Books for Holiday Giving
(This column was first published in the December 9, 2002 issue of The Buffalo News.)
Great news for anyone looking for books to give nature-lovers: The number of volumes devoted to natural history and related subjects appears to be increasing exponentially. There are so many to pick from this year that I will be able to devote only a few lines to a selection from this extraordinary crop.
Bernd Heinrich, Why We Run (Ecco) is a perfect book for any runner interested in nature. The author, a serious zoologist who wrote Ravens in Winter and Bumblebee Economics, is also a super-marathon (150 km) champion. Here he places his avocation in the perspective of natural history.
Thomas Whiteley, Gerald Kloc and Carlton Brett, Trilobites of New York (Comstock) is far more than a book about a group of extinct marine animals. Its chapters on taphonomy (the study of how fossils are preserved) and the Paleozoic geology of New York are excellent surveys and make interesting and educational reading.
Rosanne Thomas's Beeing (Lyons) is the story of a young mother who, with no prior preparation whatsoever, takes up beekeeping. I give her high points for courage and stick-to-itiveness. Good reading and not just for apiarists.
Of Moths and Men by Judith Hooper (Norton) describes the rise and fall of a mainstay of natural selection: the British moth that developed a dark form supposedly in response to industrial soot. An important book not only for this story but for its survey of evolutionists' thinking since Darwin. I plan to write a column about this subject early in 2003, so consider this book assigned reading.
Rich and Sue Freeman's 200 Waterfalls in Central and Western New York (Footprint Press) provides locations (including maps) of falls you can visit. A perfect guide for weekend trips.
I must include here two books by wonderful raconteur David Attenborough whom we know from his many television series. The Life of Mammals backs up one of those series and Life on Air (both Princeton) provides the setting for all of his work. Both books are entertaining and include just the right touch of British humor.
Monographs about individual animal species can be over-technical for the general reader. Dale Lott's American Bison (California) is a happy exception. The information is here but the book is so well written that it is a joy to read. And it is not just about buffalo: you meet antelope, badgers, grizzlies, prairie dogs, coyotes and ferrets as well.
Genesee fever, an upstate ailment that killed many of the Erie Canal construction workers, was really malaria and for many years I have wondered how it was eradicated from this region. Although Margaret Humphreys' Malaria (Johns Hopkins) has not provided me the definitive answer, it has taken me as close to it as I can expect to get. This book is an interesting survey of how United States scientists and politicians responded, eventually successfully, to a serious health problem.
Anyone who wishes to know about (or write about) nature should become familiar with Henry David Thoreau and John Burroughs. While many of us have read Thoreau's Walden, too few have enjoyed Burroughs' delightful essays. A collection of them in The Art of Seeing Things, edited by Charlotte Walker (Syracuse), is a perfect place to start.
In The Nature Fakers (University Press of Virginia) Ralph Lutts explores a literary battle that took place a century ago. On one side, the same John Burroughs we just met, backed by President Theodore Roosevelt; on the other, William Long, who claimed to have observed animals displaying distinctly human characteristics -- for example, a woodcock applying a mud cast to its own broken leg.-- Gerry Rising