The best books to stretch your imagination

David Norman Author Of Dinosaurs: A Very Short Introduction
By David Norman

Who am I?

As a teacher and researcher my primary interest has been focused on the natural history, biology, functional mechanics and interactions between animals through time. Observation and interpretation are keys to my approach, and my little book about dinosaurs explores the range and variety of ways in which science can take observations (the bare fossil bones) and lead to science-based interpretations of what those bones mean. Similarly, the books that I enjoy relate, thematically, to that interest in observation and interpretation/understanding: ranging from attempting to understand the deep history of animal life, to a boy exploring Corfu or even a fictional detective observing and attempting to interpret the scene of a crime.

I wrote...

Dinosaurs: A Very Short Introduction

By David Norman,

Book cover of Dinosaurs: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

The popularity of dinosaurs seems never-ending, as evidenced by the popularity of films such Jurassic Park and documentaries like Walking with Dinosaurs. But how much do these types of entertainment really tell us about recent scientific discoveries and the latest research into the world of the dinosaur?

This is the first book that explains how scientists have been able to put together a picture of how dinosaurs looked, what they ate, and how they moved and interacted with each other. Taking a new approach to the subject, David Norman combines different areas of science, such as anatomy, genetics, forensics, and engineering design, to piece together the latest evidence of how animal life evolved on earth. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

Why did I love this book?

Steve was one of the greatest science communicators. He writes beautifully and passionately. The breadth and depth of his knowledge and understanding, particularly in matters relating to topics such as Evolution, Life, The History of Science & Ideas was extraordinary; and the way that he could link such serious and esoteric topics with matters in everyday life is engaging and uplifting of the spirit. This story about the pioneering work done by scientists trying to unravel the mystery of the origin and evolution of complex life on this planet interweaves endeavour, chance, and determination, mixed with an overarching insight into deeper philosophical issues about the patterns and processes that may govern Life, are just typical of the man – he may not have been right about everything, but my goodness he makes you think.

By Stephen Jay Gould,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Wonderful Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

High in the Canadian Rockies is a small limestone quarry formed 530 million years ago called the Burgess Shale. It hold the remains of an ancient sea where dozens of strange creatures lived-a forgotten corner of evolution preserved in awesome detail. In this book Stephen Jay Gould explores what the Burgess Shale tells us about evolution and the nature of history.

Book cover of My Family and Other Animals

Why did I love this book?

Gerry Durrell was a gifted and hugely entertaining writer and, as with all good naturalists (which of course he was – he eventually founded his own Zoo on the Island of Jersey), a keen observer (not only of Nature, but of his fellow human beings). This book is a wonderful evocation of his childhood spent on the Island of Corfu in the 1930s. Leaving cold and rainy Bournemouth (south coast of England – near where I was brought up as a lad) his family upped sticks and headed to Corfu. The sheer joy and excitement of Gerry’s Corfu life, the time it gave him to explore the island and observe the wonderful diversity of animal life, mixed with the truly extraordinary people he met and the antics of his brothers and sister, as well as his long-suffering mother, make you yearn to have been there to soak up such life-affirming experiences.

By Gerald Durrell,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked My Family and Other Animals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The inspiration behind ITV's hit family drama, The Durrells.

My Family and Other Animals is Gerald Durrell's hilarious account of five years in his childhood spent living with his family on the island of Corfu. With snakes, scorpions, toads, owls and geckos competing for space with one bookworm brother and another who's gun-mad, as well as an obsessive sister, young Gerald has an awful lot of natural history to observe. This richly detailed, informative and riotously funny memoir of eccentric family life is a twentieth-century classic.

Part of the Macmillan Collector's Library; a series of stunning, clothbound, pocket sized classics…

The Voyage of the Beagle

By Charles Darwin,

Book cover of The Voyage of the Beagle

Why did I love this book?

In 1831 at the age of 22 and freshly minted by his university education, Darwin was offered the chance of a lifetime: to accompany Captain Robert Fitzroy on HMS Beagle for a circumnavigation of the globe. He was in the right place, at the right time, and knew the right people – and although he was only 3rd choice for that position, fate would insist on his being chosen. His experiences on that voyage laid the foundations for his theory of evolution by means of Natural Selection some 28 years later. We are so familiar with the image of Darwin as an old, heavily bearded man with the hangdog expression of one who has all the cares of the world upon his shoulders, that we forget that he had been young, extremely fit, enthused, and equipped with extraordinary skills as an observer (and thinker). This book, written after his return from the four-year voyage captures the essence and excitement of visiting strange lands, unfamiliar inhabitants, and worlds far removed from the rural idyll of Shropshire where he was born and bred. It is an epic adventure story, beautifully written and so evocative of a world that had barely been explored at that time. Reading this book is to share in the excitement of his adventures.

By Charles Darwin,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Voyage of the Beagle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an Introduction by David Amigoni.

Charles Darwin's travels around the world as an independent naturalist on HMS Beagle between 1831 and 1836 impressed upon him a sense of the natural world's beauty and sublimity which language could barely capture. Words, he said, were inadequate to convey to those who have not visited the inter-tropical regions, the sensation of delight which the mind experiences'.

Yet in a travel journal which takes the reader from the coasts and interiors of South America to South Sea Islands, Darwin's descriptive powers are constantly challenged, but never once overcome. In addition, The Voyage of…

Walking Through Spring

By Graham Hoyland,

Book cover of Walking Through Spring

Why did I love this book?

On the face of it this is just another book about walking in the countryside: so what? Well, it is far more than that. There is a depth and breadth to the challenge of the walk that is entirely unexpected. The idea behind the book was to walk from the south coast of England northward to the Scottish border and in doing so to develop a new trail through the English countryside, and in doing so he plants an acorn every mile in the hope that a line of oak trees would be his legacy. There his however so much history and philosophy drawn into the narrative that the book ends up being simply endlessly fascinating. You are constantly diverted by the quality of his observations and thoughts about the ever-changing countryside, intermingled with the observations by past writers, the history of the English, and indeed the deeper history of the British Isles through geological time. This is no dull tramp through country lanes this is a soaring evocation of life, time, change, and people in such a rich variety of hues. Much to enjoy, savour and learn from.

By Graham Hoyland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Walking Through Spring as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The most effective advertisement for the countryside I've ever encountered' Daily Mail

Walking Through Spring follows Graham Hoyland's journey as he traces a new national trail, walking north with Spring from the South Coast to the Borders.

Hoyland connects a labyrinth of ancient footpaths, marking each mile by planting an acorn and drawing a path of oak trees that stretch through the English countryside.

From dairy cows cantering and kicking their heels in lush meadows in the West Country, to galloping bands of lambs in the Peak District and secret green ways winding along canal tow-paths up the Derwent Valley,…

The Troubled Man

By Henning Mankell, Laurie Thompson (translator),

Book cover of The Troubled Man

Why did I love this book?

I love good writing, and I love the escapism provided by detective and spy thrillers. Choosing between so many quality authors: Le Carré, Dexter, James, Rankin, Nesbo, etc. is almost impossible and completely unfair. However, the series of Wallander novels by Mankell is one of my favourites. I have chosen the final book in the series – but obviously you should start with the first! As with most detective stories, Mankell’s hero has a messy life, his father doesn’t understand him (and vice-versa), his wife has left him, he has a hit & miss relationship with his only daughter, but in this novel you can feel that Wallander’s life is slowly, but perceptibly, unravelling. The key events that are the focus of this tale become more and more apparently contradictory and complex and at times the tension is almost palpable. It must be difficult for novelists to draw a close to the fictional lives and worlds that they have created, as in the case of detective Kurt Wallander in Ystad, southern Sweden. Nevertheless, Mankell does it brilliantly and with enormous sympathy and insight into the human condition.

By Henning Mankell, Laurie Thompson (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Every morning Hakan von Enke takes a walk in the forest near his apartment in Stockholm. However, one winter's day he fails to come home. It seems that the retired naval officer has vanished without trace.

Detective Kurt Wallander is not officially involved in the investigation but he has personal reasons for his interest in the case as Hakan's son is engaged to his daughter Linda. A few months earlier, at Hakan's 75th birthday party, Kurt noticed that the old man appeared uneasy and seemed eager to talk about a controversial incident from his past career that remained shrouded in…

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