101 Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die

10. John Madson’s Where the Sky Began: Land of the Tallgrass Prairie

Nicolette L. CagleDownload PDF | Volume 9, 2015

Over a decade ago, I sat at a table in a dimly lit room with five ecologists talking about the restoration and use of degraded lands. One of them, a tropical ecologist who secretly harbored a fondness for birds and a penchant for the fiddle, blurted out, “What about those ‘I’ states? Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana? They are so dull and flat, we should just cover them with wind turbines.” She was a trained ecologist, but she saw little value or beauty in the far-reaching fields, the rich black earth, or the wide-open sky. She wanted to plant turbine trees in an agricultural grassland. [full article]

101 Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die

9. Georg Wilhelm Steller’s Journal of a Voyage with Bering, 1741-1742

Marcel RobischonDownload PDF | Volume 8, 2014

Dr. Steller was, for the most, not exactly a happy man, and in the last years of his short life he may at times have bitterly regretted having accepted Captain Bering’s offer to join his crew. The second Kamchatkan expedition of 1741 was the most expensive and most expansive scientific undertaking of the time, aiming at no less than connecting the Russian-controlled Siberian peninsula of Kamchatka with the American continent, and within this project Georg Wilhelm Steller was promised “every possible opportunity to achieve something worthwhile.” [full article]

101 Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die

8. Donald Culross Peattie’s An Almanac for Moderns

John D. LloydDownload PDF | Volume 6, 2012

Natural-history writing comes in many flavors. Sometimes it takes the form of a catalog of observations of plants and animals, other times it presents accounts of exploration and adventure in the wild, and sometimes it is as much about the people as the landscape that shapes them. Nonetheless, perhaps because its subjects and themes appear so constant, it has to me a timeless feel. For better or worse, the style of the narrative tends towards the uniform, even as the subjects and themes differ widely. What sets apart Donald Culross Peattie’s An Almanac for Moderns, first published in 1935, and what makes it such a unique contribution to this canon, is its blend of modern and classical styles. [full article]

101 Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die

7. John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez

Stephen C. TrombulakDownload PDF | Volume 6, 2012

Some relationships are legendary: Laurel and Hardy, Lennon and McCartney, Stanley and Livingstone, Astaire and Rodgers, … Han and Chewbacca. While each person individually showed an impressive level of accomplishment on their own, together they formed a creative, iconic couplet that transcended who they were by themselves. John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts together formed such a pair. [full article]

101 Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die

6. Alexander Skutch’s A Naturalist on a Tropical Farm

John G.T. AndersonDownload PDF | Volume 6, 2012

Alexander Skutch needs little introduction to any enthusiast of tropical birds. Skutch was born in the United States, but he spent more than sixty years living on a small farm in southern Costa Rica observing and writing about Neotropical ornithology, natural history, and conservation. In A Naturalist on a Tropical Farm (published in 1980), Skutch recounts the pleasures and pains of his years living under what would be for many of us quite primitive conditions on the edge of the jungle while pursuing his Thoreau-esque quest to “live simply in an unspoiled natural setting, while studying nature like a scientist, all without harming the objects of my study, or the other living things around me.” [full article]

101 Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die

5. Frederick von Hohenstaufen’s The Art of Falconry

John G.T. AndersonDownload PDF | Volume 5, 2011

Frederick von Hohenstaufen was born into troubled times. By one account, his mother gave birth to him in the public market place in order to convince the skeptical nobility of the legitimacy of the imperial heir. While this tale is most unlikely, Frederick had to put up with continuous challenges to his authority throughout a tumultuous career. Orphaned as an infant, the future Holy Roman Emperor was raised by the Pope, who was convinced that in Frederick he would have the perfect surrogate to go on Crusade and restore the Kingdom of Jerusalem. [full article]

101 Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die

4. Michael Canfield’s Field Notes on Science and Nature

John G.T. AndersonDownload PDF | Volume 5, 2011

Part way through the by now classic film Young Frankenstein, the heroes are wandering disconsolately through a lab, trying to reconstruct the work of the Master. “If he had only left us a clue, a hint… some suggestion” one remarks. Sitting on the desk is an enormous book entitled HOW I DID IT by Victor Frankenstein.

Reading accounts of other people’s research I have often wondered “how they did it.” What would it have been like to actually be in the [full article]

101 Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die

3. Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle

John G.T. AndersonDownload PDF | Volume 5, 2011

Darwin always said that of all the books he wrote, he had the greatest affection for his “first born” – the volume most of us know simply as The Voyage of the Beagle (Modern Library 2001, but many many other editions). This book, first published as the Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the countries visited during the voyage round the world of H.M.S. Beagle under the command of Captain Fitz Roy, R.N. (gasp!) originally formed a portion of the four-volume Narrative of the two surveying voyages accomplished by the Beagle and her consorts that had been edited by Fitzroy, and intended as the official account of the expedition. [full article]

101 Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die

2. Henry Walter Bates’ The Naturalist on the River Amazons: A Record of Adventures, Habits of Animals, Sketches of Brazilian and Indian Life, and Aspects of Nature under the Equator, during Eleven Years of Travel

John G.T. AndersonDownload PDF | Volume 5, 2011

Continuing our “tropical” theme from the previous column, I would like to recommend the reader’s attention to Henry Walter Bates’ The Naturalist on the River Amazons. My edition is University of California Press, 1962, but there are many printings, including a free on-line Google facsimile of the original. First published in 1863, the title pretty much says it all. [full article]

101 Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die

1. Alexander von Humboldt’s Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America

John G.T. AndersonDownload PDF | Volume 5, 2011

Whenever I first visit someone’s house the first thing that I find myself doing is scanning for bookshelves. The absence of books can tell one almost as much as their presence, and if a new friend has an interesting collection, oh the joy of discovery and immediate connection! Observation suggests that Natural Historians are often great readers. Some of them are also great writers. The difficulty often is in making time to find the books that you really ought to read, both for general knowledge and also for inspiration and re-engagement with our particular many-headed practice. [full article]

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