The best books about the interwoven lifeways of plants and people

Jack Nisbet Author Of The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest
By Jack Nisbet

The Books I Picked & Why

Food Plants of Interior First Peoples

By Nancy J. Turner

Book cover of Food Plants of Interior First Peoples

Why this book?

When I became interested in the relationship between Plateau tribal peoples and their cultural plants, everyone I spoke with directed me to a series of remarkable papers by British Columbia ethnobotanist Nancy Turner. One look at the photographs of elders who grace the introduction to each volume reinforces their individual knowledge and respect for the place where they have lived for untold generations. Turner’s work in southeastern B.C. eastern Washington, north Idaho, and western Montana have been distilled here into a handy field guide filled with both beautiful photographs and timeless information. 


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The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt

By Andrea Wulf, Lillian Melcher

Book cover of The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt

Why this book?

I love comics of all kinds, so found it impossible to resist Andrea Wulf’s idea of adapting her popular biography of ecological pioneer Von Humboldt to the graphic form. Illustrator Lillian Melcher combines her comic chops and inventive design sense with Von Humboldt’s own drawings, maps, and specimen papers to create a book that truly enhances Wulf’s scholarly investigations. Plus it’s so much fun. 


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The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World

By Michael Pollan

Book cover of The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World

Why this book?

Pollan sets out to explore the nature of four very human desires—sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control—through a quartet of plants that satisfy those very needs: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. What he gently imparts to his readers during the course of these investigations is that plants can muster a lot more resources, intelligence, and agency than most people ever imagined. 


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Bartram's Living Legacy: The Travels and the Nature of the South

By William Bartram

Book cover of Bartram's Living Legacy: The Travels and the Nature of the South

Why this book?

Just before the onset of the American Revolution, Philadelphia gardener William Bartram made plant collecting trips through the Carolinas, Georgia, and north Florida. Relying on the hospitality of strangers, his account of those journeys includes personal encounters with settlers, slaves, immigrants on the run, and native Americans under intense pressure, as well as landmark details of Southeastern flora and fauna. Combined with watercolors that present dreamy visions of lost landscapes, there is nothing quite like Bartram’s Travels in American literature.


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The History of the Countryside

By Oliver Rackham

Book cover of The History of the Countryside

Why this book?

This classic study of the creation of the modern British landscape by a revered historical ecologist draws on everything from pollen counts to the Domesday Book. Along the way, Rackham explodes dozens of common myths about what Great Britain used to be like, employs archaeology for very practical purposes, and demonstrates the astonishing resilience of plants and trees. Every time I look at Rackham’s work I see new ways to apply it to the Pacific Northwest.


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