The best books about the interwoven lifeways of plants and people

Who am I?

I have studied the intersection of human and natural history as an enthusiast, newspaper columnist, teacher, museum curator, and author. I strongly believe in the value of local knowledge, which has led me to work with and learn from several Plateau tribal communities. I use primary documents, including field journals, maps, artwork, oral histories, and the landscape itself as my building blocks. If I can arrive at a confluence of rivers on the same day of the year as some early white visitors and search for the living things that they wrote about during their stay, then I have something that I can compare directly with tribal oral histories. 


I wrote...

The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest

By Jack Nisbet,

Book cover of The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest

What is my book about?

Two centuries ago, David Douglas arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River to collect flora for the Royal Horticultural Society. A master at his trade, Douglas’s specimen papers and plant introductions have provided a boundless source of raw material for anyone interested in the ecology of the region. But it is his written depictions of the entire tapestry of his travels, including prickly fur traders, their mixed-blood wives and children, and tribal families across the entire Columbia River drainage, that inject passion and emotional insight into his larger story. While Douglas’s name remains tagged to the region’s iconic conifer, his enlarged naturalist vision offers a path forward for anyone who wants to protect the priceless resource of a living landscape.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Food Plants of Interior First Peoples

Jack Nisbet Why did I love 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. 

By Nancy J. Turner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Food Plants of Interior First Peoples as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nancy Turner describes more than 150 plants traditionally harvested and eaten by First Peoples east of the Coast Mountains in British Columbia and northern Washington. Each description includes information on where to find the plant and a discussion on traditional methods of harvesting and preparation.


Book cover of The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt

Jack Nisbet Why did I love 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. 

By Andrea Wulf, Lillian Melcher (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A KIRKUS REVIEWS BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Invention of Nature, comes a breathtakingly illustrated and brilliantly evocative recounting of Alexander Von Humboldt's five year expedition in South America.

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. His restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, but his most revolutionary idea was a radical vision of nature as a complex and interconnected global force that does not exist for the use of humankind alone. His theories and ideas were profoundly influenced by a…


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

Jack Nisbet Why did I love 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. 

By Michael Pollan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A farmer cultivates genetically modified potatoes so that a customer at McDonald's half a world away can enjoy a long, golden french fry. A gardener plants tulip bulbs in the autumn and in the spring has a riotous patch of colour to admire. Two simple examples of how humans act on nature to get what we want. Or are they? What if those potatoes and tulips have evolved to gratify certain human desires so that humans will help them multiply? What if, in other words, these plants are using us just as we use them? In blending history, memoir and…


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

Jack Nisbet Why did I love 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.

By William Bartram,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bartram's Living Legacy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

More than two centuries have passed since the publication of William Bartram's Travels in 1791. His work was visionary, fostered the development of a truly American strain of natural history, and transcended scientific boundaries to deeply influence Coleridge, Wordsworth, and other Romantic poets. His text continues to ignite the imaginations of those who love nature.
Being on the road with Bartram involves cliffhanger encounters with dreadful weather, charismatic predators, and even deadlier humans. And throughout the book, he reveals a deep spiritual connection to nature. Bartram's holism lays the foundation for major themes of modern nature writing as well as…


Book cover of The History of the Countryside

Jack Nisbet Why did I love 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.

By Oliver Rackham,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The History of the Countryside as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From its earliest origins to the present day, this award-winning, beautifully written book describes the endlessly changing character of Britain's countryside.

'A classic' Richard Mabey

Exploring the natural and man-made features of the land - fields, highways, hedgerows, fens, marshes, rivers, heaths, coasts, woods and wood pastures - he shows conclusively and unforgettably how they have developed over the centuries. In doing so, he covers a wealth of related subjects to provide a fascinating account of the sometimes subtle and sometimes radical ways in which people, fauna, flora, climate, soils and other physical conditions have played their part in the…


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A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

By Janet Hulstrand,

Book cover of A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

Janet Hulstrand Author Of A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Reader Editor Francophile Minnesotan Once and forever Brooklynite

Janet's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This memoir chronicles the lives of three generations of women with a passion for reading, writing, and travel. The story begins in 1992 in an unfinished attic in Brooklyn as the author reads a notebook written by her grandmother nearly 100 years earlier. This sets her on a 30-year search to find her grandmother’s journals and uncover the hidden interior lives of her mother and grandmother.

Her adventures take her to a variety of locations, from a small town in Iowa to New York, Washington, London, and Paris—and finally to a little village in France, where she is finally able to write the book that will tell her own story, intertwined with the stories of her mother and grandmother.

A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

By Janet Hulstrand,

What is this book about?

This story, about three generations of women with a passion for reading, writing, and travel, begins in 1992, in an unfinished attic in Brooklyn, as a young writer reads journals written by her grandmother as a schoolgirl nearly 100 years earlier. This sets her on a 30-year quest to uncover the hidden lives and unfulfilled dreams of her mother and grandmother. In this coming-of-middle-age memoir, the author comes to realize that the passion for travel and for literature that has fueled her life's journey is a gift that was passed down to her by the very role models she was…


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Interested in flora, South America, and the South?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about flora, South America, and the South.

Flora Explore 25 books about flora
South America Explore 37 books about South America
The South Explore 173 books about the South