The best nature books

19 authors have picked their favorite books about nature and why they recommend each book.

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The Control of Nature

By John McPhee,

Book cover of The Control of Nature

In a series of long-form journalist pieces, McPhee visits places where human beings are at war with natural forces: the long attempt to control the course of the Mississippi River and its floods, Icelanders trying to control lava flows with hoses, and a system of hardened channels and containments for massive mud and debris flows pouring down from the mountains behind Los Angeles. McPhee is at the height of his powers in this book, with his acerbic wit allowing the heroic futility of these manipulations to speak for itself.

Who am I?

Jordan Fisher Smith spent 21 years as a park and wilderness ranger. He is the author of the ranger memoir Nature Noir, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of 2005 pick, and an Audubon Magazine Editor’s Choice. His second book Engineering Eden won a 2017 California Book Award and was longlisted for the 2016 PEN/E.O. Wilson Award for Literary Science Writing. He has also written for The New Yorker, Men’s Journal, Discover, and others and was a principal cast member and narrator of the film Under Our Skin, which was shortlisted for the 2010 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

I wrote...

Engineering Eden: A Violent Death, a Federal Trial, and the Struggle to Restore Nature in Our National Parks

By Jordan Fisher Smith,

Book cover of Engineering Eden: A Violent Death, a Federal Trial, and the Struggle to Restore Nature in Our National Parks

What is my book about?

In the summer of 1972, 25-year-old Harry Walker hitchhiked away from his family’s Alabama farm to see America. Nineteen days later he was killed and partially eaten by an endangered grizzly bear at Yellowstone National Park. An environmental activist convinced Harry’s parents—simple dairy farmers who’d never even contested a traffic ticket—to sue the federal government for mismanagement of the grizzly that not only caused their son’s death, but threatened to drive the great bear to extinction in the 48 contiguous United States. When the case went to trial, two of the greatest wildlife biologists of the twentieth century testified against each other in what became a referendum on some of the most fundamental issues we face today in conserving nature:  When we have disrupted nature, how do we go about repairing it? How much should we try to control or manipulate it in order to heal it?

Andy Goldsworthy

By Andy Goldsworthy,

Book cover of Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature

Goldsworthy is the grandfather of impermanent nature art, creating one-of-a-kind ephemeral sculptures out of snow and ice, stone and twigs, leaf and bark. This book carries the quiet intensity of his art that lives at the edge of decay and change. The book wove me into a world of understanding the impermanence in nature through the lens of art being created on the precipice of change. He sculpts spiraling ice crystals just at the time in the morning when the temperature would permit and builds stone structures at the edge of the water, just before the tide would come in and carry it away. Enchanting art, magical photography, a genius in our midst.

Who am I?

I came to discover the healing power of art, nature, and ritual while I was grieving the loss of my father a decade ago. I would go to the park and make impermanent and symmetrical art from found twigs, flowers, pine cones, berries, and leaves as a way to ground, heal my broken heart, and make sense of a chaotic time. Since then, I‘ve made over a thousand nature altars, written a book about it (Morning Altars), and have taught tens of thousands of people around the world to make meaning in their lives through a creative collaboration with the natural world. It still amazes me that something so simple and impermanent can bring such wonder and resilience.

I wrote...

Hello, Goodbye: 75 Rituals for Times of Loss, Celebration, and Change

By Day Schildkret,

Book cover of Hello, Goodbye: 75 Rituals for Times of Loss, Celebration, and Change

What is my book about?

Embrace the power of ritual with simple practices that slow us down to honor and mark the real moments in our lives—from the loss of a parent to the birth of a child, from grieving a pet to celebrating coming out of the closet.

Day Schildkret, artist and author behind the international Morning Altars movement, believes that what we need is ritual. Rituals are the rhythms and traditions that give us a sense of stability in the face of uncertainty by reminding us that there’s always something we can do, say or make that conjures awe, contentment, and gratitude. They give us a way to acknowledge through our actions that, as life changes, we too must change.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

By Annie Dillard,

Book cover of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

This book is luminous, every page glowing with beautiful prose. The world that Annie Dillard perceives is utterly filled with wonder, and it’s so refreshing to spend time in her presence, finding enchantment in the small things. Dillard tackles some of the biggest questions, pivoting backwards and forwards between profound solemnity and quirky humour. It also has the most perfect crescendo to the end that I know – I remember reading it on a bus to Frankfurt Hahn Airport and wanting to shout for joy as she wrapped it all up.  

Who am I?

I did a master's in Environmental Policy, and at the end of that year, I thought, "this is all very well, but there’s no point designing these policies if no one wants them." My response to the environmental crisis is to try to open people’s eyes to the beauty and wonder of Nature. If you pay close attention, you start to develop an expansive sense of the ordinary: Creation is stranger, more mysterious, and more wonderful than we can imagine. This in turn helps us to love the world more deeply, and we tend to look after things that we love. 

I wrote...

Talking Through Trees

By Edward Picton-Turbervill,

Book cover of Talking Through Trees

What is my book about?

Talking Through Trees was supposed to be a rather dry history of the gardens in St John’s College, Cambridge, but what came out when I sat down to write it was altogether more unexpected. The book is a rhapsody on the trees in the college’s garden, flowing between anecdote, history, biology, poetry, and philosophy. It was augmented by 35 wonderful woodcuts produced by Angela Lemaire for the book and printed by hand at the Old Stile Press. My favourite lines are "A tree is a river in reverse. A river converges on its trunk, and a tree diverges from its source. Humans are both wood and water, since our arteries are trees, and our veins are rivers."

This book is available here.

Wonder Walkers

By Micha Archer,

Book cover of Wonder Walkers

Wonder Walkers is an inquisitive book that explores the natural world from morning to night. Two siblings walk past mountains, a lake, a grove of trees, and ask questions: “Are trees the sky’s legs?” “Are rivers the earth’s veins?” Coupled with lush collage and ink illustrations, this book explores the outdoors in a unique and playful way.

Who am I?

I love the outdoors, and there are so many benefits to playing, imagining, and being outside. I grew up on a fruit farm in Southern Ontario, so I spent much of my growing years playing outdoors and enjoying the natural world. When I became a professional educator, I read the research about the very concrete benefits being outside every day has on young learners. Bring on the recess! Books have a way of sparking action. When we read about how someone else enjoys the outdoors, it makes us want to do the same. Books are inspiring.

I wrote...

Salad Pie

By Wendy BooydeGraaff, Bryan Langdo (illustrator),

Book cover of Salad Pie

What is my book about?

Maggie is determined to make Salad Pie at the playground—alone. But then Herbert appears. He wants to play. Maggie resists. Herbert watches and waits. Maggie’s imagination flourishes with the attention. Then, Salad Pie tumbles down, Herbert saves the day, and an unexpected friendship begins.

Last Child in the Woods

By Richard Louv,

Book cover of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

It’s mind-boggling for me to even consider the amount of research and interviewing that went into this genre-establishing tome. In it, Louv shares the stories of hundreds of kids to prove that there is a new disorder plaguing young people today: A lack of connection to the world outside their front doors.

Who am I?

As a journalist who explores the intersection of human health and planet health, I've long been fascinated by how stepping outside into a healthy environment can boost our well-being. I also believe that we are more likely to take positive climate actions when we have a rich connection to the natural world around us, so a lot of my work focuses on helping people get out into nature—whatever that looks like for them.

I wrote...

Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us

By Emma Loewe,

Book cover of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us

What is my book about?

Return To Nature explores how eight distinct landscapes impact our mental and physical health: grasslands, deserts, forests, mountains, oceans, rivers, icy terrain, and cities. The book weaves together new research and ancient knowledge on how every inch of the natural world can be a salve for the stress, anxiety, and burnout of today’s age. Over the course of this landscape-to-landscape guide, you’ll pick up fresh ideas on how to restore yourself in the nature around you—be it a sprawling forest or a row of street trees. You’ll also learn about meaningful actions we can all take to give back to the landscapes that give so much to us.

Adventures in the Anthropocene

By Gaia Vince,

Book cover of Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made

Gaia’s book came out at a time when climate change wasn’t a hot literary topic and Greta Thunberg hadn’t yet painted “Skolstrejk för Klimatet” on a sign. The Anthropocene marks a new Geological age, the Age of Humans, and Gaia, an editor at Nature, set out to discover what that means for the planet, her, and us. In her words: "I set out to discover whether our species will survive, and how". In so doing she became the first female winner of the Royal Society science book prize.

Who am I?

I’m an environmental journalist (BBC, The Guardian, The Sunday Times) and book author, based in the UK. My interest lies in the intersection between human health, the environment, and climate crisis: the actions we can take that not only reduce climate change for future generations but also improve biodiversity, health, and wellbeing right now. That led to me write my first book, Clearing The Air, about air pollution. And I’m now writing my second book, The Last Drop, looking at how climate change is affecting the world’s water cycle and our access to freshwater. My best books list below maybe misses out on some obvious choices (Naomi Klein, Rachel Carson, etc) in favour of more recent books and authors deserving of a wider audience. 

I wrote...

Clearing The Air: The Beginning and the End Of Air Pollution

By Tim Smedley,

Book cover of Clearing The Air: The Beginning and the End Of Air Pollution

What is my book about?

Clearing The Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution is my journey to understand what air pollution is, and how it became a global public health crisis that kills some 7-10 million people globally each year. I was living in London, had just become a Dad, and a headline caught my eye on my commute home on the tube that read: “Oxford Street has worst diesel pollution on Earth”. This completely blindsided me, so I set out to answer four key questions: What is air pollution? What causes it? Why is it bad for our health? And – perhaps most importantly – what can we do about it?

My journey for the answers ultimately became this book, and took me to Delhi, Beijing, Paris, Helsinki, and, erm, Milton Keynes. I came across some shocking stories, but I also found optimism and solutions for how we can start clearing the air and see instant results. 

The Last Wilderness

By Neil Ansell,

Book cover of The Last Wilderness: A Journey into Silence

There’s a deep poignancy to this book about Ansell’s wanderings in the Rough Bounds where the highlands of Scotland meet the Atlantic in a series of rugged peninsulas, a ‘place apart’ thanks to its remoteness and inaccessibility; not only because it originally inspired his love of nature and being solitary in nature, but also because he’s now losing his hearing, and with it his relationship with the joys of birdsong, which became particularly important to him when he lived alone in a cottage in mid-Wales. The Rough Bounds have been called Britain’s last great wilderness, and yet the area has a long history of settlement, and in some of his walking he explores the gradual depopulation of the Western Highlands, inhabited from ancient prehistory through generations and thriving communities until only a couple of hundred years ago. Instead of being a scientific exploration, it’s meditative and meandering; ‘sometimes a little…

Who am I?

A British writer and editor who developed a love of Greece from childhood holidays and Ancient Greek classes at school, and a passion for hidden and little-known places, I felt myself called back and moved ten years ago to the Dodecanese, a remote and rugged group of islands at the southeast edge of Europe. Wandering on foot around islands whose populations emigrated in their thousands over the last hundred years leaving refuges of wild and quiet, I began to be fascinated by things left behind on the landscape and differences from one island to the next. I explored in this way for five years and wrote the stories in my third book set in Greece, Wild Abandon: A Journey to the Deserted Places of the Dodecanese.

I wrote...

Wild Abandon: A Journey to the Deserted Places of the Dodecanese

By Jen Barclay,

Book cover of Wild Abandon: A Journey to the Deserted Places of the Dodecanese

What is my book about?

A long-term resident of Greece, Jennifer Barclay spent more than four years researching Wild Abandon, visiting islands multiple times, and hearing the stories of local people. She travels from the very west to the very east of the Dodecanese, from the very south almost to the very north, taking in some of the smallest and the biggest islands, and highlighting different stories along the way to show the complex history behind these havens of tranquillity. She discovers a villa intended for Benito Mussolini's retirement, an island that links a gramophone from St Petersburg and a portrait in the American National Gallery via a pack of cigarettes, and reflects on the days when an economy based on sponges and burnt rock supported thousands.

Wild Abandon is an elegy in praise of abandoned places and a search for lost knowledge through the wildest and most deserted locations.

The Human Planet

By Simon L. Lewis, Mark A. Maslin,

Book cover of The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene

I can find it overwhelming to think how large and bad the environmental crisis really is. Record temperatures, species extinction, fires and storms. In many ways, this book hammers home the scale – but it does so productively. It’s been an excellent companion for me in learning more about the problem. It’s written by two of the world’s top scientists who have led the way in helping us see this as an environmental crisis, not just a problem of climate change or species loss, but an overall destabilization of the natural world. This is often missed from the mainstream discussion and Lewis and Maslin offer a whole range of approaches that can help you make sense of what we can do in response. 

Who am I?

I research, write and speak about the global environmental emergency and the policies and politics we need to adequately respond. Drawing on a decade of experience in academia, activism, and policymaking, my work explores the leadership needed to transition to more sustainable and equitable societies while contending with the growing destabilisation resulting from the worsening environmental crisis. I’ve worked at a range of leading policy research organisations and universities and have won awards for my work. I’ve got a BSc in physics and an MPhil in economies from the University of Oxford. 

I wrote...

Planet on Fire: A Manifesto for the Age of Environmental Breakdown

By Laurie Laybourn-Langton, Mathew Lawrence,

Book cover of Planet on Fire: A Manifesto for the Age of Environmental Breakdown

What is my book about?

The political status quo has no answer to the devastating and inequitably distributed consequences of the environmental crisis. We urgently need an alternative to bring about the rapid transformation of our societies and economic systems. As we rebuild our lives in the wake of Covid-19 and face the challenges of ecological disaster, how can we win a world fit for life?

We argue that it is not enough merely to spend our way out of the crisis; we must also rapidly reshape the economy to create a new way of life that can foster a healthy and flourishing environment for all. We offer a clear and practical road map for a future that is democratic and sustainable by design.

The Practice of the Wild

By Gary Snyder,

Book cover of The Practice of the Wild: Essays

A Buddhist activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning beat generation poet, Snyder celebrates “wildness” as a moral principle. It gives value to the living world and invites us to the wild places within, the inner wilderness that carries us beyond the comforting assurances of the mind. He cautions against looking for metaphorical and spiritual meanings “beyond and through” the natural world. This risks our not “seeing what is before our very eyes: plain thusness” … which in itself is more than enough to astound!

Who am I?

Belden Lane is a wilderness backpacker and storyteller who has written extensively on the connections between human spiritual experience and the power of place. As Professor Emeritus of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University he taught theology and spirituality for thirty-five years with the Jesuits. Drawing on backpacking trips in the canyonlands of Utah, the Wind River Range of Wyoming, and the Australian outback, his books include Landscapes of the Sacred, Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice, and The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul

I wrote...

The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality

By Belden C. Lane,

Book cover of The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality

What is my book about?

The book explores the impulse that has drawn seekers into the wilderness for centuries and offers eloquent testimony to the healing power of mountain silence and desert indifference. It interweaves a memoir of the author’s mother’s long struggle with Alzheimer’s and cancer, meditations on his own wilderness experience, and illuminating commentary on mystical traditions that seek God in the silence beyond language. 

Reflections from the North Country

By Sigurd F. Olson, Leslie Kouba (illustrator),

Book cover of Reflections from the North Country

I began reading Sig Olson books when I was in high school, prompted by a biology teacher. Olson uses eloquent prose and emotional description to describe the wilderness lake country of Northern Minnesota and Southern Ontario. Over a career of decades he wrote about his experiences in the wilderness and easily brings the reader into his world, allowing them to see it through his eyes and experiences. Reflections is his last book, and is truly just that, reflections of a life lived on the edge of wilderness and the struggles of balancing desires for preservation of wilderness with encroachment of the modern world.

Who am I?

I’ve spent a career as an educator and writer exploring how it is that we humans are a part of the natural world in which we live. We are all interconnected with each other and with the ecosystem in which we live, be it a “pristine” wilderness or a concreted-over metropolis. This is wisdom that of course has been long known by many peoples throughout history, though something that seems easily forgotten as we bustle our way through life. Through these books, maybe we can begin to remember that interconnectedness. 

I wrote...

Within These Woods

By Timothy Goodwin,

Book cover of Within These Woods

What is my book about?

With the eye of a biologist and the soul of an artist, Goodwin guides the reader on a personal and educational journey through the Northwoods of the Great Lakes Region. He reflects on the elegance of the evolutionary process and the interconnectedness of all living things. At times a microscopic examination of the forest floor, and at others a far-reaching gaze into the wonders of a night sky. Goodwin explores this enhanced place and the delicate dance its history, geology, and organisms have performed since before recorded time. Along the way, he asks the difficult questions about stewardship and spirituality that only connecting to nature and understanding our place in it can begin to answer. 

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