Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Grizzlies, Pandas and Polar Bears - The Bears

Cave bears fascinated early man for their intelligence and strength. Throughout human history bears and men have warily regarded each other, as dangerous rivals for the title of apex predator. And today, even though humans have clearly won that competition as bears’ habitat continues to shrink and their populations are diminished, when a bear and human go one-on-one it often makes page one news, with an unsatisfactory outcome for the human. After the alarm, however, the humans get organized and the bear almost always loses his life.

We have an ambivalent feeling for bears. On the one hand, bears are the most common childhood stuffed toy. They are cute and cuddly and soft, and kids love having them in their beds. On the other hand, we fear bears and push them further and further away from human settlements. This is a problem, for bears often cover large distances as they hunt and forage. In the spring and summer of 2011, a brown bear is believed to have wandered through four states in the Southeast U.S.

Polar bears are at great risk because their habitat is being rapidly changed due to global warming. They depend upon the frozen Arctic Sea to allow them to roam widely. As more of the polar ice cap thaws and does not refreeze, it is unknown if or how the bears can adapt.

The bear books recommended below include the most comprehensive fieldwork studies of several species of bears; first person accounts of longstanding interactions with bears; and stunning videos and books of photography of bears.

Recommended Books and DVDs on Grizzlies, Pandas and Polar Bears

The Essential GrizzlyThe Essential Grizzly: The Mingled Fates of Men and Bears
Doug Peacock and Andrea Peacock

Doug and Andrea Peacock explore the broad range of human-grizzly bear relationships, primarily through integrating interviews with a wide variety of individuals who have had experiences with the large carnivorous mammals, including hunters, biologists, photographers, mauling victims, conservationists, Native Americans, and many others. They include “biographies” of particular bears they’ve come to know in the wild. The closing chapter consists of practical advice and precautions to take when traveling on foot in grizzly country. This is a touching, informative book about these magnificent creatures and their misfortune in increasingly overlapping habitat with humans. 2006, The Lyons Press

In the Company of Wild Bears
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

In the Company of Wild Bears: A Celebration of Backcountry Grizzlies and Black Bears
Howard Smith and Michael H. Francis

Author Smith delivers a loving tribute to the Ursidae family that will delight animal enthusiasts, combining accounts of his true-life encounters with bears across North America with no-nonsense sidebars that dispense useful information for people interested in seeing bears firsthand. (One tip: "Play dead if touched by a grizzly. Fight back if touched by a black bear.") This lavishly illustrated book is a fascinating compendium of bear information. 2006, The Lyons Press

The Grizzlies of Mount McKinleyThe Grizzlies of Mount McKinley
Adolph Murie

For twenty-five years, Adolph Murie spent his summers in Denali National Park tracking, recording, and interpreting the lives of these magnificent animals in one of their few remaining strongholds. Murie observed the grizzlies as they moved throughout their range, noting how families were formed, how they found food, and describing in detail how they related to other animals with whom they came in contact, including man. Often he followed a bear family for days as it traveled through the park. Even though their behavior could be quite unpredictable, Murie was able to distinguish, through careful observation, the individuals who made up many distinct families. Classic natural history. 1985, University of Washing Press

Grizzly BearGrizzly Bear
Thomas McNamee

Veteran nature writer McNamee took on Ursus arctos horribilis in Grizzly Bear, which blends a wealth of scientific fact with a fine literary style. Rather than providing a simple portrait of the bear, McNamee follows the lives of a fictitious mother bear and her cubs from April to October, including facts about their growth, behavior, diet, and development based on the observations of grizzly specialists. This book can stand with the classic treatises on grizzlies and with the lyric nature writing of Carson and Dillard. 1997, The Lyons Press

Grizzly ManGrizzly Man (DVD)
Werner Herzog, director

In this mesmerizing new film, acclaimed director Werner Herzog explores the life and death of amateur grizzly bear expert and wildlife preservationist Timothy Treadwell. Treadwell lived unarmed among the bears for thirteen summers, and filmed his adventures in the wild during his final five seasons. In October 2003, Treadwell’s remains, along with those of his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were discovered near their campsite in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Reserve. This seemingly inevitable fate informs every minute of Herzog's riveting combination of Treadwell's video with his own expert filmmaking and unique vision of nature and man. Whereas Treadwell was a naïve nature-lover and social outcast whose sanity was slowly slipping away, Herzog is a pragmatic mythologist who views nature primarily in terms of "chaos, hostility, and murder," and the disparity of their vision results in a magnetic attraction that makes the sum of Grizzly Man greater than its parts. 2005, Lions Gate

Grizzly YearsGrizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness
Doug Peacock

Returning from the war in Vietnam, Peacock sought solitude and peace of mind in the wilderness. Grizzly bears, he writes, saved his life; now he is committed to their survival. From the late '60s through the '80s, he followed and filmed these animals in an attempt to assemble a collective portrait of all grizzlies south of Canada. Traveling on foot through trailless areas of Glacier and Yellowstone parks and into the Southwest desert and Mexico, he observed the bears feeding, denning and playing. While one of the grizzlies' attractions for Peacock is their unpredictability, he discusses attacks and offers practical advice on safety. This is natural history writing of a high order. 1996, Owl Books

The Last PandaThe Last Panda
George B. Schaller

Only George Schaller, the intrepid and clear-eyed biologist and author, could have written this book. In 1980 Schaller became the first foreigner allowed to study the panda in its native habitat, in China's Sichuan Province. Five years later he emerged shaken and angered by what he saw as mismanagement leading to the panda's decline. Schaller is unafraid to criticize the Chinese government, the U.S. government, even the World Wildlife Fund, which uses the panda as its logo. This beautiful, passionate book shows that, sadly, even a species as well-known and well-loved as the panda faces a grim future in modern Asia.
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 1993
1994, University of Chicago Press

Last Stand of the Great BearLast Stand of the Great Bear (DVD)

Embark on a 250-mile adventure through unspoiled rainforest along the coast of British Columbia. It is here that bear-hunting wolves take to the sea, grizzlies clash in titanic battles, and wild salmon are the pulsing lifeblood of an entire ecosystem. As this precious habitat faces an uncertain future, threatened by chainsaws and fish farms, a team of dedicated scientists is racing to prove that it must be protected. 2006, National Geographic

The Lost GrizzliesThe Lost Grizzlies: A Search for Survivors in the Wilderness of Colorado
Rick Bass

Grizzly bears had not been seen in the San Juan mountains of southern Colorado for almost 15 years when a small group of men set out to seek definitive evidence that the animals still existed there. They sought a tuft of fur, footprints, or best of all, photographs to convince wildlife officials that this habitat should be preserved. Bass eloquently describes the pristine mountain meadows, the icy streams, the old growth forests, and the men who seek to preserve them. 1997, Mariner Books

Monster of GodMonster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind
David Quammen

Quammen describes the fascinating past, tenuous present and bleak future of four supremely adapted predators who are finding themselves increasingly out of place in the modern world. The animals - Indian lions, Australian crocodiles, Russian brown bears and Siberian tigers - share more in common than alpha roles in their respective environments and dwindling prospects for maintaining them; they are, as the book pointedly notes, man-eaters, animals that can and do feed on human flesh. He examines them in their threatened enclaves in the wild and ponders what these killers have meant to us in our religion and art - from the pages of the Bible and Beowulf to Norse sagas and African poetry. Equally resonant are his arguments for why these particular animals excite such fear and fascination in us, and how we will suffer in terms practical and profound if they are eliminated completely from their habitats and confined to zoos and human memory. 2004, W. W. Norton & Company

Track of the GrizzlyTrack of the Grizzly
Frank C. Craighead Jr.

Track of the Grizzly is the culmination of one of the most ambitious wildlife studies ever undertaken - the Craighead field study of the grizzly bear, carried out in Yellowstone National Park and the huge ecosystem, spanning three states, in which it lies. Over a period of thirteen years, Frank and John Craighead and colleagues used sophisticated scientific techniques to track hundreds of grizzlies, to discover the bears' social organization and seasonal movements, their breeding and feeding habits, and their lifespans. This fascinating book illuminates the shortcomings of America's current system of wildlife management and provides an intimate, detailed, and definitive portrait of the greatest carnivore in our hemisphere. 1982, Sierra Club Books

True GrizzTrue Grizz: Glimpses of Fernie, Stahr, Easy, Dakota, and Other Real Bears in the Modern World
Douglas H. Chadwick

In True Grizz Chadwick turns his attention to the precarious future of the grizzly bear. These large mammals are on the list of endangered species in the lower 48 states. As wild land dwindles, grizzlies, who need to consume 20,000-30,000 calories daily in autumn to get them through a winter of hibernation, have encroached on human territory, helping themselves to quick meals from garbage cans and livestock feed. Portrayed in legend as exceptionally dangerous, grizzlies have had their numbers drastically reduced by hunters, frightened landowners and collisions with trains and cars. Chadwick introduces the reader to individual bears he has come to know and describes a successful project to help these grizzlies learn to avoid their most dangerous enemy – human beings. 2006, Sierra Club Books

The World of the Polar Bear
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

The World of the Polar Bear
Norbert Rosing

In this stunning new book, German photographer Rosing has produced the best collection of images of polar bears and their arctic habitat ever assembled in one place. Following the bears through the four seasons, the author shows a cub's first tentative steps outside the snow cave in which he was born. Summer finds the bears stranded on shore as Hudson Bay melts, and they turn to whatever food they can find. In autumn, the bears gather around Churchill, waiting for the freeze and incidentally providing great opportunities for capturing play behavior on film. When winter finally freezes the bay, the bears reenter their true element, crisscrossing the frozen sea ice. Stark beauty, with breath-taking images! 2006, Firefly Books

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