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Book Review: The First Domestication

November 24th, 2017
first domestication

The ancient partnership between humans and canines is the subject of a thorough new volume of research

Book Review: Spineless

November 24th, 2017

A fascinating new book looks at the unendingly odd jellyfish – and some of the unexpected roles it plays in the 21st century world.

Book Review: The Water Will Come

November 6th, 2017
water will come

A powerful new book covers in terrifying detail what happens to the modern world if Earth’s ice caps dissolve.

A World Apart

November 1st, 2017
A World Apart

The re-introduction of a wolf pack to Yellowstone National Park led to ecological changes even some naturalists didn’t foresee – and gave rise to the daily dramas recounted in Nate Blakeslee’s new book.

From the Archives: Man’s Pest Friend

November 1st, 2017
From the Archives: Man’s Pest Friend

Only one dog out of every five on Earth is somebody’s pet; the rest are roamers in streets and city dumps. A fascinating new book looks at the lives of the canine majority.

Book Review: Tamed & Untamed

October 17th, 2017

Two beloved writers of natural history team up to tell stories about a host of animal species, from the ones in our homes to the ones in our gardens to the ones still prowling the wild.

Book Review: Quakeland

August 29th, 2017

An enormous earthquake is an inevitable feature of America’s near future, and yet as Kathryn Miles’ gripping new book makes clear, the country is completely, willfully unprepared.

Down the Rabbit Hole

June 1st, 2017
Down the Rabbit Hole

An innovative new book on Lewis Carroll and space avoids spoiling the fun by explaining everything too literally, but still offers new insights on his playful oeuvre.

Book Review: How the Zebra Got Its Stripes

May 9th, 2017

Popular YouTube sensation Léo Grasset imports his brand of easygoing biology lessons to the pages of a slim book.

Book Review: Birds of Prey

April 13th, 2017
birds of prey

The savage, beautiful carnivore-birds who fly and hunt by day are the subject of an enthusiastic new book

Book Review: The Quarry Fox

April 12th, 2017

A charming new book takes readers into the fascinating world of Catskills “critters,” trees, trails, and even rocks.

Protein is Protein

April 1st, 2017
Protein is Protein

If you’re a frog in a pond or hamster in a cage or a lion in lean times, what’s your easiest source of a nice quick meal? A new book explores the science of a human taboo.

Book Review: Carnivore Minds

March 24th, 2017
carnivore minds

Sharks, bears, rattlesnakes … these and other infamous apex carnivores long considered mindless killing machines are given a fresh and nuanced re-examination in G. A. Bradshaw’s new book.

Book Review: The New Neotropical Companion

March 22nd, 2017
white-nosed coati

A classic nature guide gets an elaborate, beautiful update.

Book Review: The Gulf

March 2nd, 2017
the gulf

The whole sweep of the Gulf of Mexico’s nature and history is the subject of a fascinating and passionate new book.

Book Review: Tracking Gobi Grizzlies

December 21st, 2016
tracking gobi grizzlies

The world’s most endangered population of grizzly bears is the subject of a powerful, haunting new book

Book Review: Scarlet Experiment

November 7th, 2016

Can birds – any species of bird, anywhere in the United States – survive their contact with humanity? A new book looks at the science and the sobering numbers.

Writhing Bounty

November 1st, 2016
Writhing Bounty

A gruesomely fascinating new book looks at the weird and unsettling phenomenon of venom in animal kingdom. Justin Hickey reviews.

Book Review: Where Song Began

September 8th, 2016

The overflowing diversity of Australian bird life is the subject of Tim Low’s captivating new book

Book Review: Why Birds Matter

September 8th, 2016

Who can measure the worth of a nightingale’s song? Why scientists can, you silly thing!

Single Occupancy, Lots of Sunlight, Water Included

September 1st, 2016
Single Occupancy, Lots of Sunlight, Water Included

For a century, humans have been searching for any sign of extraterrestrial life, intelligent or otherwise. A new book tells the story of that quest – and keeps its geeky hope alive.

Book Review: America’s Snake

August 19th, 2016

Snake expert Ted Levin argues in his captivating new book that the American rattlesnake is as misunderstood as it is miraculous.

Book Review: Dawn of the Dog

August 4th, 2016
dawn of the dog

A new book takes a revisionist look at the evolutionary history of the dog.

Suffer the Little Children

August 1st, 2016
Suffer the Little Children

According to a new book, not only did God design life, but deep down inside, we all know it. Steve Donoghue remains unconverted.

Book Review: Pound for Pound

July 27th, 2016

An emotionally and physically damaged young woman finds healing by helping some of the most unlucky dogs on Earth in Shannon Kopp’s touching new book

Summer Reading 2016 – Literary Journeys

July 1st, 2016
Summer Reading 2016 – Literary Journeys

This year in our annual Summer Reading feature, our writers recommend favorite books that take us on journeys – through time, around the world, or just out of ourselves.

Summer Reading 2016 Continues

July 1st, 2016
Summer Reading 2016 Continues

Part II of our Summer Reading feature brings more books about exploration and travel.

Fresh Fellow Travelers

July 1st, 2016
Fresh Fellow Travelers

Coyotes have successfully infiltrated almost every niche of the American landscape and folklore. Justin Hickey tours Coyote America by Dan Flores.

From the Archives: Summer Reading 2012

July 1st, 2016
From the Archives: Summer Reading 2012

As the haze and heat of summer kick into full swing, the folk of Open Letters break out their annual Summer Reading recommendations!

Closing the Buffet

June 1st, 2016
Closing the Buffet

A fascinating new book reveals the wonders that are visible once humans stop thinking of fish as merely food with fins.

Book Review: The Genius of Birds

May 12th, 2016
the genius of birds

A stirring, eloquent new book makes a wide-ranging case for the brainpower of birds

Book Review: Running with Rhinos

April 28th, 2016
running with rhinos

The heroic efforts to save the lives of the black rhinos of Zimbabwe are at the heart of a thrilling new book

Book Review: Thoreau’s Wildflowers

April 8th, 2016

A lovely new volume offers a selection of Henry David Thoreau’s heartfelt writings about flowers

Book Review: Eruption

March 30th, 2016

Nearly 40 years ago, Washington State’s Mount St. Helens volcano erupted, killing 57 people and spewing hundreds of tons of molten ash into the atmosphere. A gripping new book tells the story.

Book Review: Pollination Power

March 27th, 2016
pollination power

Birds, bees, mice, bats – a wide array of animals are crucial to the pollination of the plants of the world. A stunning new book shows us their world.

Book Review: Baby Birds

March 25th, 2016
Book Review: Baby Birds

An enterprising bird-artist takes readers inside the nests of a dozen species

The Skin Crowd

March 1st, 2016
The Skin Crowd

A sumptuous new book lays a vast roll call of frogs before the reader and opens a window onto the strange world of the world’s most popular amphibian.

Book Review: Into the Heart of Our World

February 28th, 2016
into the heart of our world

A new book offers a fascinating look at a complex and turbulent alien world – the one beneath our feet

Book Review: The Boiling River

February 24th, 2016
the boiling river

A young explorer enters the Amazon in search of a legendary river that boils as it flows.

Book Review: Cosmosapiens

January 26th, 2016

A sweeping new overview of the sciences has big ambitions – and some odd sticking points

Book Review: In Winter’s Kitchen

November 26th, 2015
in winter’s kitchen

A family from New Jersey moves to the wilds of Minnesota and learns a whole new way to think about food

Book Review: Great Soul of Siberia

November 8th, 2015
great soul of siberia

A stirring account of one wild family of critically-endangered Siberian tigers

Never Have Hands Been So Vital to a Creature

November 1st, 2015
Never Have Hands Been So Vital to a Creature

In Zachary Thomas Dodson’s visionary and inventive debut novel, a violent past and a dystopian future are woven together into a tale of families, legacies … and bats. Justin Hickey reviews Bats of the Republic.

Book Review: Evolution – The Whole Story

October 19th, 2015

A gorgeously-illustrated new book looks at the long and gaudy history of life on Earth

Book Review: Among the Bone Eaters

September 13th, 2015
marcus and willi

In the Ethiopian city of Harar, spotted hyenas roam the streets at night, cleaning up the day’s garbage better than any human crew could do. A fascinating new book tells the story.

In Paperback: Walden’s Shore

September 7th, 2015
walden’s short

Now in paperback: a thorough – and thoroughly interesting – study of the actual physical dimensions of the little pond whose name Henry David Thoreau made immortal

Book Review: A River Runs Again

September 1st, 2015
a river runs again

The huge environmental problems facing India form the backdrop for Meera Subramanian’s fantastic first book

Book Review: After Nature

August 22nd, 2015
after nature

In his brilliant new book, Jedediah Purdy argues that humanity must face the collapse of nature using the three tools it knows best: politics, policy, and cold, hard cash

Book Review: Voices in the Ocean

August 8th, 2015
voices in the ocean

A lively new book explores the minds and behaviors of many of Earth’s cetaceans

Book Review: Beyond Words

July 18th, 2015
beyond words

In his beautifully-written new book, ecologist Carl Safina takes a broader look at the emotional and mental lives of nonhuman animals

Book Review: Wolves on the Hunt

July 14th, 2015
wolves on the hunt!

Far from the popular image of ravenous killing machines, wolves are actually surprisingly cautious predators who carefully weigh the risks they take, as a stunning new study illustrates

Steep, Bloody Engagements

July 1st, 2015
Steep, Bloody Engagements

The success of the documentary Blackfish has thrown a spotlight on orcas not as the “killer” whales of the ocean but as victims; a dazzling new natural history broadens the picture to show us truly magnificent alien beings.

Book Review: Domesticated

June 24th, 2015
domesticated cover

Tens of thousands of years ago, humans domesticated canines and thereby changed the dynamics of life on earth – a change humanity then continued by domesticating other species. A fascinating new book details the process

Book Review: The Upright Thinkers

June 24th, 2015
the upright thinkers cover

Millions of years ago, hominids began walking upright – thus expanding their field of view and freeing their hands for mischief and took-making. A new book celebrates the result.

In Paperback: Wildlife in the Anthropocene

June 11th, 2015
wildlife in the anthropocene

Now in paperback: a new rumination on the nature of the post-wildlife world mankind has built

Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeeezin’

June 1st, 2015
Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeeezin’

It has three hearts, eight tentacles, and a brain of startling and utterly alien complexity – it’s the octopus, and a heartfelt book takes readers inside the cephalopod world.

The Pangs

June 1st, 2015
The Pangs

The ecstasy and anguish of falling in love have been the stuff of poetry for thousands of years – but do they boil down to the workings of serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline? Jane Schmidt reviews a new look at romantic love.

Book Review: Fastest Things on Wings

May 30th, 2015
fastest things on wings

A group of rescuers in Southern California treat the most delicate patients imaginable: injured hummingbirds

Book Review: Noise Matters

May 29th, 2015
noise matters cover

A genuinely thought-provoking new work of science-writing probes the nature – and even the value – of noise

Classics Reissued: Onward and Upward in the Garden

May 13th, 2015
nyrb onward and upward cover

The quintessential modern classic of gardening-literature gets a very nice reprint

Book Review: A Buzz in the Meadow

May 13th, 2015
buzz new.indd

A nature enthusiast looks at the countless little lives taking place on his small rural French meadow-farm

Hectic Hyperborea

May 1st, 2015
Hectic Hyperborea

Michael Pye’s new book provides a rich history of the North Sea in human culture – and pokes holes in some crass nationalist myth-making along the way. Matt Ray reviews The Edge of the World.

In Paperback: Saved by the Sea

April 25th, 2015
saved by the sea

In his moving account, now in paperback from New World Library, David Helvarg recounts the wonders and wealth of the world’s oceans

Book Review: Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature

April 24th, 2015
cuckoo cover

Cuckoos use other species of birds to raise the young they abandon, and they’ve been doing it for thousands of years without getting arrested. An absorbing new book isn’t precisely rooting for them, but still …

Book Review: The Intimate Bond

April 23rd, 2015
the intimate bond cover

An extremely winning new book explores the enormous ways eight particular animal kinds have altered the course of human life on Earth

Fabergé Monsters

April 1st, 2015
Fabergé Monsters

These fairies of the air are among the most beautiful sights of summer. They’re also 300 million years old and honed killing machines. A new book of photography shows us dragonflies as we’ve never seen them.

Book Review: What Stands in a Storm

March 19th, 2015
what stands in a storm cover

A new book details the terrible destruction caused by a record-breaking series of tornadoes that struck the American South in 2011

Book Review: The Next Species

March 3rd, 2015
the next species cover

Species arrive, thrive, and then go extinct – but after the long and frightful reign of Homo sapiens … what?

Blame the Dog

March 1st, 2015
Blame the Dog

When Homo sapiens appeared in Europe 45,000 years ago, most of the long-established species there – including the Neanderthals – began to disappear. Did Homo sapiens wipe them out? And if so, did they have help from somebody right there in your living room?

Leviathan in the Offing

March 1st, 2015
Leviathan in the Offing

Ron Howard’s adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick’s bestselling In the Heart of the Sea will soon appear, but even the trailers raise rich questions: Why does this story still have the power to fascinate? A Moby-Dick fan ponders.

The Familiar is Strange

March 1st, 2015
The Familiar is Strange

Stalking the pages of Thomas Pierce’s debut story collection, where the surreal shares quarters with the ordinary, are dwarf mammoths, genetically modified guard dogs, baby Pippin monkeys, and a parakeet named Magnificent.

Book Review: The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins

February 12th, 2015
cultural lives of whales and dolphins cover

In the vastness of the world’s oceans, some mammals have evolved brains and language … and culture? A fascinating new book looks at the inner lives of whales and dolphins

Kitchen Witchery

February 1st, 2015
Kitchen Witchery

For centuries, women have handed down much more than recipes from their kitchens: they have shared the special alchemy that transforms the mundane into the magical.

Book Review: The Age of Consequences

January 29th, 2015
age of consequences cover

An environmentalist writes an energetic and – despite everything – optimistic clarion call to better and smarter thinking about how mankind can ease its disastrous impact on nature

Book Review: Ocean Worlds

January 24th, 2015
ocean worlds

World after world detected by powerful long-range telescopes are being shown to possess oceans – probably radically different from those of Earth; a new book looks at water worlds, our own and others

Title Menu: 12 Hot Summer Reads

July 1st, 2014
Title Menu: 12 Hot Summer Reads

It’s summer at last, and you won’t find any relief from the heat in our editors’ round-up of the hottest books they know.

The Impossible Affliction

January 1st, 2014
The Impossible Affliction

Having tried therapy and medication to treat his anxiety disorder, Scott Stossel turned to writing. His new book, part memoir, part cultural history, may be an essential document of our agitated age.

Show Me the Body

October 1st, 2013
Show Me the Body

Throughout its history, humankind has been both terrified by and obsessed with monsters – hence the booming ‘cryptid’ industry, traversing the globe in search of legendary beasts like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. A new book looks at the science and psychology behind our modern bogeymen.

With Friends Like These …

September 1st, 2013
With Friends Like These …

What you don’t know about bacteria can hurt you, and a new addition to the Oxford Very Short Introduction series aims to set that straight.

Vegetable Wonder

August 1st, 2013
Vegetable Wonder

It became entangled with the imperial hopes of a nation and inspired the design of one of the most significant buildings of the 19th century, the Crystal Palace: a new book explores the remarkable story of the Amazonian water lily.

Mesophile Planet

July 1st, 2013
Mesophile Planet

They breathe poison gas and eat old bones and stones; they are sightless, deaf, and ageless; they flourish in temperatures that would melt iron or freeze concrete; and they live on the strangest planet in the known universe: Earth

From the Archives: Summer Reading 2012 Continues

July 1st, 2013
From the Archives: Summer Reading 2012 Continues

Our feature continues, as more Open Letters folk share their annual Summer Reading recommendations!

Loud, Loud, Loud: AUDUBON!!!!

May 1st, 2013
Loud, Loud, Loud: AUDUBON!!!!

He travelled the fledgling United States shooting birds, wiring them into poses, and then painting them for eternity – he was John James Audubon, and his epic “The Birds of America” has a beautiful, gargantuan new edition from Abbeville Press

The Road Home: On Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Over the River

March 1st, 2013
The Road Home: On Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s <em>Over the River</em>

New York artist Christo wants to drape 5.9 miles of silvery fabric over a 42 mile stretch of the Arkansas River. The sketches are lovely, but locals and environmentalists are horrified. Who’s in the right?

How the Higgs Streams in the Firmament

January 1st, 2013
How the Higgs Streams in the Firmament

What do Christopher Marlowe and the newly discovered Higgs boson particle have in common? Anthony Lock explores the connection, by way of unified fields.

Leviathan Grimoire

October 1st, 2012
Leviathan <em>Grimoire</em>

Their brains – their digits – their eyes – their locomotion – their families – their staggeringly long reign over the planet Earth: it’s all here, and much, much more. The greatest dinosaur reference work just got even better.

The Silence of the Yams

September 1st, 2012

Can plants see and smell and hear? Can they think? Daniel Chamovitz’s “field guide” to the botanical senses poses those provocative questions, but how well does it answer them?

Tumblr Sphinx

July 1st, 2012

Computers – search engines, interactive databases, digital archives – have the potential to change academic research in ways the previous twenty centuries couldn’t have imagined. But are those changes improvements – or the end of expertise as we know it? Or both?

Book Review: Animal

September 15th, 2011
triangle frog

A stunning – and miraculously hopeful – update to DK’s legendary guide to animals

Work in Progress

September 1st, 2011

Could you actually be hurting the environment by going green and moving to the suburbs? A new book champions that oft-maligned human invention: the big city.

Walk, Swim, Grumble

September 1st, 2011

Olivia Laing’s digressive natural history of the 42-mile-long River Ouse is filled with philosophical meditations, childhood memories, and of course the ghost of Virginia Woolf.

Love at First Glans

September 1st, 2011

Nicholson Baker’s provocative new book is an attempt at mainstream literary pornography, but does it suffer from the same performance anxiety as other novelistic efforts to depict sex?

The New Old Atheism

July 1st, 2011

Religion is one of those subjects that are too important to be polite about. But can we at least agree to disagree respectfully about the meaning of life?


March 1st, 2011

For millions of years, polar bears have ruled the North, inspiring fear and reverence in all the human cultures ringing the Arctic. A new work of natural history studies the great white bear – and wonders if we’re watching the final act.

In Possession of the Place

October 1st, 2010

Adam Nicolson chronicles his work bringing Sissinghurst castle and its grounds up to date–the delusions of a “hippie-squire” or the worthy restoration of a storied estate?

The Trickster of Hyacinth Grove

June 1st, 2010

America’s ever-expanding suburbs have brought us right to the doorstep of the wild – and brought the wild to our doorstep – redefining both worlds in the process.

Twilight of the Giants

March 1st, 2010
Southern Right Whale

The elephants of South Africa and the right whales of the North Atlantic are enormous, complex – and confronted with a growing human population. Two books estimate their chances.

The Long and Winding Road

January 1st, 2010

Jonathan Safran Foer is not the first, but is certainly the most famous, to investigate the ethics of eating animals. Megan Kearns studies both the style and the substance of his argument, with an eye to his less acknowledged allies in vegetarianism

The Wonder of Their Ways

January 1st, 2010
cockatoo 1

Two books by Jeff Mynott and Colin Tudge explore why it is that birds have such a hold on our hearts. Honoria St. Cyr adds her observations – on the books and on those little marvels around the feeder.

A Fondness for Turtles

September 1st, 2009

In Following the Water, David C. Carroll has written another paean of praise to the gentle world of pond turtles. But is he writing about a lost world? Tuc McFarland hopes not.

Grovely! Grovely! Grovely! and all Grovely!

May 1st, 2009

The late Roger Deakin celebrates his beloved trees one last time in Wildwood, and Bryn Haworth gladly finds himself within a dark forest.

Archimedes and the Plesiosaur

March 1st, 2009

Peter Ackroyd’s Thames: the Biography is a rambling, list-laden account of the much-storied river. Our London correspondent Bryn Haworth tests the waters.


November 1st, 2008

Three new books trek the red rocks of Mars, and although they don’t exactly admit it, they’re in search of one thing: signs of life. Astrid Van Sarisgaard tells us what they discover, or don’t.

Wonderful Water World

September 1st, 2008

All life on Earth is bound to our vast and complex oceans, the subject of The Smithsonian Institute’s new exhibit. Ben Soderquist dives into its companion volume: Ocean: Our Water, Our World.

Terror Planet

September 1st, 2008

It has been a part of every human life since mankind was born – but how much does any of us know about lightning? Terry Soderquist reviews John S. Friedman’s Out of the Blue and tries to fill in the gaps on this most scarifying of natural phenomena.

New World Symphony

July 1st, 2008

Tuc Macfarland was forever changed when he first heard whalesong, something he shares in common with the men and women exploring those haunting sounds in David Rothenberg’s Thousand Mile Song.

Heisenberg was a Human – Pass it On!

June 1st, 2008

Becka Podlertz decries the blinkered arrogance of all animal researchers, just as she celebrates the unique and thought-provoking contribution of Maddalena Bearzi and Craig B. Stanford in their new book, Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins

Lab v. Library

January 1st, 2008

Jonah Lehrer’s Proust Was a Neuroscientist attempts to reconcile the ageless turf war between the arts and sciences, but, as Lianne Habinek reports, Lehrer’s propositions may leave both sides feelings shortchanged.

Absent Friends: Our Jolly Round Whirling Earth

September 1st, 2007

Gun-and-net-toting naturalists seldom produce a better writer than William Beebe. In this regular feature, Steve Donoghue revisits the science writing of a more invasive age.

Wishful Thinking

July 1st, 2007

Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us has an irresistible premise: what
would happen on Earth if human beings suddenly disappeared? Steve
Donoghue cheerfully follows Weisman’s lead.