Since I’ve gotten more into nonfiction over the last few weeks (or months) and have been reading a few interesting natural history nonfiction books in particular, I wanted to recommend a few specific titles that I think would appeal to a few different kinds of readers.
For the reader who is looking first and foremost to be entertained:
Rats by Robert Sullivan
This book is sort of a mishmash of natural history, history of New York City and urban life in the modern world. Robert Sullivan spends a year observing one alley in NYC, in particular studying the alley’s rat population. He talks with rat experts of all kinds from pet control/exterminators to researchers to people working in restaurants and landlords, trying to capture this smart and ever present species in about 270 pages. It’s written in a chatty style, kind of like an essay collection by a comedian or internet celeb. Therefor I think it would appeal to people who aren’t necessarily reading a lot of nonfiction, or haven’t done so in the past; Sullivan definitely makes an effort to entertain – while also giving the reader something to nibble on (yes, I used nibble on purpose!).
For the reader who is into history/science but less familiar with natural history:
Rainbow Dust by Peter Marren
Rainbow Dust is just one of many books on butterflies, but while it certainly classifies as a natural history it is also very much a history of scientific research, the connection between butterfly collecting and science, the study of evolution, and the many men and women who have done work within the entomological field. Marren spends a great deal of time going back to yesteryear, talking of both collecting and illustrating of butterflies, of their place in history, and of the remnants left through time. Especially because the collecting of butterflies is a practice linked with its time (and is no longer as common as it once was), large parts of this book could be said to be more focused on history than (contemporary) nature. If you are interested in either science or history, or both, and want to broaden your horizons to natural history – this book might be something for you.
For the reader who wants a solid, passionate natural history:
Foxes Unearthed by Lucy Jones
It probably doesn’t come as a total surprise to see this book here if you know me, it’s my favorite piece of nonfiction I’ve read this year. Foxes Unearthed is a study of human’s relationship with foxes, specifically in Britain although things could apply to other countries as well. Lucy Jones goes through several aspects of this relationship, as well as observing the foxes on their own – and it’s hard not to fall a little bit in love with the species after reading this book. While Jones talks of things like hunting and animal ‘control’, that are clearly loaded subjects, she takes pains to keep the book balanced and give voice to all sides of the fences. You don’t have to be interested in natural history to enjoy this book in my opinion, it might even turn you into a natural history reader – it’s just that good. One thing I feel this book has going for it over the other two titles is that Jones is also a pretty good prose writer. It helps – especially with a subject this interesting, it makes the book even sharper. If you’re interested in natural history, British nature, or human’s interaction with predators like foxes, or if you’re just on the market for a solid nonfiction title – this is definitely a book worth checking out.
That was all that I had to share today. I hope this might be helpful to someone out there, and that it might create an interest for natural history in books as it has done for me. If you’ve read any of these or have any other natural history recommendations, you’re very welcome to share in the comments.