The best books about biological species

2 authors have picked their favorite books about biological species and why they recommend each book.

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Out of the Everywhere and Other Extraordinary Visions

By James Tiptree Jr.,

Book cover of Out of the Everywhere and Other Extraordinary Visions

This anthology has one of my favorite stories by Tiptree, it is called "We who stole the dream". The Joilani have long been enslaved and abused by humans. So has another race, of “delicately winged creatures”, whose sweat is a powerful intoxicant to humans. It is most potent when the donor experiences pain and fear, so humans have taken to torturing mated pairs of them, so the partners can watch each other suffer. The resulting sweat is a drug called Star Tears. Although that unnamed race plays no active role in the story, they are on my list because of the powerful manner in which they influence other species, invoking the darkest and most brutal aspects of human nature simply by existing.

The diminutive, weak, and peace-loving Joilani make a desperate break for freedom. Stealing a spaceship called The Dream, they seek out the mythical planet of their…


Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by the workings of the human mind. What instincts and influences make us who we are? This Alien Shore grew out of research I was doing into atypical neurological conditions. It depicts a society that has abandoned the concept of “neurotypical”, embracing every variant of human perspective as valid and valuable. One of my main characters, Kio Masada, is autistic, and that gives him a unique perspective on computer security that others cannot provide. What might such a man accomplish, in a world where his condition is embraced and celebrated? Good science fiction challenges our definition of “Other,” and asks what it really means to be human, all in the context of an exciting story.


I wrote...

This Alien Shore

By C.S. Friedman,

Book cover of This Alien Shore

What is my book about?

When Earth’s superluminal drive altered the genes of the first interstellar colonists, Earth abandoned them. But the colonists survived, and now there is a new civilization among the stars, peopled by mental and physical “Variants”. Earth’s children have become alien to her.

In Terran space, orphan Jamisia Shido is guided by mysterious voices in her head. After a devastating attack on her station, she is forced to flee to the Variant worlds, where she must uncover the secrets locked within her own brain before those who destroyed her home can find her. In Variant space, a computer virus is killing the only pilots capable of guiding ships through deep space. Security expert Kio Masada must track down the source of the virus before all of Variant society collapses. And the key to doing that may lie hidden within the mind of a young Terran fugitive. 

A Visual Introduction to Penguins

By Bernard Stonehouse, Martin Camm (illustrator),

Book cover of A Visual Introduction to Penguins

This beautiful book is written by a famous penguin expert who wrote the ‘bible’ about penguins for adults, so you can be absolutely certain that all of the information is 100% accurate! (Which, unfortunately, is not always the case for books written by individuals who aren’t penguin experts. That said, you can be assured that every book on this curated list has extremely accurate information about penguins!) Each species in this book has a page with fact sheets, geographical ranges, and biological details. There are also numerous photos and absolutely gorgeous illustrations that are highly detailed, bringing the author’s words to life in a visually engaging way. This is the perfect book for children who want to take a deeper dive into the lives of penguins. Best for ages 9-12.


Who am I?

I’m a penguin expert, TED speaker, and lifelong animal lover. After getting a BS degree in Animal Science, I became a Penguin Aquarist at Boston’s New England Aquarium. For 9 years, I took care of the penguins there and educated visitors during daily talks. In 2000, I helped manage the rescue of 40,000 penguins from an oil spill in South Africa. (With the help of 12,500 volunteers, we saved most of them!) I founded my educational company The Penguin Lady in 2005, and speak at schools, universities, libraries, for TED-Ed and TEDx, and on National Geographic’s ships in Antarctica. I love sharing my knowledge, and passion for penguins with others!


I wrote...

All about Penguins: Discover Life on Land and in the Sea

By Dyan deNapoli,

Book cover of All about Penguins: Discover Life on Land and in the Sea

What is my book about?

All About Penguins is a beautifully illustrated book for young children about the basic biology and behavior of penguins. Fascinating facts about the penguin’s life cycle, how they swim, hunt, hide from predators, raise their chicks, and more are covered in concise, yet detailed and engaging text. The book includes a glossary, call-out boxes, range map, and a fun trivia section about each penguin species. (And it definitively answers the age-old question; “Do penguins have knees?”)

This book has been enthusiastically endorsed by renowned penguin expert and author Lloyd Spencer Davis, who said, “All About Penguins is so beautiful and so stuffed with facts that it resembles a krill-filled penguin.” Best for ages 4-8.

The Penguins

By Tony D. Williams, J.N. Davies (illustrator), John Busby (illustrator)

Book cover of The Penguins: Spheniscidae (Bird Families of the World, No. 2)

For serious penguin geeks, this book has long been the penguin bible. If you’re looking for scientifically accurate information about the biology and behavior of each penguin species, this is a fantastic reference book. Written by a leading ornithologist who has done field research on penguins, The Penguins gives a very comprehensive overview of each species, with detailed information about everything from breeding biology, to foraging ecology, to physical measurements, and much more. There are many illustrations and graphs as well. (The Penguins is manna for natural-science geeks and hard-core bird nerds.)


Who am I?

I’m a penguin expert, TED speaker, and life-long animal lover. I was a Senior Penguin Aquarist at Boston’s New England Aquarium, where I worked for 9 years. In 2000, I helped manage the rescue of 40,000 penguins from the Treasure oil spill in South Africa. I founded my educational company The Penguin Lady in 2005, and give presentations at schools, universities, libraries, conferences (including the International Penguin Conference), and on National Geographic’s ships in Antarctica. I’ve given 4 TEDx talks, wrote and narrated a TED-Ed video about penguin conservation, and am a frequent guest expert on radio, podcasts, and TV in the US and abroad whenever penguins hit the news.


I wrote...

The Great Penguin Rescue: 40,000 Penguins, a Devastating Oil Spill, and the Inspiring Story of the World's Largest Animal Rescue

By Dyan deNapoli,

Book cover of The Great Penguin Rescue: 40,000 Penguins, a Devastating Oil Spill, and the Inspiring Story of the World's Largest Animal Rescue

What is my book about?

The Great Penguin Rescue is the gripping and unforgettable true story of the world’s largest and most successful animal rescue. When an oil spill threatened to kill tens of thousands of African penguins near Cape Town, 110 penguin experts (including the author) flew to South Africa to help manage the care of the oiled birds. With the help of 12,500 dedicated - yet completely inexperienced - volunteers, 95% of the 40,000 affected penguins were saved. Hailed as “a real-life eco-thriller with a happy ending” and “a powerful story that needs to be told”, this award-winning book is a moving testament to what can be achieved when we come together and work as one. 

The World Before Us

By Tom Higham,

Book cover of The World Before Us: The New Science Behind Our Human Origins

We are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as a species mentally superior to all others. This view was challenged in the 19th century with the discovery in Europe of the Neanderthals, an extinct large-brained human-like species. Our superiority seemed to be restored by evidence that Neanderthal extinction followed the arrival in Europe of seemingly dominant Homo sapiens from Africa. Accumulating archaeological and genetic evidence is changing that comfortable picture. Another large-brained but extinct human-like species, the Denisovans, are now also known to have existed in widespread regions of Russia, Asia, and Oceania. Not only were these archaic species technologically and culturally on a par with sapiens, but they also mated occasionally with each other and with our own species. Many people throughout the world carry genetic material from them, and these have contributed to our own regional adaptations. This book challenges our view of ourselves, and implies greater affinity and…

Who am I?

Michael Corballis is a psychologist and brain scientist. His interests lie in how the mind works, how it maps onto the brain, and how it evolved. Much of his work is published in books and scientific articles, but he has also written books aimed at a general readership. These include Pieces of Mind, The Lopsided Ape, The Recursive Mind, The Wandering Mind, and The Truth about Language.


I wrote...

Adventures of a Psychologist: Reflections on What Made Up the Mind

By Michael C. Corballis,

Book cover of Adventures of a Psychologist: Reflections on What Made Up the Mind

What is my book about?

The book is an autobiography of my life, from growing up on a sheep farm in New Zealand, to several attempts to find a career, to eventual employment in Canada and New Zealand as an academic psychologist and researcher. Over the past 60 years, I saw scientific psychology transform, from behaviourism, to the cognitive revolution, then to the discovery of the brain. I worked with pigeons, long-suffering undergraduate volunteers, and split-brained patients. I pondered the various aspects that make up the mind: memory, imagination, the two sides of the brain, language, and its evolution. Four of the books recommended below feature in this book; One of them (the fourth) appeared too recently for inclusion.

The Crucible of Time

By John Brunner,

Book cover of The Crucible of Time

A planet in its equivalent of the stone age is passing through a galactic debris field. An alien stargazer realizes that sooner or later some object will strike the planet and destroy it. The only hope of survival his species has is to leave the planet before that happens. But the concept is a mere abstraction to his people, the equivalent of a Neanderthal saying “we need to travel to the moon,” and the task is further complicated by the fact that their technology is biological in nature, focused on the manipulation of living tissue. It is hard to imagine how such technology could ever produce a spaceship. 

The novel--structured as a series of novellas-- follows the development of a fascinating alien species from its primitive roots to an age of high technology, each chapter focusing on a different time period. Always the stargazer’s warning is proclaimed by a few…


Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by the workings of the human mind. What instincts and influences make us who we are? This Alien Shore grew out of research I was doing into atypical neurological conditions. It depicts a society that has abandoned the concept of “neurotypical”, embracing every variant of human perspective as valid and valuable. One of my main characters, Kio Masada, is autistic, and that gives him a unique perspective on computer security that others cannot provide. What might such a man accomplish, in a world where his condition is embraced and celebrated? Good science fiction challenges our definition of “Other,” and asks what it really means to be human, all in the context of an exciting story.


I wrote...

This Alien Shore

By C.S. Friedman,

Book cover of This Alien Shore

What is my book about?

When Earth’s superluminal drive altered the genes of the first interstellar colonists, Earth abandoned them. But the colonists survived, and now there is a new civilization among the stars, peopled by mental and physical “Variants”. Earth’s children have become alien to her.

In Terran space, orphan Jamisia Shido is guided by mysterious voices in her head. After a devastating attack on her station, she is forced to flee to the Variant worlds, where she must uncover the secrets locked within her own brain before those who destroyed her home can find her. In Variant space, a computer virus is killing the only pilots capable of guiding ships through deep space. Security expert Kio Masada must track down the source of the virus before all of Variant society collapses. And the key to doing that may lie hidden within the mind of a young Terran fugitive. 

Beloved Beasts

By Michelle Nijhuis,

Book cover of Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction

Michelle Nijhuis tells the history of conservation over the last three hundred years with compelling narrative and fascinating detail. She shines a new light on the context and stories of familiar as well as lesser-known, pioneering conservationists. I loved it and learnt so much.

Beloved Beasts explores different perspectives of an increasingly desperate human story. Cutting to the underlying narrative… "people are still killing too many animals and destroying too much habitat" Nijui urges that as our societies become ever more connected, perhaps there is hope that we humans can sort ourselves (and our planet…) out. Let’s hope so.


Who am I?

I write picture books about nature to inspire curiosity and care for our planet. I have been writing about wildlife conservation and particularly endangered species since studying ecology, campaigning with Greenpeace, and working with the Natural History Museum in London. Now as a full-time author, I have an extraordinary opportunity to learn through experience and in conversation with scientists, teachers, and children about how best to tell this ever more urgent, evolving story. The statement "Ecology? Look it up! You’re involved" writ large in 1969 by the first Greenpeace campaigners on billboards around Vancouver, still says it all for me.  


I wrote...

Red Alert! 15 Endangered Animals Fighting to Survive

By Catherine Barr,

Book cover of Red Alert! 15 Endangered Animals Fighting to Survive

What is my book about?

Writing this book introduced me to the plight of pangolins, the elegant beauty of lumpy nosed gharials, and the dazzling colours of the peacock tarantula. With the generous help of Head of IUCN RedList Craig Hilton-Tailor, I narrowed 100,000 species on the Red List of threatened species down to just 15.

In school visits, the stories of this diverse group of endangered creatures have gripped the imagination of hundreds of school children. Researching the book has ignited my friendship with scientists and inspiring conservations around the world. I am grateful to Anne Wilson for her vibrant illustrations and pangolin drawing tutorials that have transfixed so many hushed school halls, with children’s pencils poised.

Saving Sun Bears

By Sarah R. Pye,

Book cover of Saving Sun Bears: One man's quest to save a species

I am inspired by Dr. Wong Siew Te’s dedication and commitment to the lives of this little-known bear species. Author Dr. Sarah Pye tells Dr. Wong's personal story, interwoven with her own seven year journey to learn about the sun bears in Borneo threatened by a cruel wildlife trade. 

Adult sun bears are hunted for illegal trade in their parts from gallbladders to their paws. Their abandoned young are snatched for the illegal pet trade and wherever he can, Dr. Wong rescues these tiny cubs from life confined to a cage. His unique sun bear conservation centre in Borneo sets out wherever possible, to reintroduce these bears back into protected wild spaces.


Who am I?

I write picture books about nature to inspire curiosity and care for our planet. I have been writing about wildlife conservation and particularly endangered species since studying ecology, campaigning with Greenpeace, and working with the Natural History Museum in London. Now as a full-time author, I have an extraordinary opportunity to learn through experience and in conversation with scientists, teachers, and children about how best to tell this ever more urgent, evolving story. The statement "Ecology? Look it up! You’re involved" writ large in 1969 by the first Greenpeace campaigners on billboards around Vancouver, still says it all for me.  


I wrote...

Red Alert! 15 Endangered Animals Fighting to Survive

By Catherine Barr,

Book cover of Red Alert! 15 Endangered Animals Fighting to Survive

What is my book about?

Writing this book introduced me to the plight of pangolins, the elegant beauty of lumpy nosed gharials, and the dazzling colours of the peacock tarantula. With the generous help of Head of IUCN RedList Craig Hilton-Tailor, I narrowed 100,000 species on the Red List of threatened species down to just 15.

In school visits, the stories of this diverse group of endangered creatures have gripped the imagination of hundreds of school children. Researching the book has ignited my friendship with scientists and inspiring conservations around the world. I am grateful to Anne Wilson for her vibrant illustrations and pangolin drawing tutorials that have transfixed so many hushed school halls, with children’s pencils poised.

The Last City

By Nina D'Aleo,

Book cover of The Last City

Fast-paced action, adventure, humour, combat, and brilliant world building: The Last City has it all. The female characters fight alongside — and against the male characters in this action-packed sci-fi novel, set in the multi-layered city of Scorpia. I loved immersing myself in this fictional world inhabited by a legion of post-human species. The struggles of the main female characters, including Sihlo, whose history means she’s a target for the bad guys, and object-morphing Diega, are drawn with clarity and depth that meant I really cared for these oddball creatures and cheered for them to defeat the enemy. This book is such a lot of fun, and I loved it from start to finish.


Who am I?

I love young adult fiction. I especially love it when female characters face their fears and fight for what’s right. And if they’re not afraid to run headfirst into a battle, even better. I think it’s incredibly important for young women to have access to books that break free of female stereotypes. None of the heroines in these books are waiting for someone to save them. They’re in the thick of it, confronting their demons, and maybe slaying a few, too! My PhD explored power and belonging in YA fiction, and I’ve written and presented on the importance of strong female characters. Here’s to girl power!


I wrote...

Dirt Circus League

By Maree Kimberley,

Book cover of Dirt Circus League

What is my book about?

Dirt Circus League is a compelling and fast-paced novel about the powerful allure of danger.

Asa’s running from a troubled past. To a remote outback town, a disappointing father, and a fresh start that’s already souring. But then the notorious Dirt Circus League arrives. A troupe of outcast teens performing spectacular fight sequences and challenging any who dares to take part. They’re ruthless. Menacing. Thrilling. And led by the magnetic Quarter. He’s dark, powerful, and intensely attractive—and he faces a threat only Asa can see. Will Asa be drawn into the league’s mysterious community? And, as she discovers the violent secrets at its heart, will she delve into her own untapped abilities to save herself—and heal those caught in its evil web?

Eric, the Wild Car

By John Sheridan, Malcolm Livingstone (illustrator),

Book cover of Eric, the Wild Car

Eric and his herd of wild cars are a newly discovered species of furry cars which roam the prairie and drinking from outcroppings of oil. Its unique, whimsical, and oddball humor inspired me to start thinking of my own ideas for picture books although it took me another ten years or so to make it happen. 


Who am I?

When I was about ten, my mother brought home our one and only outdoor Christmas decoration, a plastic choir boy. One blustery night, we saw something streak by the living room windows. Rushing outside, we were shocked to see our choirboy lying amongst the shrubbery, his plastic neck broken. My father made several valiant attempts at surgery with various kinds of glue and tape, but the poor little choir boy was never really the same and eventually he was thrown into the trash. This childhood memory inspired me to write Candy Cane Lane and fortunately I was about to give it a much happier ending.


I wrote...

Candy Cane Lane

By Scott Santoro,

Book cover of Candy Cane Lane

What is my book about?

The houses on Candy Cane Lane have some of the most spectacular holiday decorations around, so when a winter storm hits and damages some of the festive lawn ornaments, the residents simply can’t allow the broken figures to ruin their prized displays. Many end up in the trash, including a scuffed choirboy who is sure he’ll never have a chance to bring holiday cheer to the lane again. That is, until a little girl in the only undecorated house on the block saves him and gives him a special spot on her lawn.

But when a misunderstanding the next morning sends the choirboy off to the dump, he’ll have to team up with a plucky group of other discarded lawn ornaments to find his way back to the little girl.

Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals

By Daniel Hudon,

Book cover of Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals

I happened to be at a conference of scientists trying to conserve endangered species when I first heard about Daniel Hudon’s book. It struck a chord. It is a beautiful little collection of one hundred eulogies for lost animal species. Some are brief—just a few lines long. Others are more expansive, taking in literature and reportage. But all are poignant reminders of the permanence of extinction. Hudon’s aim is simply to acknowledge that these species existed, to recognize them and make them better known. It is a beautiful and unique collection, stunning in the cumulative force of his poetic words. A perfect gift, Hudon’s tales are both tragic and inspirational. 


Who am I?

I am a tropical ecologist turned writer and editor focused on biodiversity, climate change, forests, and the people who depend on them. I did my doctoral research in rainforests in Borneo and Papua New Guinea and have since worked for media organizations and research institutes, and as a mentor to journalists around the world who report on environmental issues. Ecology taught me that everything is connected. Rainforests taught me that nature can leave a person awe-struck with its beauty, complexity, or sheer magnificence. I try to share my passion for these subjects through my writing.


I wrote...

Gods, Wasps and Stranglers: The Secret History and Redemptive Future of Fig Trees

By Mike Shanahan,

Book cover of Gods, Wasps and Stranglers: The Secret History and Redemptive Future of Fig Trees

What is my book about?

Gods, Wasps and Stranglers* will take you to rainforests, volcanoes, and ancient temples to discover the mind-blowing story of the strangler figs and their kin, which have shaped our world and our species in extraordinary ways. No other group of trees is more ecologically and culturally important. They sustain more species of wildlife than any other plants. They also fed our pre-human ancestors, influenced our evolution, enriched diverse cultures, and played key roles in the dawn of civilisation. Author Mike Shanahan weaves together the mythology, history, biology, and ecology of these fascinating trees, from their starring roles in every major religion to their potential to restore lost rainforests and conserve endangered species. 

*Published in the UK as Ladders to Heaven.

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