The most recommended natural history books

Who picked these books? Meet our 88 experts.

88 authors created a book list connected to natural history, and here are their favorite natural history books.
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What type of natural history book?


Book cover of The Soul of the Ape & My Friends the Baboons

Simon Clark Author Of Vampyrrhic

From my list on the development of the human mind.

Why am I passionate about this?

My father, a history teacher, often pointed out battlefields and scenes of historical importance when I was a child: so an ordinary-looking countryside became the place where knights in armor clashed, or where Viking longboats glided along a river. I grew up habitually overlying vivid scenes from the past on modern landscapes, all of which inspired me to write novels, including The Night of the Triffids, Blood Crazy, and Darkness Demands. Much of my fiction reflects my interest in the evolution of the human mind and how our minds are molded by the world we live in, hence my choice of the five books that I do wholeheartedly recommend for the eager adventurer in thought.

Simon's book list on the development of the human mind

Simon Clark Why did Simon love this book?

Early in the twentieth century, Marais studied a troop of baboons, studying their behavior, gaining insights into how this primate thinks, and, moreover, drawing conclusions about the development of the human psyche. Marais believed that the human unconscious mind, which he called “the subliminal soul” and which still “shapes our thoughts and actions”, is the ancient animal mentality, submerged beneath the evolution of the conscious mind. Therefore, he postulates, the hereditary mind that belonged to our pre-human ancestors is very much alive and well within us.

By Eugene Marais,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Soul of the Ape & My Friends the Baboons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eugene Marais spent three years living in the South African wilderness in close daily contact with a troop of baboons. He later described this as the happiest, most content time of his troubled life. This period produced two works which are testament to his research and conclusions; they have very different histories.

Firstly, there was a series of articles written in Afrikaans for the newspaper Die Vaderland. They were then published in book form under the title Burgers van die Berge, and were first published in an English translation in 1939 under the title My Friends the Baboons. These pieces…

Book cover of Idle Days in Patagonia

Conor Mark Jameson Author Of Finding W. H. Hudson: The Writer Who Came to Britain to Save the Birds

From my list on W. H. Hudson, in his own words.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am now a full-time author, and I worked for 25 years for the RSPB at Sandy and BirdLife in Cambridge. An oil painting of W. H. Hudson hangs above the fireplace of the house at Sandy – so he was a familiar face, like an ancestor about whom little is recalled and surprisingly little is ever said. I began to dabble in his books and got drawn in. I wanted to understand him and his female colleagues who created the organisation we know today and that has been such a big part of my life. I have a sense of repaying a debt.

Conor's book list on W. H. Hudson, in his own words

Conor Mark Jameson Why did Conor love this book?

I particularly enjoyed this book. Hudson’s ornithological expedition in this desolate wilderness was made partly ‘idle’ by the mishap he had when examining a faulty pistol, shooting himself in the knee.

He described his solitary confinement in a remote cabin while his sole companion went off to seek help. He shared his bed with a venomous snake, and was later ferried to hospital by bullock cart, a journey of many hours over rough terrain.

"My miserable journey ended at dawn at the Mission House. Later in the day, on awakening, I found myself in the hands of a gentleman who was a skilful surgeon as well as a divine. My bullet, however, refused to be extracted. Every morning for a fortnight my host, with a quiet smile on his lips, would present a succession of probes – oh those probes of all forms, sizes and materials: wood, ivory, steel and…

By William Henry Hudson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Idle Days in Patagonia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.

This work is in the "public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.

Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. We appreciate your support of the preservation process, and thank…

Book cover of Islands of Abandonment: Nature Rebounding in the Post-Human Landscape

Emily Grandy Author Of Michikusa House

From my list on to help reconnect with the natural world.

Why am I passionate about this?

I write well-researched literary fiction with an ecological focus. Before becoming a biomedical editor, I did clinical research for a leading academic medical center in Cleveland, OH. However, it was only by working at a research institution – and becoming a patient there – that I realized how much science overlooks; it’s only one way of knowing about something. Another way is by building relationships – including with non-human beings. It’s not just people who are complex. Every living thing exists within an intricate, nuanced ecosystem. This sort of knowing, built over long periods, is what facilitates understanding, compassion, and respect for other beings. These are the qualities I hope to share through my writing.

Emily's book list on to help reconnect with the natural world

Emily Grandy Why did Emily love this book?

Islands of Abandonment shares extraordinary examples of nature’s ability to reclaim – and restore – land abused by humans.

In startling vignettes, the author visits numerous abandoned sites, uninhabited by humans for different reasons: from Chernobyl to a no man's land on the island of Cyprus, to factories simply rendered obsolete leaving the surrounding neighborhoods blighted, dangerous and often empty.

I found this book to be, if not hopeful, then cautiously optimistic in its affirmation of nature’s resilience, even in the wake of massive destruction. Cal Flyn’s writing is enviably good: keenly observant, capturing intimate details about these landscapes and the non-human beings who inhabit them in vivid detail.

Unforgettable and illuminating. This is nature writing and investigative journalism at its best.

By Cal Flyn,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Islands of Abandonment as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A beautiful, lyrical exploration of the places where nature is flourishing in our absence

"[Flyn] captures the dread, sadness, and wonder of beholding the results of humanity's destructive impulse, and she arrives at a new appreciation of life, 'all the stranger and more valuable for its resilence.'" --The New Yorker

Some of the only truly feral cattle in the world wander a long-abandoned island off the northernmost tip of Scotland. A variety of wildlife not seen in many lifetimes has rebounded on the irradiated grounds of Chernobyl. A lush forest supports thousands of species that are extinct or endangered everywhere…

Book cover of One Midsummer's Day: Swifts and the Story of Life on Earth

Tom Mustill Author Of How to Speak Whale: The Power and Wonder of Listening to Animals

From my list on escaping into worlds of animal wonder.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was first a biologist, working with endangered species. Then I switched and spent fifteen years making nature documentaries with people like Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough. Then a humpback whale breached onto me when I was kayaking, this led to a life-changing adventure culminating in my becoming involved in efforts to use AI to translate the communications of whales! I wrote about this for my first book. My great passion was always reading and in becoming a writer I get to go deeper and more playfully into my favorite parts of filmmaking – following heroic and fascinating people on their adventures, reading hundreds of complicated scientific papers, and finding ways to connect these.

Tom's book list on escaping into worlds of animal wonder

Tom Mustill Why did Tom love this book?

I read this book thinking I'd learn about a speedy little 40g bird that never stops flying and that people used to think flew to the moon in winter.

But the book is a non-fiction love song to all life on earth that spins outward weaving together everything it has taken to make a world that could have swifts in it. It is literally wonder-ful and a masterpiece.

By Mark Cocker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Midsummer's Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It takes a whole universe to make one small black bird

The bestselling author of Crow Country and writer of The Guardian's Country Diary tells the story of all life on Earth through a single day spent in the company of swifts.

'A jewel of a book' Caroline Lucas MP

Swifts are among the most extraordinary of all birds. Their migrations span continents and their twelve-week stopover, when they pause to breed in European rooftops, is the very definition of summer. They may nest in our homes but much about their lives passes over our heads. No birds are more…

Book cover of Soul of a Lion: One Woman's Quest to Rescue Africa's Wildlife Refugees

Britt Collins Author Of Strays: The True Story of a Lost Cat, a Homeless Man, and Their Journey Across America

From my list on non-fiction for cat lovers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an international bestselling author of Strays and a London-based journalist for The Guardian, The Observer, The Sunday Times, and other publications. I've written about animals, conservation, and volunteered at sanctuaries around the world, from tending big cats and baboons in Namibia to wild mustangs in Nevada—a labour of love that has inspired features for The Guardian, The Independent, and Condé Nast Traveller. I've raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for many charities through my investigative animal-cruelty stories; as an activist, I helped shut down controversial breeders of laboratory animals in the UK. I also created Catfestlondon, a sell-out boutique festival that rescues and rehomes Moroccan street kittens in the UK.

Britt's book list on non-fiction for cat lovers

Britt Collins Why did Britt love this book?

A beautifully told story about a Namibian family who created a real-life Noah’s Ark in the desert. Marieta van der Merwe and her late husband Nick turned their cattle ranch into a refuge for thousands of wounded or orphaned animals who can’t make it on their own in the wild. This book, full of wonder and gentle souls, has special meaning for me. I met Barbara Bennett, a North Carolina University literature professor, when I was sent to Namibia to write a story about Harnas Wildlife Sanctuary for the Guardian and we were both volunteering. Afterward, I introduced her to my New York literary agent who sold the book. It’s so vividly written that it allowed me to relive my experiences of daily mischief of the baboons, walking full-grown lions in the desert, sleeping with cheetahs under the stars, and watching the giant thunderstorms on the porch with a menagerie…

By Barbara Bennett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Soul of a Lion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It chronicles the unique Harnas Wildlife Foundation in Namibia, where Marieta van der Merwe and her family, former wealthy cattle farmers, have sold land to buy and care for embattled wildlife.

Book cover of Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter

Sharon Levy Author Of The Marsh Builders: The Fight for Clean Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

From my list on how humanity fouled water and why we need wetlands.

Why am I passionate about this?

I fell in love with the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary thirty years ago, when I first moved to town. At the time, I was working as a field biologist, and I loved to hang out at the marsh and birdwatch—I’d see everything from pelicans to peregrine falcons. Later I shifted from field biology to science writing, and some of my first articles were about how the Arcata Marsh serves both as a wildlife habitat and a means of treating the city’s sewage. I learned about the grassroots movement that created the marsh, and the global history of wetlands loss. I’ve been hooked on wetlands ever since.

Sharon's book list on how humanity fouled water and why we need wetlands

Sharon Levy Why did Sharon love this book?

Long before I learned anything about their ecology, I was fascinated by beavers and their flair for building. Beaver dams change the courses of streams and create habitat for willows, fish, frogs, songbirds, even elk and wolves. Goldfarb’s book tells the story of the beavers’ destruction by fur hunters, the way their loss changed the way water flowed through all of North America, and the ways people are working to bring them back.

By Ben Goldfarb,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

WINNER of the 2019 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

Washington Post "50 Notable Works of Nonfiction"

Science News "Favorite Science Books of 2018"

Booklist "Top Ten Science/Technology Book of 2018"

"A marvelously humor-laced page-turner about the science of semi-aquatic rodents.... A masterpiece of a treatise on the natural world."-The Washington Post

In Eager, environmental journalist Ben Goldfarb reveals that our modern idea of what a healthy landscape looks like and how it functions is wrong, distorted by the fur trade that once trapped out millions of beavers from North America's lakes and rivers. The consequences of losing beavers were…

Book cover of The Inner Life of Animals

Ginjer L. Clarke Author Of Animal Allies: Creatures Working Together

From my list on nonfiction about fascinating animal behavior.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m secretly eight years old inside. I love fascinating animal and science stuff, especially cool, weird, and gross facts. Readers of my children’s books see this passion in action. My best-selling and award-winning nonfiction animal books have sold more than 3 million copies worldwide since 2000. I focus particularly on reaching reluctant, struggling, and English-language-learning readers by packing my books with lots of action and high-interest topics to keep them turning pages. I’m recommending these top-five narrative nonfiction animal books for adults because these authors have influenced my research and thinking—and because they’re terrific stories!

Ginjer's book list on nonfiction about fascinating animal behavior

Ginjer L. Clarke Why did Ginjer love this book?

Are you ready to change the way you see the world forever? Reading Peter Wohlleben’s three-book Mysteries of Nature series will do just that.

This second volume focuses on animal emotions and making connections with human behavior. Until fairly recently, most serious scientists focused only on observable behavior and didn’t try to imagine or determine what animals’ actions tell us about their feelings.

However, all animal lovers can benefit, as I did, from questioning our assumptions, better understanding our similarities, and becoming more aware of how much there is to learn about the inner life of animals. Get ready for some surprises!

By Peter Wohlleben, Jane Billinghurst (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Can horses feel shame? Do deer grieve? Why do roosters deceive hens?

We tend to assume that we are the only living things able to experience feelings but have you ever wondered what's going on in an animal's head? From the leafy forest floor to the inside of a bee hive, The Inner Life of Animals opens up the animal kingdom like never before. We hear the stories of a grateful humpback whale, of a hedgehog who has nightmares, and of a magpie who commits adultery; we meet bees that plan for the future, pigs who learn their own names…

Book cover of The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

Eyal Halfon Author Of They Were Here Before Us: Stories from Our First Million Years

From my list on traveling the world from your armchair.

Why am I passionate about this?

Long before I became a filmmaker and many years before I knew what pre-history meant, I was a restless traveler. I was an adventurer and a hiker, fascinated by maps and mountain peaks and constantly searching for the best place for a coffee break. In my list, I have tried to combine my passion for traveling with what is really important in life: people, friends, and travel companions.

Eyal's book list on traveling the world from your armchair

Eyal Halfon Why did Eyal love this book?

I envy Macfarlane for his talent, his deep knowledge, the cultural wealth he brings to his books, and above all…the many mountains he climbed and the wonderful travels he has made.

Our time on this planet is limited. There is no way we could visit even half the places we dream about. Reading about them is some consolation.

By Robert Macfarlane,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Old Ways as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The acclaimed author of The Wild Places and Underland examines the subtle ways we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move

Chosen by Slate as one of the 50 best nonfiction books of the past 25 years

In this exquisitely written book, which folds together natural history, cartography, geology, and literature, Robert Macfarlane sets off to follow the ancient routes that crisscross both the landscape of the British Isles and its waters and territories beyond. The result is an immersive, enthralling exploration of the voices that haunt old paths and the stories our tracks tell. Macfarlane's journeys take…

Book cover of Weeds: In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants

Jessica J. Lee Author Of Dispersals: On Plants, Borders, and Belonging

From my list on change how you think about plants.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve loved plants since I was a child – that’s probably why I grew up to become an environmental historian and nature writer! But I longed for stories about plants and nature that didn’t paint them as passive and ours to dominate. And stories that represented the voices of those on the margins of nature writing. I have written three books of nature writing, as well as a nature-themed picture books, and many more shorter essays on the natural world along the way.   

Jessica's book list on change how you think about plants

Jessica J. Lee Why did Jessica love this book?

I have always felt uneasy about how we vilify weeds—and reading Mabey’s book helped me understand exactly why!

By showing the power of scrappy, forgotten plants, Mabey re-enchanted me with the less showy, less obviously desirable corners of our world. It’s a book that’s lyrical while being jam-packed with information.

By Richard Mabey,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“[A] witty and beguiling meditation on weeds and their wily ways….You will never look at a weed, or flourish a garden fork, in the same way again.”
—Richard Holmes, author of The Age of Wonder

“In this fascinating, richly detailed book, Richard Mabey gives weeds their full due.”
—Carl Zimmer, author of Evolution

Richard Mabey, Great Britain’s Britain’s “greatest living nature writer” (London Times), has written a stirring and passionate defense of nature’s most unloved plants.  Weeds is a fascinating, eye-opening, and vastly entertaining appreciation of the natural world’s unappreciated wildflowers that will appeal to fans of David Attenborough, Robert…

Book cover of Swifts and Us: The Life of the Bird that Sleeps in the Sky

Celia Haddon Author Of Being Your Cat: What's really going on in your feline's mind

From Celia's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Mad cat lady Love study Kitten rehabber

Celia's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Celia Haddon Why did Celia love this book?

I wanted to know more about these birds. I love the sound of swifts as they circle high in the sky in summer. The book inspired me to put up two swift nest boxes and to try to persuade all builders to include a swift brick in every new house.

I loved this book because it took me into the strange world of the swift. My three passions are cats, animal welfare, and nature. Swifts are amazing and incredible birds, and we need to know more about them so we can help them survive in the modern world.

By Sarah Gibson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Swifts and Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Swifts live almost entirely in the air. They eat, drink, sleep, mate and gather their nesting materials on the wing, fly thousands of miles across the world, navigating their way around storms, never lighting on tree, cliff or ground, until they return home with the summer.

Sarah Gibson has written a fascinating story of discovery, exploring what is known about these mysterious birds, their ancient ancestry and how they have been regarded through history. But the swifts are in real danger: often unintentionally, we are sealing our homes against wildlife of any kind. Cracks, gaps and crevices which for thousands…