The best books that explore the National Parks without Roosevelt, Mather, or Muir

Why are we passionate about this?

Nature enthusiasts, David Attenborough superfans, and the best campsite hot toddy makers you’ll ever encounter… We’re best friends who have been traveling through national parks together for millenia. During our travels, we’ve developed our own style of tourism based on science and following our curiosity. We’ve hiked with paleontologists, asked renowned scientists ridiculous questions about which prehistoric creature they’d want for a pet, and introduced a parks astronomer/pilot/ER doctor to bourbon. In 2023, we released National Parks Trivia: A Card Game so that when you’re done hiking around with our first book, you have something to keep you entertained at the campsite all evening long. 


We wrote...

Scenic Science of the National Parks: An Explorer's Guide to Wildlife, Geology, and Botany

By Emily Hoff and Maygen Keller,

Book cover of Scenic Science of the National Parks: An Explorer's Guide to Wildlife, Geology, and Botany

What is our book about?

The national parks are some of the most beloved, visited, and biodiverse places on Earth. They’re also scientific playgrounds where you can learn about plants, animals, and our planet’s coolest geological features firsthand. Scenic Science of the National Parks curates and breaks down the compelling and offbeat natural science highlights of each park, from volcanic activity, glaciers, and coral reefs to ancient redwood groves, herds of bison, giant bats, and beyond. Featuring full-color illustrations, information on the history and notable features of each park, and insider tips on how to get the most out of your visit, this delightful book is the perfect addition to any park lover’s collection.

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The books we picked & why

Book cover of Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law

Emily Hoff and Maygen Keller Why did I love this book?

National parks are chock full of human-wildlife interactions, whether you like it or not.

Mary Roach gives her readers an insightful invitation to think about these interactions in a fresh way. The tone is fun and the science is accessible—as are the scientists. Roach has a wonderful way of coloring in the people she talks to just as much as the science she covers.

As women science writers, both of us have looked up to Roach ever since her first book, Stiff, came out in 2003.

By Mary Roach,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Fuzz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What's to be done about a jaywalking moose? A bear caught breaking and entering? A murderous tree? Three hundred years ago, animals that broke the law would be assigned legal representation and put on trial. These days, as New York Times best-selling author Mary Roach discovers, the answers are best found not in jurisprudence but in science: the curious science of human-wildlife conflict, a discipline at the crossroads of human behavior and wildlife biology.

Roach tags along with animal-attack forensics investigators, human-elephant conflict specialists, bear managers, and "danger tree" faller blasters. Intrepid as ever, she travels from leopard-terrorized hamlets in…


Book cover of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

Emily Hoff and Maygen Keller Why did I love this book?

This book is so many things that “traditional” science writing eschews: lyrical, deeply personal, and wholly welcoming to many different ways of thinking and knowing.

Kimmerer, an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and decorated professor, beautifully weaves together lessons from Western science and Indigenous ecological understanding—showing it to be the deeply sophisticated, priceless body of knowledge that it is.

Whether you’re getting curious in a national park or your own backyard, this book is a must-have.

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Why should I read it?

47 authors picked Braiding Sweetgrass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Called the work of "a mesmerizing storyteller with deep compassion and memorable prose" (Publishers Weekly) and the book that, "anyone interested in natural history, botany, protecting nature, or Native American culture will love," by Library Journal, Braiding Sweetgrass is poised to be a classic of nature writing. As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take "us on a journey that is…


Book cover of Stars Above, Earth Below: A Guide to Astronomy in the National Parks

Emily Hoff and Maygen Keller Why did I love this book?

The catchy phrase “half the park is after dark”? Yeah, Nordgren came up with that!

An astronomer, artist, and reformed college professor, Nordgren’s guide is essential for anyone who knows a little or a lot about what’s going on in the skies above your favorite parks. It’s not just about stargazing, though—he also points out when the land you see is similar to something you’d see in the cosmos.

Our joint copy went to every park with us and is thoroughly highlighted and dog-eared… there might be some whiskey spills on there too. 

By Tyler Nordgren,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stars Above, Earth Below as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stars Above, Earth Below uses photographs and sky charts to form a connection between what is seen on the ground and in the sky, and looks at the deeper scientific meaning behind these sights. Nordgren describes other objects in the Solar System with features similar to those on Earth and links the geological features seen in the national parks to the very latest NASA spacecraft discoveries on other planets and their moons. Additionally, historical context is discussed to show why we humans (who have lived in and around our national parts for tens of thousands of years) have always been…


Book cover of Roadside Geology of Oregon

Emily Hoff and Maygen Keller Why did I love this book?

If you’re taking a road trip through any of the fifty states, you’ll want to grab the relevant copies of the Roadside Geology series. It’s especially fun to read aloud in the car as the geology flies by your window.

We’re highlighting Oregon here because it’s by badass author, geologist, and photographer Marli Miller, but the whole series is gold. One favorite memory from our 2018 book-writing research trip: this guide helped us spot the very impressive band of ash from the Crater Lake (Mount Mazama) Eruption in a road cut on the highway south of the park. 

By Marli B Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Roadside Geology of Oregon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the first edition of Roadside Geology of Oregon was published in 1978, it was revolutionary�the first book in a series designed to educate, inspire, and wow nongeologists. Back then, the implications of plate tectonic theory were only beginning to shape geologic research and discussion. Geologists hadn�t yet learned that Oregon�s Klamath and Blue Mountains were pieces of far-traveled island arcs and ocean basins that had been piled against the growing North American continent. Steaming volcanoes, ghost forests, recent landslides, and towns heated with geothermal energy attest to Oregon�s still-prominent position at the edge of an active tectonic plate.
Author,…


Book cover of Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life

Emily Hoff and Maygen Keller Why did I love this book?

We got to know Lulu Miller through her prolific career in sci-comm, both on Radiolab and Invisibilia (if you haven’t listened to those, they’re great road trip material!).

Miller’s foray into a full-length book is a perfect combination of a deeply personal memoir and an engaging tale about renowned scientist David Starr Jordan and, wait for it: ichthyology. It’s a great reminder to stay curious, because even the most scientific stories can bring out the humanity in all of us.

By Lulu Miller,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Why Fish Don't Exist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Best Book of 2020: The Washington Post * NPR * Chicago Tribune * Smithsonian

A “remarkable” (Los Angeles Times), “seductive” (The Wall Street Journal) debut from the new cohost of Radiolab, Why Fish Don’t Exist is a dark and astonishing tale of love, chaos, scientific obsession, and—possibly—even murder.​

“At one point, Miller dives into the ocean into a school of fish…comes up for air, and realizes she’s in love. That’s how I felt: Her book took me to strange depths I never imagined, and I was smitten.” —The New York Times Book Review

David Starr Jordan was a taxonomist,…


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Rip Current

By Sharon Ward,

Book cover of Rip Current

Sharon Ward Author Of In Deep

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Even as a kid, I was intrigued by the underwater world, so as an adult, I learned to scuba dive. I took to it like a fish to water, and my husband and I spent the next several years traveling to tropical islands to experience the local dive conditions whenever possible. I loved learning how every island had a different culture and a different undersea environment. Since I love tropical islands, scuba diving, mysteries, and adventure stories, these books really hit my sweet spot.

Sharon's book list on mysteries set on a tropical island

What is my book about?

Unsettled weather has caused life-threatening rip currents to sprout up seemingly at random in the usually tranquil sea around Grand Cayman. Despite posted warnings to stay out of the surf, several women lose their life when caught in the turbulent waters. Fin attempts some dangerous rescues, and nearly loses her own life in the process.

Meanwhile, Fin and the team at RIO are struggling to find more sources of funding for the Institute’s important research, and danger arises from an unexpected source while Fin and hot movie star Rafe Cummings are filming an upcoming documentary. When a young internet influencer goes missing and is feared drowned, Fin realizes that someone lured all the dead women into the dangerous rip currents. But who, and why?

Rip Current

By Sharon Ward,

What is this book about?

Unsettled weather has caused life-threatening rip currents to sprout up seemingly at random in the usually tranquil sea around Grand Cayman. Despite posted warnings to stay out of the surf, several women lose their life when caught in the turbulent waters. Fin attempts some dangerous rescues, and nearly loses her own life in the process.
Meanwhile, Fin and the team at RIO are struggling to find more sources of funding for the Institute’s important research, and danger arises from an unexpected source while Fin and hot movie star Rafe Cummings are filming an upcoming documentary.
Soon after a young internet…


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