For the month of July, we’re celebrating Nature! And what better way than compiling a list of some must-read nature books? Many of these are books I noticed while working at the library.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson’s travel memoir was one of the more popular books, especially when the movie came out a couple years ago. To understate it by calling it a “walk” is a good indication of the humor you’ll enjoy as you follow Bryson and his friend Stephen Katz along the Appalachian Trail. You’ll learn the history and ecology of the Trail while getting humorous anecdotes of their experience, what they were (and were not) able to do, and the people (and bears!) they meet on the way.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This was even more popular than A Walk in the Woods and it wasn’t even made into a movie. Another story about “walking”, Strayed’s adventure takes her on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State. And while Bryson invited his friend along for the crazy adventure, Strayed does it impulsively, with no experience or training, and completely on her own. After suffering so many losses, Strayed shares the story of the joys and struggles of her journey and how it ended up healing her.
The Lost City of Z by David Grann
Although this came out in 2009, I’ve noticed it had some interest lately. There’s something dangerous about the Amazon, especially for explorers who search for a city that was perhaps meant never to be found. In 1925, British explorer Percy Fawcett went on an expedition with his son to search for the lost city he dubbed “Z”, but their expedition vanished. After coming across some old diaries, New Yorker writer David Grann searches for answers, explaining what happened to Fawcett and trying to discover if there really is a lost city of “Z”.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Christopher Johnson McCandless goes above all the other explorers I have mentioned and, ditching his car, his money, and his old life, he goes into the wilderness of Alaska to invent a new life for himself. His body was found four months later by moose trackers. Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild is the story of McCandless and how he met his fate in the Alaskan wilderness.
Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas by Eva Saulitis
In the waters of Alaska, Eva Saulitis studies the whales in Prince William Sound, focusing on one particular endangered family of orcas. She witnessed the negative impact of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and the lack of calves that were born into the family following this tragedy. Into Great Silence gives voice to this family of orcas and celebrates the entire species, demonstrating how they are connected to humans and that we are responsible for protecting them.
The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
Next to Wild, this was the most sought-after nature book at the library. Who knew that the octopus would be an interesting topic? Sy Montgomery discovered this after she wrote an article for Orion magazine in 2011 called “Deep Intellect” about her friendship with Athena, an octopus that lived at the New England Aquarium in Boston. Four years later she published The Soul of an Octopus in which she explored the nature of this fascinating, intelligent eight-armed sea creature that is a master shape-shifter and problem-solver. The book made such an impact that the New England Aquarium named one of their new octopuses Sy after the author.
Being a Beast by Charles Foster
Now, I don’t remember seeing this circulate at the library, but check out this bucking awesome cover! Foster takes nature writing to the next level by living like the animals he’s writing about, living with them and developing some of their skills, such as catching fish in his teeth while swimming like an otter. This book will give you a real psychological view of what it’s really like to be a beast.
And, of course, we can’t forget the classics!
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin
Originally published in 1859, this is probably the most well-known book about life on Earth. It illustrates Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection, that a population of a species evolves over generations through natural selection to survive in a certain habitat. Darwin also discusses the interdependent relationships between different animal and plant species as well as how they relate to climate, the environment, and the human world.
Walden, Or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau describes his experience living at Walden Pond, in woods owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson. As a social experiment, Thoreau wanted to live, as he put it, “by the labor of my hands only.” He even built the cabin where he lived, spending his days farming, observing nature and writing in his journal. Walden is the story of his two-year separation from civilization. Interestingly, he wrote his first book, the not-as-well-known A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers while he was living at Walden Pond.
Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson’s essay most likely inspired Thoreau to go live in the woods. Published almost two decades before Walden, Nature is an untraditional appreciation of nature that suggests reality can be understood by observing nature, as Thoreau did at Walden Pond. The essay is separated into eight sections that take on a different perspective between humans and nature. Emerson believed humans were too distracted by the demands of the world to see that nature gives but humans don’t reciprocate.
That’s just a list to get you started when considering nature and nature writing! Leave a comment with your favorite nature book!