The best books if you have an interest in history and the science of nature

Christian Körner Author Of Alpine Plant Life: Functional Plant Ecology of High Mountain Ecosystems
By Christian Körner

Who am I?

I love books on our living world that take a wide perspective, employ a simple and clear voice, are intellectually appealing, and are conclusive. Bringing things ‘to the point’ has been my own principle of academic teaching for decades. Teaching plant sciences across all grades, I always tried to be ‘emotionally touching’ because this is the best way to create lasting knowledge. I am convinced that good science does not require jargon and can sell in everyday, common language and does best, if it goes to heart. The books I am listing, adopt this principles of communication. They open an arena of basic natural science knowledge about the world we are part of. 

I wrote...

Alpine Plant Life: Functional Plant Ecology of High Mountain Ecosystems

By Christian Körner,

Book cover of Alpine Plant Life: Functional Plant Ecology of High Mountain Ecosystems

What is my book about?

Plant life in the cold alpine world across the globe reveals fundamentals of biology. The 500-page, richly illustrated book is written in a way that helps non-specialists to dive into 17 chapters of telling stories about climate, soils, life under snow, freezing stress, how plants use water and acquire nutrients and carbon, how they grow and reproduce and what a warmer future will bring to them. It is the only book on that subject that has interested a broad readership from students of biology, interested lay readers, conservationists, and people who like mountain climbing and wish to understand what they see along their path.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past

Why did I love this book?

This book explains in a wonderful language how we became the humans we are, from the roots in Africa to the spreading across continents. It even reconstructs the genetic fingerprints of Tschingis Kan in the modern human genome along his war routes. From DNA recovered from bones we also learn how waves of migrations with associated pandemics replace one continental gene pool with another one, and how the Americas were inhabited. Every educated person can understand this book. Truly eye-opening. 

By David Reich,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Who We Are and How We Got Here as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The past few years have witnessed a revolution in our ability to obtain DNA from ancient humans. This important new data has added to our knowledge from archaeology and anthropology, helped resolve long-existing controversies, challenged long-held views, and thrown up remarkable surprises.

The emerging picture is one of many waves of ancient human migrations, so that all populations living today are mixes of ancient ones, and often carry a genetic component from archaic humans. David Reich, whose team has been at the forefront of these discoveries, explains what genetics is telling us about ourselves and our complex and often surprising…

Book cover of The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern World

Why did I love this book?

This is the best book to understand the roots of modern science. Unbelievable discoveries 2,500 years before the present: the size of the moon, of earth and the sun, and the distances had been known quite precisely; the planetary system was understood; the first geographical information system for the round (!) plant earth was designed; the first (hydraulically driven) computer was constructed to model astronomic events. A masterpiece, extremely well written by two science journalists that distilled the essence of early mathematics, physics, astronomy, mechanics, and geography  

By Justin Pollard, Howard Reid,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rise and Fall of Alexandria as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A short history of nearly everything classical. The foundations of the modern world were laid in Alexandria of Egypt at the turn of the first millennium. In this compulsively readable narrative, Justin Pollard and Howard Reid bring one of history's most fascinating and prolific cities to life, creating a treasure trove of our intellectual and cultural origins. Famous for its lighthouse, its library-the greatest in antiquity-and its fertile intellectual and spiritual life--it was here that Christianity and Islam came to prominence as world religions--Alexandria now takes its rightful place alongside Greece and Rome as a titan of the ancient world.…

Book cover of The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt's New World

Why did I love this book?

Alexander von Humboldt was the first to view the natural world from a generalist’s perspective. I felt I knew Humboldts’ vita and works, but Andrea Wulfe presented an overwhelming synthesis that gave it a new glow. Hard to stop reading. She grasped his key moments of inspiration. Viewing the newly colonized tropical world, he clearly predicted the climatic consequences of deforestation, he discovered the world connecting lines of equal temperature that control all life zones, and he realized how connected everything is in nature. And even more so in the anthroposphere. A must-read. 

By Andrea Wulf,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Invention of Nature as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



'A thrilling adventure story' Bill Bryson

'Dazzling' Literary Review

'Brilliant' Sunday Express

'Extraordinary and gripping' New Scientist

'A superb biography' The Economist

'An exhilarating armchair voyage' GILES MILTON, Mail on Sunday

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) is the great lost scientist - more things are named after him than anyone else. There are towns, rivers, mountain ranges, the ocean current that runs along the South American coast, there's a penguin, a giant squid - even the Mare Humboldtianum on the moon.

His colourful adventures read…

Book cover of Climate and Society in Europe: The Last Thousand Years

Why did I love this book?

This is a most impressive account of human history and past climatic extremes. It brings together the best of our knowledge of the climate history of Europe as recorded in old archives, paintings, monastery records, sagas, pay lists, tax records, hinting at years without summer, famines, bonanza yields, etc. These fingerprints of the past are combined with the best of modern climatology and provide a holistic picture of past and novel aspects of climatic change. A masterpiece resulting from the cooperation of two outstanding authors: a historian and a climatologist. If you wish to understand climatic extremes, this is the book to digest. 

By Christian Pfister, Heinz Wanner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Climate and Society in Europe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A richly illustrated book on the history of climate change in Europe. Two perspectives, one unique book: two leading experts, a historian and a climatologist, co-author a new standard work on climate history. An overview of the connection between climatic and social developments over the last 1000 years. For the first time, a historian and a climatologist with knowledge of climate history have worked closely together to create a unique book, combining climate reconstructions based on documented data in their human-historical context with temporally highly resolved analyses of climate and glaciers. “Here we can clearly see how changes in climate…

Book cover of The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance

Why did I love this book?

This is a marvelously written history of the rise and fall of a most influential European family. The book is also rather timely, because it starts in Odessa of today's Ukraine, and with trading wheat, from what is still today the single biggest supplier of wheat. I love this book for its interweaving stories of everyday life with grand developments during the pre-wars' rise of Europe's wealth, both economically and intellectually – and its moral collapse. For years, I mentioned this as a must-read book to friends.     

By Edmund de Waal,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Hare with Amber Eyes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them bigger than a matchbox: Edmund de Waal was entranced when he first encountered the collection in his great uncle Iggie's Tokyo apartment. When he later inherited the 'netsuke', they unlocked a story far larger and more dramatic than he could ever have imagined.

From a burgeoning empire in Odessa to fin de siecle Paris, from occupied Vienna to Tokyo, Edmund de Waal traces the netsuke's journey through generations of his remarkable family against the backdrop of a tumultuous century.


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