Book Highlights 2013

This post was originally published on Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens.

This year I had the opportunity to read several excellent books ranging in topics from vampire squids to garden insects. Here are five of my favorites, some which are older, some newer, but all very interesting.

The Urban Bestiary

830eaa3251c03fc3142a1562e93c3708 (1)Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Little, Brown and Company
September 17, 2013

When I heard the author of one of my favorite books, Crow Planet had a new book in the works I was very excited. This new book was as fascinating and really fun read. It’s written in the form of the ancient bestiaries and features a great many urban animals that we admire, hate, see and don’t see. There is a great deal of information about each animal featured, some of which you will find very surprising. The author not only features the animals, but our human responses and reactions to them as well. This was my favorite new book of 2013. Read my full review at The Metropolitan Field Guide.

 The Collector

6666582Jack Nisbet
Sasquatch Books
August 3, 2010

While most people know the Douglas Fir, what is less commonly known is the history of this beautiful Pacific Northwest tree’s namesake. This book, and it’s companion David Douglas, a Naturalist at Work: An Illustrated Exploration Across Two Centuries in the Pacific Northwest  contain a fascinating history of Scotsman David Douglas and his adventures in the rugged Pacific Northwest, California and even Hawaii before his very untimely (and suspicious) death at the age of 35. His contribution to the study of botany was huge; he was the first to describe many native plants and sent a backbreaking amount of plants, seeds and also animal skins back to the U.K. where many became prized ornamentals, some of which still are today.

Bird Sense: What It’s Like to Be a Bird

bird_sense@bodyTim Birkhead
Bloomsbury USA
May 21, 2013

This most fascinating book was recommended on many lists this year and for very good reason. As humans, we have a very hard time understanding how other animals see and experience the world. This book gives us a more complete understanding of how one animal, birds, see the world. Birkhead does this by describing each of the senses as we humans experience them and then goes on to compare and contrast to how birds use their senses, often in very different ways. While we may perceive a birds bill as being a hard, senseless object, it is in fact full of senses which may blow you away. If you think you know about birds, read this book to find how much more there is to know and yet to discover about these fascinating creatures. For more information, visit the Bird Sense website or read this great review from The Guardian.

The Unofficial Countryside

51gUHE92b+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Richard Mabey
Little Toller
December 31, 2010

This book, originally published in 1973 may not seem so revolutionary now, but the idea of urban nature in the 1970’s was a very strange concept. Mabey spent a great deal of time, with grand ambitions, of exploring the hidden, ignored nature in urban London. He found when he started looking for it, that nature was everywhere in bombed out buildings, railway yards, parking lots, docks and everything in between. Sadly, as this book was republished, many of these locations, which had such an abundance of nature, have been filled in and built up into malls and housing. The ideas in this book still hold true today however, and nature still flourishes in the most surprising urban spaces.

Good Bugs for Your Garden

110215-302x400-Good_Bugs_for_Your_GardenAllison Mia Starcher
Algonquin Books
January 5, 1995

This slim book is richly illustrated and features a variety of insects which you may or may not be familiar with. While the information is fairly brief on each insect featured, it gives a good overview. If you have young gardeners or insect fanciers in your life, this is a book which is very good to look at together. There are fantastic, hand-drawn images which appeal to adults and children and the information is easy to follow, yet more mature than a children’s book. It’s currently out of print, but you can easily find a used copy on Amazon or if you read on Kindle, you can download the ebook for only $1.99. For more information, read this interview with Allison Mia Starcher.


Kelly Brenner
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