Books I love

In case you are looking for more information on certain topics or in general, here are some of my favorite books about conservation and ecology (some don’t really address issues of conservation, but I’m a great believer that, the more you know about the background of a situation, the better your chances for future progress). There are also a few that focus on the relationship between science and human society, which seems pretty pertinent to me. Some of these books have less than happy endings (you’ve been warned). These are largely in reverse order in which I read them, so no favoritism is implied by where the title falls on the page.

Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood by Sandra Steingraber- this book was recommended by a friend shortly after I found out I was pregnant, and, while I don’t necessarily think all women should read this while they are pregnant, I do think that they should read this at some point. In addition to providing an account of prenatal development over time, Steingraber looks at what we know about how environmental conditions, especially the presence of toxins and pollutants, influence that development. She also discusses the choices that she and her husband make during pregnancy and the first two years of her daughter’s life to provide as safe an environment as possible.

Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures by Bill Schutt- I borrowed this book from a friend to learn more about vampire bats (he’s a bat researcher), and I had assumed that, once I hit the section on insects, I would spend my time trying to brush imaginary creatures off me while I read- I was wrong. This book presented a variety of rather creepy animals in a way that made me curious about them without being unnerved by what I learned- it was a fascinating ride and gave me new insight into the roles that blood-feeding creatures play (still not a fan of bed-bugs, however…).

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog- a friend recommended this one evening after a conversation about favorite animals- Herzog looks at the ways in which humans have inconsistent attitudes toward animals, for example buying outfits for pets while wearing suede shoes. He provides an overview of many issues, so it’s a good place to start. Once he’s got you thinking about what you eat, take a look at Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma which discusses what it means to have so many choices for food and takes you through the process of putting together several very different meals. If these books pique your interest, you might also consider The Botany of Desire by Pollan- he looks at 4 different plants that have been altered by us and have influenced us in return. All of these books get you thinking about your relationship to the natural world, or lack thereof.

Platypus by Ann Moyal- this book is fascinating not so much for what it says about platypus ecology (because it really only covers the basics), but for what it says about how people reacted to the idea of the platypus- really interesting to read this now as I hear snippets of the climate change discussion and other scientific debates. By the time I finished this book, I had added “see a platypus in the wild” to my list of life goals.

Living on the Wind by Scott Weidensaul- I was both depressed and fascinated by his accounts of what it means to live as a migratory bird- you will be amazed at what they have done and the problems they currently face around the world. For me it was a hard read, emotionally, but it was worth it.

The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen- Quammen looks at the importance of islands, both literal and figurative, in issues of extinction. If you are wondering why certain places or species seem more risk or whether there really is a specific ‘point of no return’, this book is a good place to start.

Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels- Tom is wonderful at helping you understand the history you’re seeing when you look at a mountain or field or forest- for those of you wondering just how humans (or other forces) have changed the landscape around you, this book will give you the chance to be your own detective.

Tigers in Red Weather by Ruth Padel- she is a poet who got a grant for combining the arts and sciences, so she traveled around Asia looking for tigers and talking with the researchers studying them. I read this while I was a volunteer in the field, and I came home with a quote from Dr. John Lewis of the International Zoo Veterinary Group in my journal: “You have a choice, do something or do nothing.” For those who think, “But I’m not a scientist, what can I really do about this?”, Padel’s book is a great response. (*there is also another book with the same title- I haven’t read it, but it’s in the fiction section, so just make sure you’re getting the book you expect.)

Running with the Fox by David Macdonald- this was suggested to me when I was trying to figure out how committed I was to conservation biology as a career- imaging that I could do similar research definitely pushed me in that direction.

Posted July 18, 2012 by Mirka Zapletal