Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Sea Creatures

It’s often been said that we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the depths of the oceans that make up three-fourths of the Earth’s surface area. It’s easy to assume that in those abyssal depths sea life flourishes in abundance.

But much recent research points to the frightening diminishment of life in the ocean – the result of pollution and overfishing. Many books on this list eloquently document the drastic falloff in fish populations: Cod, The Empty Ocean, Lament for an Ocean, The Unnatural History of the Sea.

It was Carl Safina’s magnificent reporting in Song for the Blue Ocean that served to trigger the creation of Saving The We read this book in 2006, having discovered it by chance in a Patagonia store in Santa Monica. We were stunned to learn the extent of degradation of life in our oceans, having assumed, with everyone else, that the oceans are “too big to spoil.” Sadly, not so. We began reading more, looking for more information about the true condition of our environment. Then we were moved to pull together these amazing resources and put these booklists online.

Recommended Books and DVDs on Sea Creatures

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 MeridianBlue Meridian: The Search for the Great white Shark
Peter Mattiessen

In this classic book of nature writing, naturalist Matthiessen tells of his experiences as a crew member while filming the feature-length documentary, "Blue Water, White Death." The film's crew searched from the whaling grounds off South Africa to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia before they caught a glimpse of the ocean's most feared creature. One of the great stories of underwater adventure and exploration. 1997, Penguin

The Blue Planet and Seas of Life DVD set
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

The Blue Planet and Seas of Life (5-DVD Special Edition)

Winner of 2 Emmy Awards, The Blue Planet is the definitive exploration of the marine world, chronicling the mysteries of the deep in ways never before imagined. Six and one-half hours of viewing time includes 80 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage. 2007, BBC Warner



CodCod: A Biography of the fish that Changed the World
Mark Kurlansky

In this engaging history of a "one thousand year fishing spree" Kurlansky traces the relationship of the cod fishery to medieval Christianity and Christian observances; international conflicts over Icelandic cod; slavery, the molasses trade, and the dismantling of the British Empire; and the evolution of a sophisticated fishing industry in New England. The story does not have a happy ending however: the cod fishery is in deep trouble, as the Atlantic fish has been fished almost to extinction. 1998, Penguin

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

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

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

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

Journey of the Pink DolphinsJourney of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest
Sy Montgomery

In a deeply felt, magical voyage to the tropics, Boston Globe nature columnist Montgomery pursues the pink dolphin, a rare fresh water species, in the Amazon river. This elusive creature, with chameleon-like color changes and pink back or fins, has inspired much local lore. Combining a journalist's cool objectivity with a dolphin lover's almost mystical ecological consciousness, Montgomery luxuriates in the myths and legends as she ably reports the scientific facts. An exciting blend of travel, adventure, and natural history. 2009, Chelsea Green Publishing

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

A Last Wild SalmonA Last Wild Salmon (DVD)
Ken Jubenvill, director

This underwater documentary follows the life of one wild salmon as it survives against impossible odds, battling natural and human forces. The film begins with one of Nature's most astonishing performances - the ancient spawning ritual - and follows each step of development in the salmon's life. A Last Wild Salmon portrays the life and the truth of a Pacific Northwest salmon with incredible accuracy, featuring a run of salmon that has since become extinct. A compelling story. 2004, Watervisions

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

The Living DockThe Living Dock
Jack Rudloe

In the tiny fishing community of Panacea, Florida, the author's floating dock nurtures an abundance of marine life. Crabs, worms, mollusks and algae make their home there, attracting and feeding fish and other creatures higher up the food chain. These also feed the author's business, Gulf Specimen Marine Lab, which supplies specimens to research and teaching institutions: marine fauna from his dock, from nearby mud flats and beaches, and netted offshore from his little shrimp boat, "Penaeus." This entertaining and educational book looks at the life histories of some of these creatures, and recounts Rudloe's experiences in collecting them, in the process examining man's relationship with the natural world. 2003, Great Outdoors Publishing

Neptune's ArkNeptune's Ark: From Ichthyosaurs to Orcas
David Rains Wallace

The western coastline of North America has never been part of the interior of any continent or supercontinent. It is here that naturalist Wallace bases his survey of marine evolution over the past 500 million years. He examines the fantastical ancestors of today's species, as well as forms that left no direct descendants. Toothed birds flew above or dove below the seas, and fishlike ichthyosaurs patrolled open oceans. And sea cows, now reduced to a few tropical species, colonized the entire coastline. Wallace fills his narrative with stories of the often-quirky paleontologists who found these creatures and cautionary tales about the decimation and later conservation of their modern kin. The addition of coastal Indian creation tales and his own philosophical musings on the vast scope of diversity and time engages the reader in Wallace's voyage of discovery. 2007, University of California 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

Ocean: An Illustrated AtlasOcean: An Illustrated Atlas
Sylvia A. Earle and Linda K. Glover

This new atlas immerses readers in the wonders of the deep through more than 250 up-to-the-minute maps, photographs, and satellite images. The accessible text lays out key concepts, points of interest, and little known facts, opening our eyes to living phenomena from giant squid to tiny microbial bodies. Astonishing full-color photographs and diagrams reveal the beauty and complexity of ocean life. Unprecedented new full spread maps of the ocean floor -— hand-drawn by expert cartographers -— reveal the five major oceans in astonishing detail. An unequaled resource for both education and entertainment, Ocean also explores the progress of fascinating technologies that will help scientists discover uncharted regions and life-forms. 2008, National Geographic

Planet OceanPlanet Ocean: Voyage to the Heart of the Marine Realm
Laurent Ballesta and Pierre Descamp

Spanning the vast range of earth's marine environments, from Greenland to the Polynesian Islands, Planet Ocean reveals hidden landscapes of unsurpassed beauty and awe. With engaging text and more than 400 photographs Ballesta and Descamp lead readers on a compelling voyage of discovery. More than 25 essays from leading scientists highlight topics such as aquaculture and global warming, helping readers understand the threats that weigh on the oceans and why we must protect the incredible diversity of plants and animals there. 2007, National Geographic


This brilliant photographic compilation by diving collective ScubaZoo introduces the ecology of oceanic reefs, both temperate and tropical. The book also includes a fascinating DVD. The photographs allow close study of coral, fish, crustaceans, and many other enchanting creatures, while the video shows the vivid activity of the reef habitat. The helpful text provides a solid introduction to reef ecology, including reef landscapes, their inhabitants' survival behaviors, conservation issues, and a broader look at reefs worldwide. This book provides an excellent introduction to fragile reef ecosystems. 2007, DK Publishing

The RunThe Run
John Hay

John Hay ponders one of the great curiosities of nature: the annual migration of the alewife, a kind of herring that moves at infancy from the freshwater lakes of New England into the cold Atlantic Ocean and thence back to the waters of its birth. The journey, Hay writes, is oddly heroic, and it comes at great cost: some 90 percent of the adult alewives do not survive the arduous move from ocean to stream. Hay describes the alewife as "a life that shone with vibrant persistence, one of nature's particularized energies, a wild texture as old as the animal world.” The migration of this intriguing fish, he concludes, "is not only a matter of routes or seasonal behavior. It has to do with an internal response to this spinning globe and its unendingly creative energies." 2008, Beacon Press

SightingsSightings: The Gray Whales' Mysterious Journey
Brenda Peterson and Linda Hogan

The gray whale weighs 45 tons and swims 10,000 miles along the West Coast each year from its Alaskan summer feeding grounds to winter birthing lagoons in Baja, Mexico. The authors trace the history of hunting whales for subsistence and explain their significance in tribal mythology and songs. They also focus on the world of science describing the ecology and lifecycle of these large sea mammals. A journey through water and time, Sightings is a masterful observation of one of the earth's most enchanting creatures. 2002, National Geographic

Song for the Blue Ocean
Short list

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


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



Voyage of the Turtle
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

Voyage 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

Waiting for AphroditeWaiting for Aphrodite: Journeys into the Time Before Bones
Sue Hubbell

When Sue Hubbell moved to the rocky coast of Maine, the first thing she did was investigate the living things in her new environment to ease the loneliness of a new place. She peered under rocks, in dark crevices, and beneath mounds of leaves, looking for members of nature's secretive ruling class-the invertebrates. The thing that binds all animals is the constant search for the necessities of life. For Hubbell, a sense of place and knowledge of her neighbors is as crucial as food or shelter. She searches for a glimpse of the elusive sea mouse, Aphrodite aculeata, a small, soft-bodied sea creature with a velvety, iridescent coat. While waiting for Aphrodite, she finds gorgeous bits of life all around her and begins to feel at home. 2000, Mariner Books

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

The Wilderness CoastThe Wilderness Coast
Jack Rudloe

Rudloe makes his living collecting and studying marine organisms in the waters off Florida's Gulf Coast. The ocean and the wetlands of the area, largely unexplored, contain many exotic and beautiful creatures, and the author's adventures there make exciting reading. He gathers electric rays, tracks baby horseshoe crabs, makes friends with octopuses, saves loggerhead turtles from the dredging operations of the Army Corps of Engineers, captures giant toadfish and monster sea roaches for the New York Aquarium, fights alligators and searches for crocodiles. A conservationist, he respects the sea and is captivated by its mysterious inhabitants. 2004, Great Outdoors Publishing

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