The news of the world has never shown a grimmer picture of the war on Nature than we saw in 2012 (compensated only slightly by Nature’s increasing proclivity to make war on us), but the superheated, winterless, waterless blight hasn’t been reflected in the beauty of nature-related books hitting stores. Here are the 10 best from 2012:
10. Natural Histories from the American Museum of Natural History Library – Certainly the most visually arresting nature volume of the season, this oversized slipcased item is a treasure-house of archival-quality reproductions from the holdings of the American Museum’s Research Museum, featuring long, loving passages on dozens of rare 19th Century works of natural history and dozens of separate prints suitable for framing. It’s a celebration perfectly in keeping with the puissant nerdiness of the American Museum.
9. The Sounding of the Whale by D. Graham Burnett
8. Of Moose and Men by Jerry Haigh
7. The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell
6. The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause – The sheer unending variety of the animal kingdom is most fascinatingly expressed in the sounds it makes, and that inadvertent orchestra is “bio-acoustician” Krause’s subject in all its glory. The book’s lively narrative is accompanied by a disc that will change forever the way you encounter the natural world – a world of excited, passionate whoops, calls, songs, and plain old conversation, ten billion of a day.
5. The Complete Dinosaur (2nd edition) edited by James O. Farlow and M. K. Brett-Surman
4. The Black Rhinos of Namibia by Rick Bass
3. Spillover by David Quammen
2. Comet’s Tale by Steven Wolf – Wolf was a go-getting lawyer when two things radically chanted his life: he was stricken with a crippling spinal disease, and he adopted a retired racing greyhound named Comet, whose sweet nature he gradually freed from trauma and on whom he gradually came to depend for both physical and moral support. It’s a familiar dog-saved-me setup, but it’s beautifully done.
1. The Last Walk by Jessica Pierce – The best nature book this year (and also the best dog book) is immeasurably also the saddest: Pierce writes about the aspect of dog-ownership most dog people don’t want to think about – the end, when the light dims in the eyes and the muscles get stiff or give out and old joints can’t become warm enough. I’ve live through that last, most heartbreaking stage more times than I can count (except that like all dog-owners, I have counted), and I’ve never seen it more intelligently, more searchingly explored than Pierce does in these pages. This great little book is not a happy reading experience – but for dog-people, it’ll be a massively cathartic one.