Great Reads in Popular Science – Nuts for Nature edition
Posted on April 6, 2021
by Amy H
Well-written, fascinating, and fun popular science is all over the place these days. Here are the best recent books on the natural world and the amazing creatures around us. If you enjoy reading or watching David Attenborough or need a break from too much screen time watching Nat Geo or Discovery Channel shows, spend some quality time with these amazing stories!
Winner of the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Award for Excellence in Nonfiction. When writer Rebecca Giggs encountered a humpback whale stranded on her local beach in Australia, she began to wonder how the lives of whales reflect the condition of our oceans. She blends natural history, philosophy, and science to explore: How do whales experience ecological change? How has whale culture been both understood and altered by human technology? What can observing whales teach us about the complexity, splendor, and fragility of life? Deeply researched and wonderfully written, Giggs’ intricate investigation urges us to save the whales, the oceans, and ourselves.
Most people would consider being “birdbrained” an insult; Sibley’s new book may change their minds. Here he examines clever avian behaviors, focusing on frequent backyard visitors (nuthatches, blue jays, and chickadees) and other easily observable species. This selective compendium provides gorgeous full-color, life-sized illustrations accompanied by engagingly curious field notes on flight, foraging, nesting, walking, swimming, navigation, hearing, smell, taste, touch, vision, and vocalization. This special, large-format volume is geared as much to nonbirders as it is to the avian obsessed, covering more than two hundred species in a deeply engaging way.
Part H Is for Hawk, part The Soul of an Octopus, Patrik Svensson’s book is both a meditation on the world’s most elusive fish–the eel–and a reflection on the human condition. Eels have been mysterious creatures throughout time, provoking even the greatest minds. Aristotle thought they emerged live from mud and even Sigmund Freud was baffled by them. Rachel Carson anthropomorphized them to make them more relatable. Svensson alternates scientific and historical passages with moving reminiscences of being taught to fish for eels by his father in a stream near their home. Nature-loving readers will be enthralled by Svensson’s fascinating zoological odyssey.
Bird migration is a wonder, a natural force that pushes small, fragile creatures to fly immense distances with both speed and tenacity. In his latest contribution on birds, Pulitzer Prize finalist Scott Weidensaul provides a wide-ranging investigation into migration, describing in fascinating detail the success stories as well as current problems and those on the horizon. He adds wondrous descriptions of the often remote landscapes through which he has traveled and wry, thoughtful character portraits of his birding comrades. Weidensaul explains such discoveries as how birds navigate (using magnetism coupled with brain chemistry) and how they sleep on the wing (one half of the brain rests at a time) in this compelling and illuminating in-the-field narrative complete with maps and photographs.
As you might expect from a writer fluent in cardinal since age six, Nezhukumtathil’s essays are brimming with intimate scenes of natural life, each presented with exuberant prose that mingles scientific observation with unabashed whimsy. Throughout her life, this gifted poet was able to turn to our world’s fierce and funny creatures for guidance. Warm, lyrical, and gorgeously illustrated, this is an effortless melding of nature writing and memoir not to be missed.
Catania unlocks the secrets behind some of nature’s most astounding animals in this witty and smart book. He shows not only how studying these animals can provide deep insights into how life evolved, but also how scientific discovery can be filled with adventure and fun. Illustrating that most animals have incredible, hidden abilities that defy our imagination, Catania’s witty style and amazing findings are complemented by stunning photography and movie shorts that readers with smart phones can scan and play. The astonishing animals are only half the story. Just as compelling is the enquiring-human side–i.e., seeing a scientist at work (and at play). Casual science readers will be hooked and for those contemplating a career in the sciences, this book should be required reading.
National Book Award finalist Sy Montgomery reflects on the personalities and quirks of 13 animals, all of whom she counts as her friends, who have profoundly affected her in this stunning, poetic, and life-affirming memoir. Ten tales poignantly personify 13 critters both commonplace and exotic, from Tess the border collie and Chris the extroverted pig to spiders and octopuses, who all helped Montgomery understand valuable life lessons. This is a wondrous, compelling examination of what animals can teach us about ourselves.
In 1833, Charles Darwin was astonished by an animal he met in the Falkland Islands: handsome, social, and oddly crow-like falcons that were ‘tame and inquisitive, quarrelsome and passionate,’ and so insatiably curious that they stole hats, compasses, and other valuables from the crew of the Beagle. Darwin wondered why these birds were confined to remote islands at the tip of South America, sensing a larger story, but he set this mystery aside and never returned to it. Almost two hundred years later, nature writer Jonathan Meiburg takes us through South America, from the fog-bound coasts of Tierra del Fuego to the tropical forests of Guyana, in search of these rare, wondrous birds in this impressive, captivating debut.
Great books on nature help us see and understand the incredible world all around us. These are just a few of the latest titles in the Library. Looking for other reading or viewing ideas? Be sure to try our Book & Movie Picks service, and we’ll send you a list of personalized recommendations based on criteria you share.