The best books about threatened species

10 authors have picked their favorite books about threatened species and why they recommend each book.

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Last Chance to See

By Douglas Adams, Mark Carwardine,

Book cover of Last Chance to See

Douglas Adams didn’t leave us enough books before he died, and so I find it strange that many Adams fans have somehow overlooked this gem, in which he applies his famously quirky wit to a real-life environmental cause. I’m recommending this one now because it perfectly exemplifies the idea that, in order to be truly sad about the plight of an endangered creature, you first must have a good long laugh at the creature’s expense. Adams makes me feel as if a Komodo Dragon is, not just majestic, but a friend that I’ve gone pub crawling with. 


Who am I?

As a journalist, I’ve often been frustrated at the sense that I am preaching to the choir – those who take the time to read about a serious topic don’t need to, and those who need to, won’t. I’ve learned to spread awareness by packaging serious information inside a “Trojan Horse," one so fun to read that it reaches people who can actually benefit from the educational bits. These brilliant books, and many others, show that a spoonful of sugar can help us easily swallow information about social justice, endangered species, the U.S. military, and American history. I happily make these books Christmas gifts, knowing they are joys, not obligations.


I wrote...

A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town

By Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling,

Book cover of A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town

What is my book about?

A tiny American town's plans for radical self-government overlooked one hairy detail: no one told the bears.

Once upon a time, a group of libertarians got together and hatched the Free Town Project, a plan to take over an American town and completely eliminate its government. In 2004, they set their sights on Grafton, NH, a barely populated settlement with one paved road. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear is the sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying tale of what happens when a government disappears into the woods. Complete with gunplay, adventure, and backstabbing politicians, this is the ultimate story of a quintessential American experiment -- to live free or die, perhaps from a bear.

American Wolf

By Nate Blakeslee,

Book cover of American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West

The author Nate Blakeslee comes to this story about the famous Yellowstone wolf O-Six as a journalist and tells this true story with a keen eye for the myriad perspectives on modern wolf conservation. Whether or not you are familiar with the political debate of restoring wolves to the American West or the notions of Old West versus New West, you will find this story intriguing and informative.


Who am I?

Michelle Lute is a conservation scientist and advocate with fifteen years’ experience in biodiversity conservation on public and private lands around the globe. She dedicates her professional life to promoting human-wildlife coexistence through effective public engagement, equitable participatory processes, and evidence-based decision-making. Michelle is the National Carnivore Conservation Manager for Project Coyote whose mission is to promote compassionate conservation and coexistence between people and wildlife through education, science and advocacy.


My project is Project Coyote

What is this project about?

Project Coyote seeks to change negative attitudes toward coyotes, wolves and other misunderstood predators by replacing ignorance and fear with understanding, respect and appreciation. Our representatives, advisors and supporters include scientists, educators, ranchers and citizen leaders who work together to change laws and policies to protect native carnivores from abuse and mismanagement, advocating coexistence instead of killing. You can help us end cruel and senseless killing contests nationwideWatch the film Wildlife Killing Contests to learn about this important issue and share it to educate, expose, and end wildlife killing contests! Then sign the petition to stop this unconscionable practice on our federal public lands!


Finally, to learn more about why coyotes matter, read Coyote America by Project Coyote Ambassador Dan Flores. "Coyote America is the illuminating five-million-year biography of this extraordinary animal, from its origins to its apotheosis. It is one of the great epics of our time."

The Song of the Dodo

By David Quammen,

Book cover of The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions

Not many can manage the task of mastering a complicated subject and turn it into life—which means storytelling—as good as David Quammen. In his books he writes long passages on scientific discourses that sometimes come close to textbooks. But I enjoy reading them, because I learn so much and because he alternates these sections with (often very funny) stories. Stories of people that shape their scientific field, which reads like a good novel. Like in “The song of the Dodo”—a portrait of the scientific field of “Island Biogeography,” which explains why animal and plant species are where they are and why they become extinct when their habitat becomes too small.


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.

Wild Ones

By Jon Mooallem,

Book cover of Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story about Looking at People Looking at Animals in America

While researching my most recent book I wanted to explore the various ways people have interacted with wildlife throughout history. Mooellam’s book proved exactly what I was looking for. Fun and readable, it was a pleasant counterbalance to some of the hefty tomes I consulted, and yet it left me with much to think about.


Who am I?

Much of what Deb knows about writing, nature, and life she learned in Alaska, where she also mastered the art of hauling water and cooking ptarmigan. She loves characters who tug at the heart and stories that grab you from the opening line and never let go. Deb is the co-founder of Alaska’s 49 Writers, and she has been invited to join the faculty at several writers’ conferences. After 36 years in Alaska, she now lives on Oregon’s north coast, where you’ll find her strolling the beaches and forests with her husband and boxer dog.


I wrote...

Roar of the Sea: Treachery, Obsession, and Alaska's Most Valuable Wildlife

By Deb Vanasse,

Book cover of Roar of the Sea: Treachery, Obsession, and Alaska's Most Valuable Wildlife

What is my book about?

Over a century ago, treachery in Alaska's Bering Sea twice brought the world to the brink of war. The US seized Canadian vessels, Great Britain positioned warships to strike the US, and Americans killed Japanese pirates on US soil, all because of the fur seals that crowded onto the tiny Pribilof Islands.

The herd's population plummeted while notorious seafarers like Alex MacLean poached indiscriminately. Enter an unlikely crusader to defend the seals: self-taught artist and naturalist Henry Wood Elliott, whose zeal and love for the sea creatures urged him to go against all odds and take on giants of the sea. Impossible as it seemed for him to win, Elliott exposed corruption while setting the course for the modern wildlife protections.

The Wolves Are Back

By Jean Craighead George, Wendell Minor (illustrator),

Book cover of The Wolves Are Back

This book is a classic and a favorite of mine; I loved reading it to kids as a humane educator and seeing their eyes widen. I still marvel at how this book illustrates so simply and powerfully what happened to the entire ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park when wolves were reintroduced after being eliminated by humans years earlier. It’s a hugely impactful story about how any one species in an ecosystem affects all the others—and kids love it! 


Who am I?

I’m a lover of wildlife and have written several nonfiction picture books on the topic, including Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery, Cougar Crossing: How Hollywood’s Celebrity Cougar Built a Bridge for City Wildlife, and Ocean Soup: a Recipe for You, Me, and A Cleaner Sea. I’m also a humane educator, which inspires the focus of all my nonfiction picture books on “solutionaries” helping people, animals, and the planet. At heart, my books—which have won Golden Kite Nonfiction and Eureka! Nonfiction Honors and more—aim to inspire compassion, inclusivity, and positive action. 


I wrote...

Make Way for Animals!: A World of Wildlife Crossings

By Meeg Pincus, Bao Luu (illustrator),

Book cover of Make Way for Animals!: A World of Wildlife Crossings

What is my book about?

Around the world, city highways and country roads have cut through natural spaces. Wild animals are blocked from the resources they need to survive, or they must make dangerous crossings across busy roads to get to them. Fortunately, solving this problem has inspired some creative solutions! 

Take a tour of wildlife crossings across the globe, from grassy badger bridges to underpasses for elephants to pipelines for penguins. Discover how these inventive pathways have saved both animal and human lives and helped preserve ecosystems.

Fourteen Wolves

By Catherine Barr, Jenni Desmond (illustrator),

Book cover of Fourteen Wolves: A Rewilding Story

Narratives are such a powerful tool when it comes to connecting kids to nature and, let’s face it, that connection has been lost with increased reliance on technology. My doctorate focused on how nonfiction narratives can engage non-scientists in conservation. Two things I learnt were that we won’t save something unless we love it, and hopeful stories have more power than disasters. You will fall in love with the expansive, wild landscape of Yellowstone Park with the beautifully crafted descriptions in Fourteen Wolves. The important underlying story of regeneration also instills hope that we can make a difference, combating inertia. In my opinion, this beautifully illustrated nature biography is destined to become a classic, passed down through generations.


Who am I?

When I was on holiday in Borneo with my daughter, we met an inspirational conservationist who was basically single-handedly saving sun bears from extinction. I asked what I could do to help. “Do what you do best,” he said. Those five powerful words shaped my last decade, most recently prompting the growing series of Wildlife Wong nonfiction children’s books based on his true adventures with rainforest creatures. I feel strongly about the importance of connecting kids to nature. Not only is it good for their physical and mental health, but my generation hasn’t done a particularly good job of environmental stewardship, and we need all the help we can get. 


I wrote...

Wildlife Wong and the Bearded Pig

By Sarah R. Pye,

Book cover of Wildlife Wong and the Bearded Pig

What is my book about?

When he was a boy, Malaysian ecologist Wildlife Wong dreamed of working with animals, and eventually his dream came true. In this exciting story, Wildlife Wong spends three years living in the middle of the jungle trying to trap bearded pigs. Along the way, he meets some crazy characters like Michael, his mate Mary, and their three piglets Pork, Chop, and Bacon!

This unusual book for kids aged 8-12 includes an engaging nonfiction story about a real-life scientist, cool animal facts, and experiments that encourage your youngsters to connect with the world around them.

Half-Earth

By Edward O. Wilson,

Book cover of Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life

EO Wilson died just a few weeks ago, at the age of 92. It was a sad day for me, as he has always been one of my great heroes. “E.O.” was a fantastic scientist, a world authority on ants, and sometimes known as the “father of biodiversity”. In this book, he argues that we have no right to drive millions of species extinct and that our own future depends upon setting aside half the Earth for nature.    


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.

Bewilderment

By Richard Powers,

Book cover of Bewilderment

This novel was short-listed for the UK Booker prize and should have won. It isn’t directly about genetics, but it is about autistic spectrum disorder, which is one of the most highly heritable developmental disorders. It’s a touching story of a somewhat autistic astrobiologist, recently widowed, who is learning to live with and love his 9-year-old son who is autistic. The father takes his son on imaginary trips to other planets with weird and wonderful life forms.   


Who am I?

During my undergraduate studies in psychology, we were never exposed to genetics. In 1970, I began graduate training in psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, which was one of the few universities that had a course about genetics in psychology. The course floored me, and I knew right away that I wanted to study genetic influences in psychology. At that time, psychology was generally hostile to the notion of genetic influence. Now, 50 years later, most psychologists recognize the importance of genetics. The DNA revolution is changing everything by making it possible to predict psychological traits using DNA alone. 


I wrote...

Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are

By Robert Plomin,

Book cover of Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are

What is my book about?

What made you the way you are? – your personality, your mental health, and your cognitive abilities. Professor Plomin’s book, Blueprint, is the culmination of his 45 years of research trying to understand the genetic and environmental influences that make us different, our nature and nurture. He is one of the world's top behavioral geneticists who offers a unique, insider's view of the exciting synergies that came from combining genetics and psychology.

In Blueprint, he concludes that inherited DNA differences are the major systematic force, the blueprint, that makes us who we are as individuals. The power to read our DNA blueprint will transform science, society, and how we understand ourselves.

Blue Mountain

By Martine Leavitt,

Book cover of Blue Mountain

I’m partial to stories that create a set of beliefs and identities for animals. Martine Leavitt does this in a way that’s at once simple and profound. Tuk is a fantastic character that young readers will relate to and root for. If your child liked Pax and A Wolf Called Wander they will love this book.


Who am I?

Writing children’s books from an animal’s point of view is a special art. You have to place yourself in both the mind of the child and the animal. It requires research and imagination. There aren’t many writers who like to tackle all of that. Personally, I love it! In fact, most of my books for young readers are written from an animal’s perspective.


I wrote...

Horace & Bunwinkle

By PJ Gardner Switzer, David Mottram (illustrator),

Book cover of Horace & Bunwinkle

What is my book about?

Horace Homer Higgins III despises dirt. And the outdoors. And ducks. But when his person, Ellie, moves to a farm called the Homestead, the anxious Boston Terrier is forced to adapt. As if that isn’t enough to strain his nerves, Ellie adopts a perpetually cheerful potbellied pig named Bunwinkle to be his baby sister. Bunwinkle is delighted to be on the farm despite the stuffiness of her new canine brother.

When the duo discovers that some neighborhood animals have been disappearing, they decide to use their new detective skills to team up to solve this barnyard mystery. Is it a mountain lion? Or their suspiciously shot-loving veterinarians? Only one thing seems certain: if they don’t figure it out soon, one of them might be next.

The Darling

By Russell Banks,

Book cover of The Darling

At times a difficult (but great) read, The Darling tackles some big ethical and political subjects. Banks addresses the power of speech (and silence), the separation of emotions from choice, and the sometimes necessity of compartmentalizing traumatic experiences in order to survive. I found the protagonist’s voice compellingly detached with just the right amount of compassion and engagement (similar, in fact to Frank’s voice in The Sportswriter).

(Side note, Banks’ Rule of the Bone almost made this list as well…)


Who am I?

This list is specifically “secret” philosophy books. There were plenty of novels (Victor Hugo, Milan Kundera, Robert Pirsig) that I love, but they don’t hide the fact that they’re significantly philosophy books. My degree is in philosophy (BA, UCLA), with a special interest in ethics, ethical questions. I still really love the marriage of fiction and philosophy especially when it’s done subtly and beautifully. I am the author of three books: Approaching the Natural, Raising Healthy Parents. and Six Truths. I hold a BA in Philosophy from UCLA, am a public speaker, podcaster (What Sid Thinks Podcast), certified nutritionist & running coach, Oxygen Advantage breathing instructor, and founder of Small Steppers


I wrote...

Six Truths: Live by These Truths and Be Happy. Don't, and You Won't.

By Sid Garza-Hillman,

Book cover of Six Truths: Live by These Truths and Be Happy. Don't, and You Won't.

What is my book about?

Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone. We certainly have opinions about what choices someone might make to get there but we absolutely want happiness, and as much of it as possible. Six Truths is simple, accessible, cutting edge, edgy, and most of all, necessary. Sid Garza-Hillman has taken all he's learned as a nutritionist, philosopher, speaker, podcaster, Small Steps coach, ultramarathoner, father, and husband, and distilled it into six truths. Six truths that, if you live by them, will deliver you a happy life.

In Six Truths, Garza-Hillman, uses his usual funny, smart, no BS approach to helping you live your best life.

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