The best nature conservation books

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

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A Sand County Almanac

By Aldo Leopold,

Book cover of A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There

Aldo Leopold was a Forest Service ranger stationed in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest when he first began advocating for a new approach to managing national forests. Leopold’s visionary thinking and diligent advocacy resulted in the first-ever Wilderness Area in the U.S.—the Gila Wilderness Area, established in 1922—more than 40 years before the Wilderness Act was passed by Congress in 1964. A Sand County Almanac is Leopold’s best-known work and follows his efforts to restore a patch of cut-over farmland in Wisconsin while also articulating his vision of a land ethic where humans and nature are intertwined and care for people cannot be separated from care for the land. His beautiful writing resonated strongly with me when I first read A Sand County Almanac more than two decades ago, and his vision remains as important now as ever.


Who am I?

I love being outdoors and I’ve been fortunate to spend much of life under the open sky, both professionally and personally. Learning about the landscapes I’ve visited on my outdoor adventures or helped protect through my professional conservation and writing work is both fulfilling and inspiring. Skilled writers deepen my understanding of the diverse, intricate, and complicated natural world. Whether I’m reading to better understand the policies and histories that have shaped our public lands or about the adventurers who inspire me to get out there, I always find immense value and enjoyment when reading about the landscapes we share. 


I wrote...

Our National Forests: Stories from America's Most Important Public Lands

By Greg M. Peters,

Book cover of Our National Forests: Stories from America's Most Important Public Lands

What is my book about?

From the glaciated peaks of Alaska to the deserts of Arizona, America’s 193 million acres of National Forests are true treasures. Our National Forests: Stories from America’s Most Important Public Lands takes readers on a series of journeys through these often overlooked and misunderstood lands. Packed with gorgeous photography and engaging prose, Our National Forests highlights the people, histories, and policies that make these lands so special. 

Strange Natures

By Kent H. Redford, William M. Adams,

Book cover of Strange Natures: Conservation in the Era of Synthetic Biology

When speaking of the role of technology in nature conservation, one might envisage drones to survey habitat destruction, or endangered elephants with radio collars. But technology might go much further. In this book, the authors show how genetics could help us to re-engineer species, even entire food webs to meet the environmental challenges of the future.


Who am I?

Menno Schilthuizen is a Dutch evolutionary biologist and ecologist with more than thirty years of research experience under his belt, feeling at home in tropical rainforests as well as in urban greenspaces. He writes in a humorous and accessible manner for the general public about the ways in which the world's ecosystems are shifting and evolving under an increasing human presence. He works and teaches at Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands.


I wrote...

Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution

By Menno Schilthuizen,

Book cover of Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution

What is my book about?

We are marching towards a future in which three-quarters of humans live in cities, and a large portion of the planet's landmass is urbanized. With much of the rest covered by human-shaped farms, pasture, and plantations, where can nature still go? To the cities -- is Menno Schilthuizen's answer in this remarkable book. And with more and more wildlife carving out new niches among humans, evolution takes a surprising turn. Urban animals evolve to become more cheeky and resourceful, city pigeons develop detox-plumage, and weeds growing from cracks in the pavement get a new type of seeds. City blackbirds are even on their way of becoming an entirely new species, which we could name Turdus urbanicus.

Menno Schilthuizen shows us that evolution in cities can happen far more rapidly, and strangely, than Darwin had dared dream.

Imposing Wilderness

By Roderick P. Neumann,

Book cover of Imposing Wilderness: Struggles over Livelihood and Nature Preservation in Africa

National parks have long been the bedrock of nature conservation efforts. For most Westerners, their vision of Africa is built on images from iconic parks like Tanzania’s Serengeti or Kenya’s Masai Mara. Those parks, however, were imposed on the African landscape with lasting and often devastating consequences, among them the pernicious notion that Africans themselves are little more than part of the fauna and are an impediment to conservation efforts that can be swept aside. Roderick Neuman reveals that far from a simple means to protect nature, parks are a complicated intersection of ecological, economic, political, and cultural issues. His analysis of Arusha National Park in Tanzania, not far from Mount Kilimanjaro, melds careful scholarship with passionate and vivid writing and is an essential text for understanding the promise and limitations of long-established conservation practices. 


Who am I?

I have been writing about nature and nature conservation for nearly 35 years. I have seen it from all angles—government, non-government, private, local—in the US, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. I have written five books about how we can do better at both saving wild places and wild creatures, while also understanding how those efforts must also account for the human communities that depend on those places for their lives and livelihoods. Over the decades I have seen enormous and promising shifts in conservation practices, and although we are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis that is entirely of our own making, we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of our past. 


I wrote...

Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature

By Mark R. Tercek, Jonathan S. Adams,

Book cover of Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature

What is my book about?

Nature is not only the foundation of human well-being, but also the smartest commercial investment any business or government can make. The forests, floodplains, and oyster reefs often seen simply as raw materials or as obstacles to be cleared in the name of progress are, in fact as important to our future prosperity as technology or law, or business innovation.

When is protecting nature a good investment? With stories from the South Pacific to the California coast, from the Andes to the Gulf of Mexico, Nature's Fortune shows how viewing nature as green infrastructure allows for breakthroughs not only in conservation -- protecting freshwater; enhancing fisheries; making cities more livable; and dealing with unavoidable climate change -- but in economic progress, as well.

The Wilder Heart of Florida

By Jack E. Davis (editor), Leslie K. Poole (editor),

Book cover of The Wilder Heart of Florida

The Wilder Heart of Florida is a marvelous collection of essays on wild and natural Florida, selected and edited by Dr. Leslie Poole, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and History at Rollins College, and Dr. Jack Davis, Professor of History at the University of Florida. It is a second volume to the renowned 1999 The Wild Heart of Florida, and features insightful chapters penned by experts on real Florida, like Cynthia Barnett, Lauren Groff, Totch Brown, Lars Anderson, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Clay Henderson, as well as Jack Davis, and Leslie Poole, among others.


Who am I?

Bruce Hunt is a native Floridian writer and photographer. He has authored eleven Florida travel and history books, and over the last three decades has written and photographed hundreds of articles for magazines and newspapers. For five years he was a regular feature writer and photographer for DuPont Registry Tampa Bay Magazine. His work has also appeared in The St. Petersburg Times (Tampa Bay Times), Tampa Tribune, The Visit Tampa Bay Official Visitors Guide, Backpacker Magazine, Rock & Ice Magazine, Skydiving Magazine, Florida Trend Magazine, Celebrity Car Magazine, Coastal Living Magazine, and Southern Living Magazine, among others.


I wrote...

Visiting Small-Town Florida

By Bruce Hunt,

Book cover of Visiting Small-Town Florida

What is my book about?

This 4th Edition of the Visiting Small-Town Florida travel guide features 79 charming, eclectic, and historic towns, tiny villages, and crossroads. Readers can tour historic districts, museums, galleries, and antique shops, and find quaint lodging, great local-cuisine diners, and hole-in-the-wall bar-and-grills. They can also learn about each town’s history and meet a few of the endearing characters that live in these places.

Simultaneously a guide book, history book, and travelogue, Visiting Small-Town Florida, 4th Edition lets the reader experience the flavor of Florida’s back road burgs, while having all the pertinent visitor information at their fingertips.

Crimes Against Nature

By Karl Jacoby,

Book cover of Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation

Indigenous communities and land dispossession are the subjects of Crimes Against Nature, although Jacoby also brings white transgressors of federal policy into his book about the dark history of the American conservation movement. The rural communities he describes engaged in survival practices that quickly became defined and punished as crimes: hunting, fishing, tree-cutting, and foraging. Jacoby includes eastern parks in his assessment, writing about the Adirondacks before turning to Yellowstone and Grand Canyon. At the heart of this beautifully written book is the tension between what constitutes private and public space in American history, and how rural white and Indigenous Americans have often lived in the borderlands between them.


Who am I?

I grew up in Colorado and visited national parks all over the country on summer vacations with my family. Now I write about U.S. Western history while living outside Boston, Massachusetts. My most recent book, The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West (Scribner 2020) was a finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in History. I have written about the Civil War and the U.S. West for The New York TimesWashington PostThe Atlantic, Smithsonian Magazine, and Civil War Monitor. Scribner will publish my next book, Saving Yellowstone: Exploration and Preservation in Reconstruction America, on March 1, 2022. 


I wrote...

Saving Yellowstone: Exploration and Preservation in Reconstruction America

By Megan Kate Nelson,

Book cover of Saving Yellowstone: Exploration and Preservation in Reconstruction America

What is my book about?

In late July 1871, the geologist-explorer Ferdinand Hayden led a team of scientists into Yellowstone Basin, entering one of the last unmapped places in the country. The survey’s discoveries led to the passage of the Yellowstone Act in 1872, which created the first national park in the world.

Saving Yellowstone follows Hayden as well as Sitting Bull, a Lakota leader who asserted his peoples’ sovereignty in their homelands, and financier Jay Cooke, who wanted to build the Northern Pacific Railroad through the Great Northwest. Saving Yellowstone reveals that Hayden, Cooke, and Sitting Bull staked their claims to Yellowstone at a critical moment in Reconstruction, when the Grant Administration and the 42nd Congress were testing the reach and the purpose of federal power across the nation.

Against Extinction

By William Bill Adams,

Book cover of Against Extinction: The Story of Conservation

A conservation classic, Against Extinction is a comprehensive and absorbing story of conservation over the last hundred years. Bill Adams explores the history, context, and legacy of conservation. Often quoted as the ‘UK voice of conservation’ Bill Adams, Professor of Conservation and Development in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge, is an authoritative writer on this critical global tale. 

Meeting Professor Adams in discussion for my own research has been both insightful and deeply interesting. His reflections on this evolving movement are poignant and for me, so helpful in framing and distilling the words of my picture book conservation stories.


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.

Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman

By Miriam Horn,

Book cover of Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland

I was inspired by Horn’s observation that many of the men and women doing today’s most consequential environmental work would not call themselves environmentalists. Debunking the pervasive myths that conservation innovators must be bicoastal, political activists, Horn profiles a Montana rancher, a Kansas farmer, a Mississippi riverman, a Louisiana shrimper, and a Gulf fisherman—all stewards of the land offering creative ways to restore soils and protect wildlife.


Who am I?

Innovators long have fascinated me. I helped launch a clean-energy startup and advance legislation promoting environmental entrepreneurs. I’ve written biographies of Nikola Tesla (who gave us electric motors, radio, and remote controls) Jacques Cousteau (inventor of the Aqua Lung and master of undersea filming) and George Fabyan (pioneer of modern cryptography and acoustics), as well as a history of electricity (From Edison to Enron). I love reading (and writing) about ingenious and industrious individuals striving to achieve their dreams. 


I wrote...

Tech to Table: 25 Innovators Reimagining Food

By Richard Munson,

Book cover of Tech to Table: 25 Innovators Reimagining Food

What is my book about?

Imagine eating a burger grown in a laboratory, a strawberry picked by a robot or a pastry created with a 3D printer. You would never taste the difference, but these technologies might just save your health and the planet’s. Today, landmark advances in sensors, computing, and engineering are driving solutions to the biggest problems created by industrialized food. Reinvention is desperately needed. Pollution, climate change, animal cruelty, hunger, and obesity have festered under Big Ag, and despite decades of effort, organic farming accounts for less than 1 percent of U.S. croplands.

My book offers profiles of 25 food and farm innovations, including supplements that lower the methane in cattle belches, drones that monitor irrigation levels in crops, urban warehouses that grow produce year-round without poisonous herbicides, and more. 

Aldo Leopold

By Aldo Leopold,

Book cover of Aldo Leopold: A Sand County Almanac & Other Writings on Conservation and Ecology

I first read A Sand County Almanac in college, and it inspired me to think deeply about nature. In fact, it helped inspire my career. Aldo Leopold wrestled with our obligations to wild creatures and places arguably more seriously than any contemporary. This is the sort of book where you can open a random page, read a passage, and spend the rest of the afternoon mulling over the ideas, their implications, and the beauty of their expression. This volume collects not only his most famous book but dozens of articles and letters where you can see his mind evolving and changing. Leopold modeled an integrity and a curious mind at work that I try to emulate. I know I’m not alone. 


Who am I?

When I first started reading about wilderness, I accepted it as an obvious thing—a place without people. That lasted a short time before I realized the enormous historical complexity of such places. Rather than places without people, without history, without politics, “wilderness” became a laboratory of American society. I tried to capture that vibrancy in my book An Open Pit Visible from the Moon where I showed all the claims various people made on one wilderness area in the North Cascades. I'm a writer, historian, and former college professor who now calls the Skagit Valley of Washington home. As much as I enjoy studying wilderness, I prefer walking through it and noticing what it teaches.


I wrote...

An Open Pit Visible from the Moon: The Wilderness Act and the Fight to Protect Miners Ridge and the Public Interest

By Adam M. Sowards,

Book cover of An Open Pit Visible from the Moon: The Wilderness Act and the Fight to Protect Miners Ridge and the Public Interest

What is my book about?

In the mid-1960s, Kennecott Copper Corporation planned to develop an open-pit mine in the middle of a designated wilderness area in the North Cascades—something that was entirely legal. An Open Pit Visible from the Moon tells the story of why that mine does not exist today.

As a compromise, the Wilderness Act of 1964 allowed mining and prospecting in wilderness areas, but the effort to protect Miners Ridge tested to see if that compromise would stand. The book describes the scrappy activists who took on Kennecott—from students and local backpackers to a cabinet secretary and a Supreme Court justice—to insist that this wilderness should not have a big pit dug in its heart.

Grandma Gatewood's Walk

By Ben Montgomery,

Book cover of Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

If I’m lucky, someday I’ll get to do something like what Grandma Gatewood did, and Ben Montgomery does a great job of telling us all about it. Emma Gatewood dropped everything once her children were grown and she could shuck her domestic responsibilities and set off alone to walk the Appalachian Trail. No training, no fancy gear, no special food: She just went for a walk, and then did it again, and again, transforming herself into trailblazing conservationist along the way.


Who am I?

I’ve always wanted to write, and I’ve always wanted to play outside. Bringing the two together started in childhood, climbing redwoods and scribbling fantasies, and grew from there, eventually morphing into a career as an award-winning writer of outdoor adventure guidebooks and essays about national parks. Of course, writing requires reading, and to hone my craft I’ve devoured a library of outdoor literature, journeying with John Muir in Yosemite, Mallory and Irvine on Everest, and Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Crest Trail. If someone’s doing a wild thing in a wild place, I want to read all about it—and then I want to head outside and get a little wild myself.


I wrote...

Search and Rescue Alaska

By Tracy Salcedo,

Book cover of Search and Rescue Alaska

What is my book about?

In a place as vast and extreme as Alaska, no one takes safety for granted. Whether adventurer or homesteader, tourist or native, people look out for themselves and for each other. But sometimes it just goes bad, and no amount of resourcefulness or resiliency can make it right. That’s when search and rescue teams kick into gear, launching operations that have generated amazing tales of heroism, tenacity, and human kindness.

The essays collected in Search and Rescue Alaska describe rescues on Denali, North America’s highest peak, a World War II self-rescue that ended with a remarkable recovery more than half a century later, the travails of Klondike-bound gold-seekers caught in an avalanche on the infamous Chilkoot Trail, and more. These stories will both entertain and kindle a new appreciation for the skilled and selfless pilots, troopers, military personnel, and rangers on call for search and rescue in Alaska.

Wilding

By Isabella Tree,

Book cover of Wilding: Returning Nature to Our Farm

This is the heart-warming and inspirational story of the author’s own rewilding project, on the Knepp estate in West Sussex, UK. I know Knepp well, since it is near to my home. For 20 years the author and her husband have allowed nature to run riot on their 3,500-acre estate. This book captures the magic of a visit to the project itself, a place where wildlife now thrives unchecked, purple emperor butterflies soar in the treetops, and nightingales can once more be heard singing.  


Who am I?

I have loved insects and other wildlife for all of my life. I am now a professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, UK, specializing in bee ecology. I have published more than 400 scientific articles on the ecology and conservation of bumblebees and other insects, plus seven books, including the Sunday Times bestsellers A Sting in the Tale (2013), The Garden Jungle (2019), and Silent Earth (2021). They’ve been translated into 20 languages and sold over half a million copies. I also founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2006, a charity that has grown to 12,000 members. 


I wrote...

The Garden Jungle

By Dave Goulson,

Book cover of The Garden Jungle

What is my book about?

The Garden Jungle is a celebration of the wildlife that lives right under our noses, in our gardens and parks, between the gaps in the pavement, and in the soil beneath our feet. Dave Goulson gives us an insight into the fascinating and sometimes weird lives of these creatures, taking us burrowing into the compost heap, digging under the lawn, and diving into the garden pond. He explains how our lives and ultimately the fate of humankind are inextricably intertwined with that of earwigs, bees, lacewings, and hoverflies, unappreciated heroes of the natural world, and how we can all help to encourage biodiversity in our back yard.

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