreenerWhere the Land is Greener: Case Studies and Analysis of Soil and Water Conservation Initiatives Worldwide
United Nations Environment Programme

Where the Land is Greener evaluates case studies of soil and water conservation from a global perspective. 42 different conservation technologies and 28 unique approaches from more than twenty countries are described with photographs, graphs and line drawings. These case studies can provide a prototype for national and regional compilations of sustainable land management practices. 2007, United Nations Environment Programme

Whole Earth DisciplineWhole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary
Stewart Brand

Brand, co-author of the Whole Earth Catalog, compiles reflections and lessons learned from more than 40 years as an environmentalist in this compelling attempt to inspire practical and sustainable solutions to climate change. Brand believes environmentalists must embrace nuclear energy expansion and other inevitable technological advances, and refreshingly suggests a shift in the environmentalists' dogmatic approach to combating climate change. His fresh perspective, approachable writing style and manifest wisdom ultimately convince the reader that the future is not an apocalyptic catastrophe to be feared but an opportunity for innovative problem solvers to embrace enthusiastically. 2010, Penguin

Wilderness and the American MindWilderness and the American Mind
Roderick Nash

Roderick Nash's classic study of America's changing attitudes toward wilderness has received wide acclaim since its initial publication in 1967. The Los Angeles Times has listed it among the 100 most influential books published in the last 25 years; Outside Magazine has included it in a survey of "books that changed our world;" and it has been called the "Book of Genesis for environmentalists." Now a fourth edition of this highly regarded work is available, with a new preface and epilogue in which Nash explores the future of wilderness and reflects on its ethical and biocentric relevance. 2001, Yale 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

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