Wild Life Illustrated (out of print). The books that have meant the most to me contain adventures on the most exuberant and astonishing planet yet to be discovered: Earth. One volume that fed my imagination for a good 10 years is this 500-page wildlife encyclopedia published in 1951. I have it still, but I know it so well I hardly need to open its battered pages.
The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley (Words-worth, $5). For my seventh birthday, my grandmother gave me this 1863 classic about a child laborer who transforms into a tiny sea creature. My grandmother probably thought that it was just the thing for a child who spent her summers poking around rock pools, but its perverse mixture of real natural history with preposterous fable puzzled me for years.
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (Signet, $5). This was a better childhood standby, though for years I didn't realize that the family's not-so-desert island was populated by a variety of species that would never have been found living in the same habitat.
Green Mountains by Bernard O'Reilly (out of print). This is an account of life on the Lamington Plateau in eastern Australia. When I read the book at school, I longed to live there. And, by sheer chance, the 150-acre rain forest restoration area that I set up in 2001 is but a few miles away as the crow flies, on the other side of the Nerang River.
Journal of an Overland Expedition in Australia by Ludwig Leichhardt (Cambridge, $52). After I read a library copy of this 1847 account by a Prussian explorer, I simply had to find one for my bedside table. Leichhardt made a 3,000-mile trek across Australia in the 1840s, and I was so taken by the sympathy and warmth of Leichhardt's way of writing about even the most inhospitable territory.
The Wild Trees by Richard Preston (Random House, $16). In 2008, I was lucky enough to come across The Wild Trees in an airport bookstall. This is the ripping tale of the coastal redwoods of California and the people who climb them. It is as true as a book can be.
— Germaine Greer recently spent 10 years converting land that was once a dairy farm back to its primeval state. Her new memoir, White Beech, is an account of that effort.