The best books on the nature and the environment

Edward Struzik Author Of Swamplands: Tundra Beavers, Quaking Bogs, and the Improbable World of Peat
By Edward Struzik

Who am I?

I've spent a good part of my life exploring the outdoor world for the national parks service, for books, newspapers, and magazines. Each trip down a river, across a lake, up a mountain, or through a desert or swampland reminds me, as Wallace Stegner once suggested, that wilderness is as much a state of mind as it is a complex set of ecosystems. Wilderness is the geography of hope. Without the hope that comes with the wilderness experience, we would be lost. In my explorations, I've come to appreciate how much we still do not know about the natural world and how much hope there is that we can get through the challenges that climate change brings.


I wrote...

Swamplands: Tundra Beavers, Quaking Bogs, and the Improbable World of Peat

By Edward Struzik,

Book cover of Swamplands: Tundra Beavers, Quaking Bogs, and the Improbable World of Peat

What is my book about?

Traveling globally, Edward Struzik travels with scientists and indigenous people, exploring the haunting past of the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia, the exotic plant-rich tropical bogs in Hawaii, the remnants of an ancient peatland in the Mojave Desert, and places where polar bears, turtles, and rattlesnakes den in peat. What he learns along the way is that peatlands play an outsized role in regulating climate, filtering water, mitigating floods, and wildfire, and providing refuge for new and critically endangered species such as the Bornean orangutang and the Red-cockaded woodpecker.

The books I picked & why

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E. O. Wilson: Biophilia, the Diversity of Life, Naturalist

By Edward O. Wilson,

Book cover of E. O. Wilson: Biophilia, the Diversity of Life, Naturalist

Why this book?

I took a course from Ed Wilson when I was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT and Harvard. Each one of his classes was a revelation, as were his books. He won the Pulitzer twice for On Human Nature and The Ants. But I particularly enjoyed The Diversity of Life. It was engaging and so prophetic – a sequel, as someone once said, to Darwin’s Origin of the Species.


Desert Solitaire

By Edward Abbey,

Book cover of Desert Solitaire

Why this book?

The book struck a chord because I worked in a remote national park (Kluane National Park and Reserve, along the Yukon/Alaskan border) early in my career as Abbey did. Like him, I was incensed by the push to exploit wilderness more for the enjoyment of people than for the plants and animals that dwell there. What makes this book stand out is that it is lyrical as well as angry. It makes you laugh and want to do something to right the wrongs that have been done to nature.


Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape

By Barry Lopez,

Book cover of Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape

Why this book?

I was the Arctic bureau chief (a one-person show) for a now long-forgotten news chain, living in the Northwest Territories of Canada when Lopez was there collecting stories for this book. It was fun to read because I had visited many of the places he explored and knew almost all of the scientists he profiled. What the book lacks because of its largely Eurocentric view of the polar world is made up by the fact it turned so many people onto the much neglected polar world.


Landmarks

By Robert MacFarlane,

Book cover of Landmarks

Why this book?

This is a book about language and how we have lost so many words that clarify our understanding of the natural world. For my book Swamplands, I borrowed from MacFarlane’s glossary of words describing peat. Yarpha, for example, is an Orkney word for peat that is full of fibers and roots, Water-sick is a Cumbrian word for peatlands that are saturated with water. The book reminds us that we need to be more explicit in describing nature in all of its manifestations. It is also addictive. You can start from the middle and read to the beginning or to the end, It never fails


Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier

By Wallace Stegner,

Book cover of Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier

Why this book?

Stegner was an American writer who viewed nature not only as a complex set of ecosystems but as a state of mind. In a letter to Congress, he famously stated that we need to preserve wilderness as a means of “reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.” Wolf Willow stands out for me because it speaks of a place on the prairies that I have explored. It is also storytelling at its best.


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