19 Books About the Calming Wonder of Nature
There’s nothing quite like the awe of the natural world. Whether you’re going out walking or staying quarantined at home, you can experience the wonder and beauty of nature through these beautiful books.
If you’d like to purchase any of these books, we’d highly recommend seeking out your local independent bookstore. Your business helps ensure the survival of these vital cultural institutions during this difficult time.
1. World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
As a child, Nezhukumatathil called many places home: the grounds of a Kansas mental institution, where her Filipina mother was a doctor; the open skies and tall mountains of Arizona, where she hiked with her Indian father; and the chillier climes of western New York and Ohio. But no matter where she was transplanted—no matter how awkward the fit or forbidding the landscape—she was able to turn to our world’s fierce and funny creatures for guidance.
“What the peacock can do,” she tells us, “is remind you of a home you will run away from and run back to all your life.” The axolotl teaches us to smile, even in the face of unkindness; the touch-me-not plant shows us how to shake off unwanted advances; the narwhal demonstrates how to survive in hostile environments. Even in the strange and the unlovely, Nezhukumatathil finds beauty and kinship. For it is this way with wonder: it requires that we are curious enough to look past the distractions in order to fully appreciate the world’s gifts.
Warm, lyrical, and gorgeously illustrated by Fumi Nakamura, World of Wonders is a book of sustenance and joy.
2. The Lost Spells by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris
The follow-up to the internationally bestselling sensation The Lost Words, The Lost Spells is a beautiful collection of poems and illustrations that evokes the magic of the everyday natural world.
Since its publication in 2017, The Lost Words has enchanted readers with its poetry and illustrations of the natural world. Now, The Lost Spells, a book kindred in spirit and tone, continues to re-wild the lives of children and adults.
The Lost Spells evokes the wonder of everyday nature, conjuring up red foxes, birch trees, jackdaws, and more in poems and illustrations that flow between the pages and into readers’ minds. Robert Macfarlane’s spell-poems and Jackie Morris’s watercolour illustrations are musical and magical: these are summoning spells, words of recollection, charms of protection. To read The Lost Spells is to see anew the natural world within our grasp and to be reminded of what happens when we allow it to slip away.
3. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
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 two lenses of knowledge together to take us on “a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise” (Elizabeth Gilbert).
Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of 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 will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.
4. One Man’s Wilderness by Sam Keith
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of when Dick Proenneke first broke ground and made his mark in the Alaskan wilds in 1968, this bestselling memoir features an all-new foreword by Nick Offerman plus color photographs not seen in print for over 20 years.
To live in a pristine land unchanged by man…to roam a wilderness through which few other humans have passed…to choose an idyllic site, cut trees, and build a log cabin…to be a self-sufficient craftsman, making what is needed from materials available…to be not at odds with the world, but content with one’s own thoughts and company…
Thousands have had such dreams, but Dick Proenneke lived them. He found a place, built a cabin, and stayed to become part of the country. One Man’s Wilderness is a simple account of the day-to-day explorations and activities he carried out alone, and the constant chain of nature’s events that kept him company. From Dick’s journals, and with firsthand knowledge of his subject and the setting, Sam Keith has woven a tribute to a man who carved his masterpiece out of the beyond.
5. Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl
Growing up in Alabama, Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Here, in brief essays, she traces a tender and honest portrait of her complicated parents—her exuberant, creative mother; her steady, supportive father—and of the bittersweet moments that accompany a child’s transition to caregiver.
And here, braided into the overall narrative, Renkl offers observations on the world surrounding her suburban Nashville home. Ringing with rapture and heartache, these essays convey the dignity of bluebirds and rat snakes, monarch butterflies and native bees. As these two threads haunt and harmonize with each other, Renkl suggests that there is astonishment to be found in common things: in what seems ordinary, in what we all share. For in both worlds—the natural one and our own—“the shadow side of love is always loss, and grief is only love’s own twin.”
Gorgeously illustrated by the author’s brother, Billy Renkl, Late Migrations is an assured and memorable debut.
6. Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald
In Vesper Flights Helen Macdonald brings together a collection of her best loved essays, along with new pieces on topics ranging from nostalgia for a vanishing countryside to the tribulations of farming ostriches to her own private vespers while trying to fall asleep.
Meditating on notions of captivity and freedom, immigration and flight, Helen invites us into her most intimate experiences: observing the massive migration of songbirds from the top of the Empire State Building, watching tens of thousands of cranes in Hungary, seeking the last golden orioles in Suffolk’s poplar forests. She writes with heart-tugging clarity about wild boar, swifts, mushroom hunting, migraines, the strangeness of birds’ nests, and the unexpected guidance and comfort we find when watching wildlife.
By one of this century’s most important and insightful nature writers, Vesper Flights is a captivating and foundational book about observation, fascination, time, memory, love and loss and how we make sense of the world around us.
7. The Rise of Wolf 8 by Rick McIntrye
Yellowstone National Park was once home to an abundance of wild wolves—but park rangers killed the last of their kind in the 1920s. Decades later, the rangers brought them back, with the first wolves arriving from Canada in 1995.
This is the incredible true story of one of those wolves.
Wolf 8 struggles at first—he is smaller than the other pups, and often bullied—but soon he bonds with an alpha female whose mate was shot. An unusually young alpha male, barely a teenager in human years, Wolf 8 rises to the occasion, hunting skillfully, and even defending his family from the wolf who killed his father. But soon he faces a new opponent: his adopted son, who mates with a violent alpha female. Can Wolf 8 protect his valley without harming his protégé?
8. The Hidden Life of Trees: Illustrated Edition by Peter Wohlleben
In his international bestseller The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben opened readers’ eyes to the amazing processes at work in forests every day. Now this new, breathtakingly illustrated edition brings those wonders to life like never before.
With compelling, abridged selections from the original book and stunning, large-format photographs of trees from around the world, this gorgeous volume distills the essence of Wohlleben’s message to show trees in all their glory and diversity. Through rich language highlighting the interconnectedness of forest ecosystems, the book offers fascinating insights about the fungal communication highway known as the “wood wide web,” the difficult life lessons learned in tree school, the hard-working natural cleanup crews that recycle dying trees, and much more. Beautiful images provide the perfect complement to Wohlleben’s words, with striking close-ups of bark and seeds, panoramas of vast expanses of green, and a unique look at what is believed to be the oldest tree on the planet.
9. The Monarch by Kylee Baumle
The monarch butterfly is in serious danger. More than 90% of its population has been lost in recent years due to pesticides and other human activity. This book will show readers simple ways to help save one of nature’s most beautiful creatures.
The Monarch showcases this magnificent butterfly with eye-popping photos, fun facts about a monarch’s life cycle, and things to know about the vital role that pollinators play in our ecosystem. Monarch enthusiast and nature blogger Kylee Baumle provides “action” projects for all ages, from planting milkweed and wildflowers to making butterfly watering stations…to volunteer activism.
10. Fragile: Birds, Eggs & Habitats by Colin Prior
Birds’ eggs are true wonders of the natural world: they are strong enough to protect the embryo as it grows and to withstand incubation by the parent, yet sufficiently fragile to allow the chick to hatch. Little wonder that the enormous diversity of avian eggs – the amazing range of shapes, sizes, colours, textures and patterns – has long fascinated us. Since boyhood, the renowned landscape photographer Colin Prior has had a passion for wild birds. For him, birds are the embodiment of nature, and fundamentally enrich the experience of being outdoors. This stunning new book presents Prior’s remarkable images of birds’ eggs side by side with his dramatic photographs of the birds’ natural habitats. At a time when many human influences are having an adverse impact on the environment, these habitats are equally fragile and vulnerable to change. Loss of habitat is, in turn, a major factor in the decline of wild bird populations.
11. Summer Solstice by Nina MacLaughlin
Nina McLaughlin captures the essence of summer in this brilliant, beautiful, sensuous essay.
Summer is fireflies and sparklers. Fat red tomatoes sliced thin and salted. Lemonade and long dreamy days. The treasures of the season are gone much too soon — but they’re captured here, in loving sensuous prose that’s both personal and universal, for you to find any time of year.
Experience the most evocative tribute to the meaning of the season, a season whose magical feeling stays with us even in winter. Where does that feeling come from? What is summer made of? The smell of cut grass behind the gasoline of a lawnmower. A crown you’ve made of flowers. Blackberry bush prickers. First hot dog off the grill. Stargazing and sleeping with the windows open. This essay brims with a searching honesty and insight about what this season has meant in our pasts and what it might mean in our lives ahead.
Release yourself into the sky and feel, Nina MacLaughlin writes, for a moment: there’s time.
12. Rare Plants by Ed Ikin
Rare Plants explores what makes the world’s rarest plants so exceptional, and by what means they have become so scarce, telling the story of 40 rare and endangered species through exquisite botanical artworks sourced from the archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Accompanied by illuminating and authoritative text, the book is presented alongside 40 frameable art prints and encased in a collector’s box.
Some of the most beautiful, useful and fascinating plants in the world are also the most uncommon, and have drawn the fascination of plant hunters, botanists, scientists and gardeners for centuries. This rarity, combined with pressures from humankind’s impact on the planet, has brought many of these species to the point of crisis.
In a race against time to conserve the world’s plant biodiversity, organizations such as Kew are deploying incredible science to save our rare and threatened plants. Cutting-edge genomics reveals new species, distribution modeling directs us to outlying plant populations, while drone and satellite data highlight the speed at which species are declining. This vital information informs which habitats should be protected and prioritizes plant conservation programs.
13. Prairie by Candace Savage
Extending from Alberta south to the Mississippi River, the prairies are among the largest ecosystems in North America. Until recently, they were also one of the richest and most magnificent natural grasslands in the world. Today, however, they are among the most altered environments on Earth. Nevertheless, Candace calls the prairies a landscape of hope-a place that has experienced the onslaught of modernization yet still inspires us with its splendor.
Throughout the book, spectacular full-color photographs and elegant black-and-white line drawings illustrate the beauty and diversity of the North American heartland. Both an authoritative reference and an easy-to-read guide, Prairie: A Natural History is a must for anyone who wants to know more about the dazzling natural variety of the prairies.
14. Seaweed: An Enchanting Miscellany by Miek Zwamborn
A charming deep dive into the hidden world of seaweed, filled with fascinating facts and beautiful illustrations of the most sensuous family of water plants.
Seaweed is so familiar, and yet we know so little about it. Even its names—pepper dulse, sea lettuce, bladderwrack—are mystifying.
In this exquisitely illustrated portrait, poet and artist Miek Zwamborn shares discoveries of seaweed’s history, culture, and science. We encounter its medicinal and gastronomic properties and long history of human use, from the Neolithic people of the Orkney islands to sushi artisans in modern Japan. We find seaweed troubling Columbus on his voyages across the Atlantic and intriguing Humboldt in the Sargasso Sea. We follow its inspiration for artists from Hokusai to Matisse, its collection by Victorians as pressed specimens in books, its adoption into fashion and dance, and its potential for combating climate change, as a sustainable food source and a means of reducing methane emissions in cattle.
And, of course, we learn how to eat seaweed, through a fabulous series of recipes based around these “truffles of the seas.”
15. The Curious World of Seaweed by Josie Iselin
Marine algae are the supreme eco-engineers of life: they oxygenate the waters, create habitat for countless other organisms, and form the base of a food chain that keeps our planet unique in the universe as we know it. In this beautiful volume, Josie Iselin explores both the artistic and the biological presence of sixteen seaweeds and kelps that live in the thin region where the Pacific Ocean converges with the North American continent—a place of incomparable richness. Each species receives a detailed description of its structure, ecological importance, and humans’ scientific inquiry into it, told in scientifically illuminating yet deeply reverent and inspired prose. Throughout the writings are historical botanical illustrations and Iselin’s signature, Marimekko-like portraits of each specimen that reveal their vibrant colors—whether rosy, “olivaceous,” or grass-green—and whimsical shapes. Iselin posits that we can learn not only about the seaweeds but also from them: their resilience, their resourcefulness, their poetry, and magic.
16. Our Livable World by Marc Schaus
A vital journey to the frontlines of our fight against climate change and the bold scientific and technological innovations that will revolutionize our world
There’s finally reason to hope. Climate change is the existential threat of our time, but incredible new advancements in science and engineering can allow us to avoid the worst repercussions of global warming as we work to reverse it over time. In Our Livable World, research specialist and author Marc Schaus leads readers in an exploration of new and upcoming innovations in green technology poised to prevent the climate apocalypse—and usher in a sustainable, livable world.
To beat a challenge the size of climate change, our solutions will have to be ambitious: solar thermal cells capable of storing energy long after the sun goes down, “smart highways” designed to charge your vehicle as you drive, indoor vertical farms automated to maximize crop growth with no pesticides, bioluminescent vines ready to one day replace our streetlights, jet fuel created from landfill trash—and next-generation carbon capture techniques to remove the emissions we have already released over the past several decades. Far from the geoengineering schemes of cli-fi action thrillers, real solutions are being developed, right this moment. Our Livable World features interviews with the innovators, real talk on revolutionary technology, and a clear picture of a cleaner planet in the future.
17. Renewal: How Nature Awakens Our Creativity, Compassion, and Joy by Andrés R Edwards
Why spend countless hours indoors in front of screens when being in nature feels so good? In learning why and how to nurture our emotional connection with nature, we can also regenerate the ecosystems on which we depend for our survival.
Renewal explores the science behind why being in nature makes us feel alive and helps us thrive. Using personal experiences and cutting-edge research in cognitive science, this book weaves delightful stories that:
- Reveal nature’s genius and impacts on our lives from physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual perspectives
- Explore how emulating nature is yielding design breakthroughs with biomimicry and biophilic design
- Highlight the importance of compassion and coexisting with wildlife in designing our conservation strategies
- Describe the significance of nurturing an ecological ethic that supports a reciprocal relationship with nature.
18. The Reign of Wolf 21 by Rick McIntrye
In this compelling follow-up to the national bestseller The Rise of Wolf 8, Rick McIntyre profiles one of Yellowstone’s most revered alpha males, Wolf 21. Leader of the Druid Peak Pack, Wolf 21 was known for his unwavering bravery, his unusual benevolence (unlike other alphas, he never killed defeated rival males), and his fierce commitment to his mate, the formidable Wolf 42.
Wolf 21 and Wolf 42 were attracted to each other the moment they met—but Wolf 42’s jealous sister interfered viciously in their relationship. After an explosive insurrection within the pack, the two wolves came together at last as leaders of the Druid Peak Pack, which dominated the park for more than 10 years.
McIntyre recounts the pack’s fascinating saga with compassion and a keen eye for detail, drawing on his many years of experience observing Yellowstone wolves in the wild. His outstanding work of science writing offers unparalleled insight into wolf behavior and Yellowstone’s famed wolf reintroduction project. It also offers a love story for the ages.
19. Fylling’s Illustrated Guide to Nature in Your Neighborhood by Marni Fylling
In the same lighthearted yet scientifically accurate style of Fylling’s Illustrated Guide to Pacific Coast Tide Pools, this portable guidebook reveals the splendidly strange animals and plants just outside your door. Marni Fylling’s full-color illustrations make species identification a snap, and concise descriptions include fascinating (and sometimes grotesque) factoids about frequently encountered plants, insects, arachnids, birds, and mammals. With Fylling’s guidance, the everyday becomes extraordinary: Pigeons share nest-building and egg-sitting duties, and mate for life—with occasional dalliances; squirrel teeth grow about six inches per year; spiders owe their characteristic creep to their “hydraulic” legs; poison oak and poison ivy’s itch-inducing oil is also found in pistachios, cashews, and mangoes; and much, much more.