The best naturalist books

6 authors have picked their favorite books about naturalists and why they recommend each book.

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A Passion for Nature

By Donald Worster,

Book cover of A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir

This is a complete biography of Muir that according to the Journal of American History “Supplants all earlier Muir biographies and will undoubtedly stand the test of time for its sophisticated interpretations and impressive narrative power.” The journal added that it’s also “a pleasure to read.” Worster knows his stuff. He’s Hall Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of Kansas.


Who am I?

Kim Heacox has written 15 books, five of them published by National Geographic. He has twice won the National Outdoor Book Award (for his memoir, The Only Kayak, and his novel, Jimmy Bluefeather), and twice won the Lowell Thomas Award for excellence in travel journalism. He’s featured on Ken Burns’ film, The National Parks, America's Best Idea, and he’s spoken about John Muir on Public Radio International’s Living on Earth. He lives in Gustavus, Alaska (next to Glacier Bay Nat’l Park), a small town of 500 people reachable only by boat or plane.


I wrote...

John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America

By Kim Heacox,

Book cover of John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America

What is my book about?

John Muir, America’s foremost wild lands preservationist, lived a large life. He changed the maps of America, and how we see ourselves in the American landscape. Most people associate him with California’s Yosemite. But Muir made seven trips to Alaska over a 20-year period, 1879-99, during which he explored tidewater glaciers by foot and canoe, befriended indigenous Tlingits, and returned home with a renewed commitment to speak and act on behalf of wilderness and beauty – to protect every acre he could. In short, the glaciers of Alaska changed Muir, and Muir in turn changed America.

The Young John Muir

By Steven J. Holmes,

Book cover of The Young John Muir: An Environmental Biography

Born in Scotland and raised in Wisconsin, Muir had many profound childhood experiences that shaped his radicalism, including his ability to see America through a different lens that gave him impartiality but also compassion. In short, Muir’s ability to question everything, even our modern notions of progress and what makes us happy, stems from his childhood and early manhood, which this book explores in perfect detail.


Who am I?

Kim Heacox has written 15 books, five of them published by National Geographic. He has twice won the National Outdoor Book Award (for his memoir, The Only Kayak, and his novel, Jimmy Bluefeather), and twice won the Lowell Thomas Award for excellence in travel journalism. He’s featured on Ken Burns’ film, The National Parks, America's Best Idea, and he’s spoken about John Muir on Public Radio International’s Living on Earth. He lives in Gustavus, Alaska (next to Glacier Bay Nat’l Park), a small town of 500 people reachable only by boat or plane.


I wrote...

John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America

By Kim Heacox,

Book cover of John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America

What is my book about?

John Muir, America’s foremost wild lands preservationist, lived a large life. He changed the maps of America, and how we see ourselves in the American landscape. Most people associate him with California’s Yosemite. But Muir made seven trips to Alaska over a 20-year period, 1879-99, during which he explored tidewater glaciers by foot and canoe, befriended indigenous Tlingits, and returned home with a renewed commitment to speak and act on behalf of wilderness and beauty – to protect every acre he could. In short, the glaciers of Alaska changed Muir, and Muir in turn changed America.

Across the Shaman's River

By Daniel Lee Henry,

Book cover of Across the Shaman's River: John Muir, the Tlingit Stronghold, and the Opening of the North

In the fall of 1879, when John Muir arrived among Alaska’s Chilkat Tlingits, he charmed them with his stories but also unwittingly acted as an agent of Manifest Destiny and opened the floodgates of the Klondike Gold Rush. This is an important story of first contact and fresh perspectives, thoroughly researched and compellingly told. There’s no other book like it.


Who am I?

Kim Heacox has written 15 books, five of them published by National Geographic. He has twice won the National Outdoor Book Award (for his memoir, The Only Kayak, and his novel, Jimmy Bluefeather), and twice won the Lowell Thomas Award for excellence in travel journalism. He’s featured on Ken Burns’ film, The National Parks, America's Best Idea, and he’s spoken about John Muir on Public Radio International’s Living on Earth. He lives in Gustavus, Alaska (next to Glacier Bay Nat’l Park), a small town of 500 people reachable only by boat or plane.


I wrote...

John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America

By Kim Heacox,

Book cover of John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America

What is my book about?

John Muir, America’s foremost wild lands preservationist, lived a large life. He changed the maps of America, and how we see ourselves in the American landscape. Most people associate him with California’s Yosemite. But Muir made seven trips to Alaska over a 20-year period, 1879-99, during which he explored tidewater glaciers by foot and canoe, befriended indigenous Tlingits, and returned home with a renewed commitment to speak and act on behalf of wilderness and beauty – to protect every acre he could. In short, the glaciers of Alaska changed Muir, and Muir in turn changed America.

Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent

By Alexander von Humboldt,

Book cover of Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent

Humboldt is the Godfather of so many fascinating areas of natural history. His mind unravels mysteries for breakfast. The book is a great travel story in its own right, but this tale envelopes countless examples of groundbreaking discovery. 

Personally, I find his work inspiring because he excelled at revealing how nature and place reflect each other. The plants and animals we encounter change with latitude, altitude, and a dozen other variables. This is the science that allows us to start making maps from plants and animals. We are all indebted to Humboldt and I feel it strongly. 


Who am I?

I am an author and natural navigator. I set up my natural navigation school in 2008 and am the author of award-winning and internationally bestselling books, including The Natural Navigator (2010) The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs (2014), How to Read Water (2016), and The Secret World of Weather (2021), some of the world’s only books covering natural navigation. I have spent decades hunting for clues and signs in nature, across the globe, which may be why I am sometimes nicknamed: “The Sherlock Holmes of Nature”.


I wrote...

The Lost Art of Reading Nature's Signs: Use Outdoor Clues to Find Your Way, Predict the Weather, Locate Water, Track Animals--And Other Forgotten Skil

By Tristan Gooley,

Book cover of The Lost Art of Reading Nature's Signs: Use Outdoor Clues to Find Your Way, Predict the Weather, Locate Water, Track Animals--And Other Forgotten Skil

What is my book about?

The natural world is filled with clues. The roots of a tree indicate direction; the Big Dipper tells the time; a passing butterfly hints at the weather; a sand dune reveals prevailing wind; the scent of cinnamon suggests altitude; a budding flower points south. To help you understand nature as he does, Gooley shares more than 850 tips for navigation, forecasting, tracking, and more, gathered from decades spent walking the landscape around his home and around the world.

Whether you’re walking in the country or city, along a coastline, or by night, this is the ultimate resource on what the land, sun, moon, stars, plants, animals, and clouds can reveal—if you only know how to look!

Diary of a Young Naturalist

By Dara McAnulty,

Book cover of Diary of a Young Naturalist

Dara McAnulty is a young naturalist from Northern Ireland. He is autistic and writes about how he was badly bullied at school because of that. He has always found joy and comfort in the natural world, and this is a journal of his fifteenth year, recording outings to woodlands, coasts, and mountains. He writes so vividly, not only about the birds and other creatures he sees but also about the exhilaration of being in wild places. This was his first book, and I’m sure there will be many more from this gifted young writer.


Who am I?

I'm mainly known as an author of fiction for young readers, but animal awareness is an important part of my life and I decided to write about it.  I’ve been vegetarian for many years, and vegan for the last four: I decided long ago that no animal was going to die so that I could eat it. From early childhood, I loved animal stories, and as I grew older it baffled me that we care for our pets while thinking of other creatures as food. I spend a lot of my time campaigning for animals – for better treatment of farm animals, against bloodsports like fox-hunting and shooting, and for better awareness of the natural world and how we must look after it. 


I wrote...

This Book Is Cruelty Free: Animals and Us

By Linda Newbery,

Book cover of This Book Is Cruelty Free: Animals and Us

What is my book about?

My book is a guide to compassionate living. Every day of our lives we make choices – about what to eat, wear, use, waste, and throw away – and these choices affect animals and the environment in all sorts of ways. How can we choose better, and live more kindly? I look at food, fashion, pets, zoos, how to engage with nature, and much more, including how to campaign for a better world for animals. I hope this book will help you to feel confident with your decisions, to make positive changes, and maybe influence others too.

Out of School and Into Nature

By Suzanne Slade, Jessica Lanan (illustrator),

Book cover of Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story

The Anna Comstock story shows us a girl who loved the natural world. She was a naturalist and an artist who was determined to encourage schools to take students outdoors to increase their interest in nature. Outdoors! ‘Didn’t she know school rules?’ Her persistence paid off when several schools agreed to let students tromp through forests and fields. Her art which is beautifully represented in the illustrations, and her books helped children realize that all living things are connected. I love a book that shows passion for wildlife and the environment. Anna’s story does just that. 


Who am I?

I’m an award-winning children’s author who lives in Australia. I love reading and writing picture books, and although I mostly write fiction, I also love writing biographies. I am drawn to stories about women who have achieved something inspirational and unexpected and who may have not received wide recognition at the time or that any recognition has faded from public knowledge. I find it exciting to work with a team, that is the illustrator and the publisher, to create books that will find their way to children and allow them to imagine and feel another person’s life, and to see that everyday people do amazing things.


I wrote...

Railroad Engineer Olive Dennis

By Kaye Baillie, Tanja Stephani (illustrator),

Book cover of Railroad Engineer Olive Dennis

What is my book about?

When Olive Dennis was young, girls were expected to be sewing, cooking, and cleaning. But Olive was busy imagining, designing, and building everything from a wooden dollhouse to a model streetcar with working parts. When she grew up, Olive continued to defy expectations, earning a civil engineering degree, and becoming the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's first female engineer. Her genius for inventing improvements based on her keen observations of passengers' needs and problems led her to the assignment of a lifetime: designing a luxury train that would change rail travel forever.

The Invention of Nature

By Andrea Wulf,

Book cover of The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt's New World

He was one of the most important and popular scientists in the history of men, but for many years I didn´t know who Alexander von Humboldt really was and what he actually did do—until I read the book of Andrea Wulff. She rummaged through archives and wrote a fluffy and fascinating biography about the man who revolutionized our view on nature: Up to then it was thought that every animal and plant has its own specific place on Earth, right there where God did create them. Von Humboldt discovered that every species has its own specific climate niche and lives within the borders of belts that span around the world, von Humboldt called isotherms. The only thing the Prussian visionary didn´t describe is: What happens if these bands start moving like they do today because of climate change?


Who am I?

As a science journalist I have concentrated on the consequences of climate change. It´s the most frightening as fascinating experiment, we conduct with our planet. In 2018 I wrote a book on extreme weather together with climate scientist Freddy Otto from the University of Oxford (Angry Weather). After this I got immersed in a different climate consequence: How it is affecting biodiversity and with it the foundation of our societies. But what I also love is good storytelling. I quickly get bored with texts that have no dramaturgy or that don't give the reader any pleasure—unlike the fantastic and highly relevant books on this list.


I wrote...

Nowhere Left to Go: How Climate Change Is Driving Species to the Ends of the Earth

By Benjamin von Brackel,

Book cover of Nowhere Left to Go: How Climate Change Is Driving Species to the Ends of the Earth

What is my book about?

As humans accelerate global warming, animals and plants must flee to the margins: on scattered nature reserves, between major highways, or among urban sprawl. And when even these places become too hot and inhospitable, wildlife is left with only one path to survival: an often-formidable journey toward the poles as they race to find a new home in a warming world. Tropical zones lose their inhabitants, beavers settle in Alaska, and gigantic shoals of fish disappear—just to reappear along foreign coastlines.

Award-winning environmental journalist Benjamin von Brackel traces these awe-inspiring journeys and celebrates the remarkable resilience of species around the world. But the lengths these plants and animals must go to avoid extinction are as alarming as they are inspirational.

Untamed

By Will Harlan,

Book cover of Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island

Carol Ruckdeschel is one of the foremost naturalists of our time. The majority of her learning did not come from books or classrooms but from tens of thousands of hours spent outdoors studying animals and their environment. A book that leaves you feeling more wild.


Who am I?

Jennifer Pharr Davis has covered over 14,000 miles - and explored trails on six different continents - and in all fifty states. In 2011 she set a record on the Appalachian Trail by covering 2,190 mile miles in 46 days (an average of 47 miles per day). Jennifer is a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and a member of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition.


I wrote...

Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail

By Jennifer Pharr Davis,

Book cover of Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail

What is my book about?

After graduating from college, Jennifer isn't sure what she wants to do with her life. Through inexperienced and unprepared, she feels drawn to the Appalachian Trail and sets out along on the long-distance footpath that stretches 2, 175 miles from Georgia to Maine. The next five months are the most physically and emotionally challenging of her life--coping with blisters and aching shoulders, hiking through endless torrents of rain and a blizzard, facing unwanted company and encountering tragedy. The trail becomes a modern day Odyssey that tests Jennifer's faith in God, humanity and herself. But even at her lowest points, it provides enduring friendships, unexpected laughter, and the gift of self-discovery. With every step she takes, Jennifer transitions from an over-confident college graduate to a student of the trail. As she travels along the ridges of the ancient mountain chain, she realizes that she isn't walking through nature--she realizes she is part of nature. And she learns that the Appalachian Trails is more than a 2,175 mile hike: it is a journey that will change a person forever.

My Last Continent

By Midge Raymond,

Book cover of My Last Continent

Few novels capture the thrills and the dangers of living in Antarctica amidst penguins, icebergs, and tourist vessels. Midge Raymond (who is my partner) has written a powerful novel that is more than just a romance between researchers, it is a cautionary tale about the precariousness of our world. For anyone considering (or dreaming) of a cruise to Antarctica, this is a must-read novel.


Who am I?

Travels to the Arctic and Antarctic and time spent alongside researching counting Magellanic penguins in Argentina have inspired not only The Tourist Trail but a life spent advocating for animals. The oceans may appear vast and impenetrable but they are fragile, and we need to act now to protect the many species who call these waters home. The books here not only expose the crisis we face but highlight those people and organizations who have dedicated their lives to protecting our planet and its many residents. It’s not too late to make a difference and I hope these books inspire you to lend your voice and energy to the fight.


I wrote...

The Tourist Trail

By John Yunker,

Book cover of The Tourist Trail

What is my book about?

The Tourist Trail is an environmental thriller about endangered species in the world's most remote waters and the people who put their lives on the line to protect them. Against the backdrop of the Southern Ocean, the novel weaves together the stories of Angela, a penguin researcher based in southern Argentina, Robert, an FBI agent in pursuit of an anti-whaling activist known as Aeneas; and Ethan Downes, a computer tech whose love for a passionate animal rights activist draws him into a dangerous mission among the icebergs of Antarctica.

Walking It Off

By Doug Peacock,

Book cover of Walking It Off: A Veteran's Chronicle of War And Wilderness

Peacock is one of two authors who make me want to put down the book and take a hike. I am an avid reader, and the ability of Peacock to make me put down his book is astonishing. Walking it Off is simultaneously a personal journey in light of the death of his friend Edward Abbey and also a pragmatic guide to hiking in the southwestern United States. This book reveals Peacock and his relationship with Edward Abbey, the desert anarchist.

Who am I?

I spent most of my life in the western United States. Born and raised in northern Idaho, a professorial position attracted me to Tucson, Arizona, the long-time home of Edward Abbey. Cactus Ed said it best: “The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders. Remaining silent about the destruction of nature is an endorsement of that destruction.” Upon reading books by Abbey and others writing about the American West, I became a defender of the idea of wilderness.


I wrote...

Killing the Natives: A Retrospective Analysis

By Guy McPherson,

Book cover of Killing the Natives: A Retrospective Analysis

What is my book about?

The goal of this book is to critically evaluate my first book-length work of cultural criticism, which was published on January 1, 2005. Fifteen years is a long time in the scientific world, particularly when Earth is experiencing a Mass Extinction Event, abrupt climate change, and ongoing assaults from the needs and desires of nearly eight billion people. We have added an additional 25 percent to the number of humans when I wrote the original text. Each of these people has needs and desires that place stress on the living planet.

In short, this book addresses what I wrote nearly two decades ago. I do so with a short comment at the end of each chapter, supported by evidence I include within the text.

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