My Ten (15) Favourite “Natural History” Books

I thought I’d sit and scribble out a list of my favourite Natural History books of all time. It wasn’t an easy task. I wanted to keep it to 10 books, but have ended up with 15, it could easily have been 20 or 30 and several of the authors I could easily of included second and third entries. I’m also sure there are many that I’ve missed, and memory plays tricks, but I remember all of these books fondly as “natural history” but one or two stretch this definition a little.

I recommend all of them, but appreciate that natural history might not be everyone’s
cup-of-tea and that this list is in not in a particular order other than the one that I wrote them in.

(Please note the links are Amazon affiliate links, so should you click on a link and buy that book I’ll receive a small commission).

  • My Family & Other Animals by Gerald Durrell This is probably well known to many but it is the biography of the young author on the island of Corfu where he moved with his family and how his time spent in the wilds of island shaped his life as a naturalist and conservationist.
  • The Island Within by Richard Nelson I discovered Richard Nelson through his podcast “Encounters” (which is sadly no longer being produced), this is his story of time spent on an uninhabited island near his home, the wildlife there and his exploration of it and the surrounding area.
  • Cry of the Kalahari by Mark & Delia Owens I remember reading this in my late teens and it evoked thoughts similar to those upon reading Born Free. Part adventure and part exploration log of the authors’ time in the Kalahari desert.
  • The Outermost House by Henry Beston Another well known classic written by the author from his time on Cape Cod in an off-grid shack.
  • Waterlog by Roger Deakin The classic wild swimming book and how the author seeks to swim in rivers, ponds, lakes all over the UK and beyond.
  • The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane Of all of Robert Macfarlane’s books this is still my favourite. When originally written the author stated that there are only four places in the UK where you can go and not hear the noise of traffic. I wonder if that is still true or whether now there are any left.
  • Common Ground by Rob Cowen If I had to pick one book to be on this list it would be this one. It will probably divide it’s readership between those who love it, and those who don’t like it or understand it. I think it is simply brilliant.
  • The Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell Another classic, the story of the author and his time with Mij, Edal and Teko who are otters on the west coast of Scotland.
  • The Wild Marsh by Rick Bass American author Rick Bass takes us through a year in his life in the Yak valley as an author, naturalist and conservation activist.
  • A Single Swallow by Horatio Clare The journey from southern Africa to the UK as the author follows the migration journey of swallows in real time.
  • Rising Tide Falling Star by Phillip Hoare Simply put these are stories of the sea, but that is underselling the mesmerising and truly brilliant narrative.
  • Guests of Summer by Theunis Piersma A wonderful story of housemartins in a small Dutch village as the author chronicles their lives and those of other similar avian visitors.
  • Sacred Sierra by Jason Webster Fiction author buys run down farmhouse and chronicles his first year on the steep sided valley.
  • Nature Cure by Richard Mabey How nature helps to cure the depression suffered by the author when he moves to Norfolk.
  • Deep Country by Neil Ansell The journal of the authors five years in the Welsh hills in an off-grid cabin and his surroundings.

Book Review: Bloom by Ruth Kassinger

“Bloom – From Food to Fuel, The Epic Story of How Algae Can Save Our World” by Ruth Kassinger.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars.

From her own garden pond, back in time to when life began and fast forward to today where algae can be in soup, sushi and running shoes, Ruth Kassinger takes readers on a journey through the complexities, triumphs and tribulations of algae. Through many facets that most people won’t simply be aware of to those that could be fundamental to the future of the human race.

Now when I was asked to review this book, I had to confess that I already know a little about algae, I’ve been involved in microalgae projects that look to harness them to produce products of value. So this book for me is part Bus-man’s holiday but it was so much more than that. It is truly mind expanding, regardless of how much you already know – or think you know. Whether the author is talking about the blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), microalgae, or macroalgae (seaweeds), there is just so much information you’ll probably end up wondering how you never heard of a lot of this before, and perhaps why.

It’s extremely well written, and in a style that is engaging from first page to last, and if you think the subtitle might be a little over-the-top, then prepare to have that illusion shattered. The author clearly knows her subject and her first hand research has taken her to many places that many people won’t know exist or perhaps won’t have even considered that they have a connection to algae, but as you read you’ll realise that some pretty well known brands are investing in algal technologies and that many others probably should be.

I particularly enjoyed the parts on food and fuel, expanding my culinary knowledge, and gaining a better understanding of why some projects and companies pivoted their business models the way they did. The untapped potential in some areas is still huge, but timing or political will can be everything

This is science writing at it’s most engaging and rewarding for the reader, whether scientist themselves or just plain interested in widening your knowledge.

The book also comes with some recipes at the end for algae (mostly seaweed) dishes, which is a really nice touch (although I haven’t had a chance to try any of them out yet, I’m planning to).

Bloom – From Food To Fuel, The Epic Story of How Algae Can Save Our World by Ruth Kassinger is published by Elliott & Thompson Books on 4th July 2019.
(Published as “Slime” in the US by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

About The Author: Ruth Kassinger writes about the intersection of gardening, history and science. In addition to her several books, Ruth has written for the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Health, National Geographic Explorer and other publications. Find her online at: www.ruthkassinger.com

Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a free copy of this book to review.

The Pull of the River by Matt Gaw (Book Review)

The Pull of the River – A journey into the wild and watery heart of Britain by Matt Gaw 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Hardback & ebook: Available now

Paperback: Publ. 21st February 2019

Matt and his friend James set off in a homemade (by James) canoe to explore the rivers and waterways of Britain. The canoe named the “Pipe”, and a smaller craft “Pipette” that Matt later buys “at mates rates” to do some solo exploring, take the pair on some entertaining adventures.

The two initially naive canoeists learn fast from their experiences and mistakes to become more experienced waterman and along the way explore both the slower and faster pace of the watercourses they encounter, as well as the conflicts between users and the natural environment that they at times literally occupy. It doesn’t pull any punches with some of their experiences either. It isn’t just a gentle exploration of the natural environment. There is plenty of evidence as to how we as the human race have adapted, altered and spoilt this essential element of the natural world.

The book has a well researched backstory drawing on the likes of Stevenson, Roger Deakin and others to tell some of the history, myths and facts of the rivers that they set out to explore. It has at times almost poetic prose in describing the natural world; the Barn Owls, Kingfishers, Otters, Beavers and even the infamous “Nessie” (spoiler: there’s no sighting).

This is the authors first book, and I would have loved it to continue on some of the rivers that I am more familiar with. If you are a lover of books about nature, or waterways then you’ll enjoy it too. Similarly if you have an interest in canoes, although not if you are expecting a lot of technical details or long explanations of the building of the Pipe.

[Disclaimer: I was sent an advanced copy of the paperback version of The Pull of the River by the publishers in return for a review. I have received no payment for this review, and the thoughts are my own.]

Quick Links 17th November 2015

Each week I’ll try and post quick links to things that I’ve seen, read or just sparked my interest in the previous week. Mostly gardening, cooking and environmental stuff but not always.

Britain loses top energy rating [Guardian]

World’s Climate About to Enter Uncharted Territory after it passes 1C of warming [Guardian]

Will Reintroduced Lynx Hunt Britains Sheep? [Guardian]

The Week In Wildlife In Pictures [Guardian]

Harissa Roast Chicken & Warming Bone Broth and Tomato & Basil Risotto meets Harissa Chicken Bone Broth [Hole Food Family Blog]