In the interest of true confessions, I find myself spending less and less time dwelling in fiction, and more and more in non-fiction writing. I can't speak to the "best" nature books of 2017, but I do have distinct favorites among those I did read - books which humble us into remembering that life is not as it seems. We are but a tiny part of a vast and complex universe operating on scales of space and time in which we hold no special supremacy.
Thomas Rainer, a landscape architect, says plants are social creatures that thrive in networks, but are often isolated by gardeners. In his book, Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes, he looks at how plants grow together in the wild. It's a paradigm shift in thinking about what makes a plant happy. Forget weeds. Forget mulch. Plants are social and they want company.
The Sixth Extinction,
Kolbert, combines scientific analysis and personal narrative to explain the history of earth's previous mass extinctions - and the species we've lost. She examines the role of man-made climate change in causing what biologists call the sixth mass extinction - the current spasm of plant and animal loss that threatens to eliminate 20 to 50 percent of all living species on earth within this century.
Alexander von Humboldt's work inspired Darwin's Origin of the Species and Thoreau's Walden. Humboldt's name graces counties, towns, parks, bays, lakes and mountains, yet most of us have never heard of him. Andrea Wulf's: The Invention of Nature champions a renewed interest in this lost figure. A man ahead of his time in environmental history and science.
Hope Jaren, a Minnesota native, was greatly influenced by growing up in her father's science laboratory. She takes us through her difficult days of mental illness and awe-inspiring journey into nature, becoming a nationally recognized scientist. Funny, honest and important, Lab Girl vividly demonstrates the mountains that we can move when love and work come together.
"The Thoreau I sought was not in any book, so I wrote this one" says Laura Walls. Two hundred years after this birth, and two generations after the last full-scale biography, Walls writes Thoreau, describing him in all his profound, inspiring complexity. Thoreau was a passionate naturalist who, long before the age of environmentalism, saw tragedy for future generations in the human heedlessness around him.
Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast,
by Peter Del Tredici, is a beginner's guide to help identify the 222 wild plants that grow spontaneously in urban areas, such as sidewalk cracks and between fences. This remarkable book opened my eyes to the ecological reality of our cities and the need to appreciate it for what it is without passing judgement on it.
David Haskell looks closely on a single square meter of the Cumberland Plateau in
and observes the whole living planet. At the heart of The Forest Unseen, is his argument about people's profound interconnection with nature that operates from the smallest molecule to the cosmic heavens.
In What a Plant Knows, Daniel Chamovitz argues that we pay too little attention to the sophisticated sensory machinery in the flowers and trees. He devotes a chapter each to-sight, smell, touch, hearing, an awareness of place and the sense of memory- and compares the human experience with that of plants.
In an accessible book on the new microbiology of soil, David Montgomery and Anne Bikle offer twists and turns of their married lives in Seattle to illustrate their insights into the landscape below ground. The Hidden Half of Nature provides a thoroughly readable mish-mash of topics and arrives to the conclusion that health and contentment depend on nurturing supportive microorganisms in the soil and in our guts.
In Peter Wohlleben's book The Hidden Life of Trees
; What They Feel, How They Communicate; Discoveries From a Secret World,
trees not only speak, they also mate and care for their offspring. Wohllenben is probably best known for his notion that trees live within social networks , and communicate with each other through underground electric signals and airborne chemicals.