14 Nature books that celebrate the great outdoors

Gilbert's sweeping novel follows the life of the enigmatic Alma Whittaker, a 19th century scientist (before that was even a word). A maker at heart, and very aware of her strengths and limitations, Alma struggles to develop her unifying "Theory of Competitive Alteration" to describe her findings. Gilbert brings the field of botany to life in this ambitious novel. (Who would have thought moss could be so interesting?)
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From the publisher: In this highly anticipated sequel to his international bestseller The Old Ways, Macfarlane takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind. Traveling through “deep time”—the dizzying expanses of geologic time that stretch away from the present—he moves from the birth of the universe to a post-human future, from the prehistoric art of Norwegian sea caves to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, from Bronze Age funeral chambers to the catacomb labyrinth below Paris, and from the underground fungal networks through which trees communicate to a deep-sunk “hiding place” where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come. Woven through Macfarlane’s own travels are the unforgettable stories of descents into the underland made across history by explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers, all of whom have been drawn for different reasons to seek what Cormac McCarthy calls “the awful darkness within the world.”
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The publisher calls this "a remarkable journey of survival and resilience, showing us how a small part of the natural world can illuminate our own human existence, while providing an appreciation of what it means to be fully alive." Kirkus calls this "a charming, delicate meditation on the meaning of life."
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From the publisher: In this provocative and powerful mosaic of personal journeys and historical inquiry across a continent and time, Savoy explores how the country’s still unfolding history, and ideas of “race,” have marked her and the land. From twisted terrain within the San Andreas Fault zone to a South Carolina plantation, from national parks to burial grounds, from “Indian Territory” and the U.S.-Mexico Border to the U.S. capital, Trace grapples with a searing national history to reveal the often unvoiced presence of the past.
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This memoir from a Cambridge professor landed on more than 25 "best of the year" lists. After her father dies, McDonald stumbles upon a unique way to assuage her grief: she purchases and attempts to train an English goshawk with the deceptively quaint name Mabel. McDonald had been a falconer since she was a child, but her hawk is wild, unpredictable, irascible—as is her grief. Part memoir, part nature story: her tale is moving, poignant, and surprising.
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Though you may not recognize his name, Alexander von Humboldt was the father of modern environmentalism and the most famous scientist of his age. Born in the late 18th century, he had a deep love for outdoor exploration and traversed the globe in search of unusual environments. Von Humboldt was friends with Thomas Jefferson, inspired Darwin and Thoreau, and was passionate about helping humans understand our relationship to the natural world. In this biography, Wulf captures the man as endlessly passionate, progressive, and impactful.
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Barbara Kingsolver, in The New York Times Book Review (cover review) calls this, “Monumental…The Overstory accomplishes what few living writers from either camp, art or science, could attempt. More subtly developed than the human purview that we gain glimpses of a vast, primordial sensibility, while watching our own kind get whittled down to size." From the publisher: "The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond, exploring the essential conflict on this planet: the one taking place between humans and nonhumans. There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us."
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A grown-up sort of fairy tale about grief, redemption, forgiveness, and joy, set amidst the beautiful Pennsylvania forest. Have you ever read a book that makes the world around you feeI just a little bit magical, even after you’ve turned the last page? Author Jon Cohen insists there’s no real magic in this story, because there’s nothing in these pages that couldn’t actually happen. And yet a whimsical air of magic permeates this vivid portrayal of characters brought together by grief but ultimately united by joy. Likely-to-delight features include an unlikely friendship, a book within the book, a battle to save the local library, and a mysterious good Samaritan known as the Susquehanna Santa. A strong sense of humor prevents this tale from verging too far into sentimental territory. Content warnings apply. For fans of Monica Wood’s The One-in-a-Million Boy and Steven Rowley’s Lily and the Octopus.
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From the publisher: As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.
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I'm thankful What Should I Read Next guest Charlandra Jenkins put this great book on my radar (in episode 243, "Predicting the next great American classic.") Over the course of several years living and studying in the rural South and on the West Coast, Michele Elizabeth Lee compiled interviews, stories, and wisdom from African American healers. In between stories, Lee shares a collection of remedies, medicines, and the history behind them. These natural healing practices celebrate and honor the earth, and the history is both fascinating and well-told.
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Renowned travel writer Bryson takes to the Appalachian Trail in this laugh-out-loud travel memoir. After returning to America after 20 years in England, Bryson reconnects with his home country by walking 800 of the AT’s 2100 miles, many of them with his cranky companion Katz, who serves as a brilliant foil to Bryson’s scholarly wit. A superb hiking memoir that skillfully combines laugh-out-loud anecdotes with serious discussions about history, ecology, and wilderness trivia. Droll, witty, entertaining.
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From the publisher: Until recently, redwoods were thought to be virtually impossible to ascend, and the canopy at the tops of these majestic trees was undiscovered. In The Wild Trees, Richard Preston unfolds the spellbinding story of Steve Sillett, Marie Antoine, and the tiny group of daring botanists and amateur naturalists that found a lost world above California, a world that is dangerous, hauntingly beautiful, and unexplored.
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