80 Best Books for Nature Lovers

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October 18th, 2010

By Alisa Gilbert

Nature, quite understandably, fascinates a not insignificant percentage of the population. Earth plays host to billions of curious lifeforms, each with their own bizarre and beautiful quirks. Even the most devoted of environmental enthusiasts will never have a chance to experience the full spectrum of the biosphere's bounty, no matter how much passion (and money) they throw into it. Fortunately for them, though, ecosystems, flora and fauna beyond their logistic grasps can still come alive through other means. Any book lovers amongst the naturalist population may find the following list useful when it comes to learning everything they can about…well…everything. More exist beyond these, of course, and most of them with something educational to offer. Consider this more a primer than something definitive.


  1. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: Although Darwin's theories easily apply to plants, his inquiries into animal genetics remains an essential read for the amateur and professional zoologist alike.

  2. The Animal Dialogues by Craig Childs: This series of fantastic essays peers into some of the weird and wonderful animal behaviors Craig Childs has encountered in his travels.

  3. Alex & Me by Irene Pepperberg: Experiments conducted with the extraordinary grey parrot Alex opened up amazing new insight on animal behavior that nature lovers will likely enjoy.

  4. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey: When convalescing from a debilitating condition, Elisabeth Tova Bailey's unexpected pet snail opened up her eyes to the wondrous world of these complex mollusks.

  5. In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall: Read Jane Goodall's thrilling tale of her life amongst the chimpanzees in Gombe — research that changed perceptions of primatology forever.

  6. Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog: Biology and culture collide in this provocative read on mankind's complex, eclectic relationships with different animals.

  7. The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen: This natural history classic recounts the exciting events that led to Peter Matthiessen's extremely rare encounter with a wild snow leopard.

  8. Whatever You Do, Don't Run by Peter Allison: Peter Allison worked as a safari guide in Botswana for over 12 years, and his amazing memoir tells some uproarious and terrifying stories about the colorful people and animals he met along the way.

  9. The Extended Phenotype by Richard Dawkins: Renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins argues that genetics extends far beyond the bodies they comprise. Developments also come to impact the ecosystems around them as well.

  10. Wesley the Owl by Stacey O'Brien: For 19 years, Stacey O'Brien kept an injured barn owl as both a beloved pet and a valuable research tool.


  1. Cosmos by Carl Sagan: One of the most beloved astronomy books ever written for general audiences, Carl Sagan's Cosmos nurtures a love and appreciation of the night sky.

  2. The Alchemy of the Heavens by Ken Coswell: Learn all about the chemical compositions of celestial bodies, making stargazing sessions even more enlightening.

  3. The Planets by Dava Sobel: Read some fascinating stories about the planets in the Solar System — most especially those one can witness with the naked eye – peppered with pop culture references and history lessons.

  4. Starlight Nights by Leslie C. Peltier: Anyone who enjoys stargazing during their nature walks will greatly appreciate — if not outright relate — to this engaging memoir.

  5. The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking: This extremely popular book adds an extra dimension of contemplation to stargazing sessions, infusing them with some basic physics and histories.

  6. Hyperspace by Michio Kaku: Nature buffs interested in the physics that drives the theoretical constructs in deep space should pick up this amazing book on everything from time warps to parallel universes.

  7. The Fabric of the Cosmos by Bryan Greene: Another recommended read for the physics-minded, most especially those who enjoy questioning the true nature of space, time and reality.

  8. A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe by Michael S. Schneider: The mathematical principles what drive the heavens also have parallels right here on Earth!

  9. Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson: Journey through the Solar System and deep space alike, learning some seriously cool lessons about how different cosmological constructs operate along the way.

  10. Bad Astronomy by Philip Plait: Like everything else, astronomy comes saddled with its own set of myths and misconceptions. Fortunately, Philip Plait explains the reality using language almost anyone can understand

Climate and Conservation

  1. Hope for Animals and Their World by Jane Goodall: The popular, respected primatologist puts a positive spin on conservation by telling hopeful stories of animals coming back from the brink of extinction.

  2. Hack the Planet by Eli Kintisch: Here, "hacking the planet" means finding viable solutions to keeping the climate as stable, healthy and safe as possible.

  3. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson: A classic of conservationist literature, Silent Spring inspired millions to take up the environmentalist cause.

  4. Climate Change: Picturing the Science by Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfe: With lush photographs and a NASA-trained scientist on board, this book highlights the causes and effects of climate change.

  5. Why We Hate the Oil Companies by John Hofmeister: An energy industry insider from Shell hopes to galvanize the community towards supporting and seeking cleaner, sustainable ways to power daily life.

  6. Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen: James Hansen serves as the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and he puts his training towards educating readers on all the scientific, political and historical factors behind global warming and cooling.

  7. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman: The planet can survive with or without humans, and The World Without Us peers into how long it would take before all vestiges of the species' time here would rot away.

  8. Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg: Not every environmentalist believes in Global Warming, so anyone curious to know more about it should read both sides of the issue and make the decision for themselves.

  9. Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman: Most people tend to think of global warming when it comes to major environmental threats, but overpopulation, overconsumption and other problems factor into planetary damage as well.

  10. The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock: This book looks at the worst-case scenarios that could happen should humanity neglect the health and safety of its planet, focusing mainly on climate issues.

Geography and Ecosystems

  1. The National Parks by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan: In spite of focusing on America, the gorgeous pictures and gushing essays make an excellent case for the necessity of national parks in general.

  2. The Handy Geography Answer Book by Mathew T. Rosenberg and Paul A. Tucci: This reference book for beginners serves as a great guide for some of geography's most common questions.

  3. Endurance by Alfred Lansing: Ernest Shackleton spent over a year in the Antarctic, starting in 1914. What followed was a terrifying nightmare in one of the planet's harshest ecosystems.

  4. Tropical Nature by Adrian Forsyth and Ken Miyata: Explore the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, which possess some of the most impressive displays of biodiversity.

  5. Home Ground by Debra Gwartney and Barry Lopez: 45 writers weigh in on their perceptions of American geography, giving birth to a rich vocabulary describing the wide range of features stretching from sea to shining sea.

  6. The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons by John Wesley Powell: Travel down the raging Colorado River for an exciting glimpse into how these majestic geographical phenomena impact the peoples and places surrounding them.

  7. Everest by Broughton Coburn: The world's highest, most treacherous mountain comes alive in this stunning release by National Geographic.

  8. Men of Salt by Michael Benanay: Michael Benanay joined up with a caravan of salt seekers for 40 days, chronicling their harrowing trek across the unforgiving Sahara.

  9. Cold by Bill Streever: Even in some of the most extreme climates on the planet, some life forms (even people!) are willing to cling to survival.

  10. The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs: Pick up this engaging read for detailed information on how deserts (specifically those in America) process water for the plants and animals that call them home.


  1. Dirt by David R. Montgomery: Humans take soil for granted, but in reality it played an integral role in shaping the political, cultural, historical and environmental climates as known today.

  2. Salt by Mark Kurlansky: Like dirt, salt's everyday nature betrays its essential role in shaping more than just diets — it has changed the course of politics, culture and history as well.

  3. Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded by Simon Winchester: Read about one of the world's most famous volcanic disasters as well as the social and political impact it had on the Indonesian peoples.

  4. Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould: Geology and biology converge at the Burgess Shale, where some of the planet's oldest known fossils shine a light on both disciplines.

  5. Basin and Range by John McPhee: Explore the geology and plate tectonics of the American mountain ranges through John McPhee's adventures and observations.

  6. The Seashell on the Mountaintop by Alan Cutler: Geologist Nicolaus Steno shocked the 17th Century establishment when he conjectured that the fossils discovered on mountains were the result of erosion rather than the Genesis flood.

  7. Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey: No natural history library is complete without this detailed biography of its fascinating, ever-shifting geology.

  8. Oxygen by Nick Lane: Without oxygen, neither life nor many geological formations that shaped the planet today would be even remotely possible.

  9. Earth by James F. Luhr The Smithsonian presents a gorgeous visual guide to the most intriguing corners of the globe as well as a nice history on its geological structures.

  10. A Crack in the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester: 1906 saw plenty of natural geological disasters, but this one focuses on the devastating earthquake that struck San Francisco and left plenty social and political damage in its wake alongside the physical and financial.

Field Guides, Encyclopedias and other Worthy References

  1. Pure Sea Glass by Richard LaMotte: Beachcombers should pick up this neat guide on identifying gorgeous sea glass and the historical significance of their discoveries.

  2. Birds of America by John James Audubon: One of the greatest artistic works on native flora and fauna ever printed, Birds of America stands as an essential work of both art and natural history.

  3. Nightwatch by Terence Dickinson: For the nature-lover who enjoys looking to the sky with the same enthusiasm as the ground, they can do no better than to use essential field guide as a resource.

  4. The Complete Guide to Rocks & Minerals by John Farndon: Published by The Smithsonian, this fantastic reference is perfect for professionals and amateurs alike.

  5. National Audubon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the World by Philip J. Clapham, James A. Powell and Brent S. Stewart: Whether searching for porpoises in the Philippines or dolphins in the Dominican Republic, the National Audubon Society provides an easy way to identify what's what in the world of marine mammals.

  6. Encyclopedia of Insects by Ring T. Carde and Vincent Resh: This hefty volume boasts over a thousand pages dedicated to helping readers properly identify and learn about the millions of insect species out there.

  7. The Forager's Harvest by Samuel Thayer: Naturalists curious about identifying and properly preparing edible plants they find in the wild should keep this book on hand. Not specific to any region, it instead covers a broad selection of useful plants.

  8. National Audubon Society Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians by the National Audubon Society: North Americans and those traveling the continent can look towards this resource to figure out what curious amphibious or reptilian creatures they may have encountered.

  9. Shells by The Smithsonian Institute: After picking up particularly aesthetic and/or intriguing shells at the beach, take them home and compare and contrast them with the gorgeous color photos featured here.

  10. The Urban Tree Book by Arthur Plotnik: Living in a concrete jungle does not mean that nature disappears entirely! It just means it has to adapt to some challenging new stimuli.


  1. The Ocean World by Jacques Cousteau: Beloved oceanographer Jacques Cousteau chronicles every nook and cranny of the curious seas into over 400 pages of lush photos and vivid descriptions.

  2. Four Fish by Paul Greenberg: Seafood fans wondering about genetically modified salmon should pick up this intriguing peek into the fishing and hatchery industry.

  3. The Devil's Teeth by Susan Casey: The general public finds sharks absolutely fascinating, and this account of the author's dramatic experiences observing them will appeal to the fish's more devout fans.

  4. The Unnatural History of the Sea by Callum Roberts: Part maritime history, part conservation manual, The Unnatural History of the Sea addresses the issues of overfishing on the ocean's overall health.

  5. Cod by Mark Kurlansky: This quirky history by the delightful Mark Kurlansky showcases the importance that one little fish had on human exploration, culture politics and more!

  6. Song for the Blue Ocean by Carl Safina: Carl Safina specifically wrote this book to educate nature lovers harboring a particular affinity for beaches and oceans, breaking the marine sciences down into explanations most readers can understand.

  7. Oceans: The World's Last Wilderness Revealed by The American Museum of Natural History: Gaze at lush photos of coral reefs and other exotic marine ecosystems and the unique flora and fauna what populate them.

  8. The World is Blue by Sylvia A. Earl: Like it or not, humanity's very survival depends on the oceans, and individuals and institutions alike need to understand this link if they hope to protect the watery cradles of life itself.

  9. Coral Reefs in the Microbial Seas by Forest Rohwer and Merry Youle: Explore one of the planet's most delicate and bizarre scenes through a witty and engaging account of all their beautiful — and threatened — machinations.

  10. Silent World by Jacques Cousteau: Follow in the wake of the illustrious Cousteau's flippers as he recounts his amazing life traversing the world's oceans and learning about everything they have to offer.


  1. The Emerald Planet by David Beerling: Those leafy greens bobbing in the wind have played an integral role in shaping the planet's climate, geography, geology and much, much more. Not to mention human history and survival!

  2. One River by Wade Davis: Ethnobotany comes alive through Wade Davis and his mentor Richard Evans Schultes' inquiries into how Amazonian tribes interacted with the diverse plants surrounding their homes.

  3. The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan: So many write about how much humans depends on plants that few have ever taken the time to consider the inverse in painstaking detail.

  4. Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart: This cheeky book educates readers on some of the nastier little botanicals in existence, especially those packing potent poisons.

  5. Flora Mirabilis: How Plants Have Shaped World Knowledge, Health, Wealth, and Beauty by Catherine Herbert Howell: Just because the book focuses on a familiar thesis does not mean it doesn't make for an amazing reading experience! Flora Mirabilis boasts some phenomenally gorgeous illustrations that no nature fan should miss.

  6. Remarkable Trees of the World by Thomas Pakenham: Marvel at more than 60 photographs and descriptions of some amazing, unique trees from around the world.

  7. Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora: Though fungi are not technically plants, they do often live symbiotically with them. Pick up this massive book for anything and everything one needs to know about these curious organisms.

  8. The Big Burn by Timothy Egan: Timothy Egan blends American politics and the surprising ecological effects of the 1910 forest fires in the Rocky Mountains into one informative and enlightening resource.

  9. The Savage Garden by Peter D'Amato: Even nature aficionados not interested in planting gardens of their own can still find great enjoyment in the detailed information on the wondrous biology of carnivorous plants.

  10. One Hundred Flowers by Harold Feinstein: The perfect coffee table book for plant lovers with a love and appreciation of art, One Hundred Flowers features breathtaking photos of exactly what the title promises.

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