Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz (Island, $30).
This is an exciting adventure story about one man's quest to study the elusive jaguar in the jungles of Belize. But what makes it a classic is that it also tracks Rabinowitz's passage from stuttering and silent boy to an indomitable hero who defends voiceless great cats against the forces that would kill them.
Encounters With the Archdruid by John McPhee (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16).
McPhee has written many remarkable books, but this portrait of the brilliant, irascible late Sierra Club president David Brower is my favorite. McPhee accompanies Brower on three journeys, observing how his passion for wilderness conservation triggers conflicts with a developer, a dam builder, and a miner. The stories read like the best fiction.
The Bluebird Effect by Julie Zickefoose (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28).
It takes a very special person to rehabilitate orphaned, injured birds and release them into the wild. Zickefoose's bond with these small creatures verges on the miraculous, making her beautifully illustrated tales about such encounters deeply heartwarming.
Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $15).
This is Jack Kerouac's On the Road with a nature twist. In 1970, 16-year-old high school dropout Kenn Kaufman hitchhikes across the country listing as many bird sightings as he can. Today, Kaufman is one of the world's greatest birders.
Beyond Words by Carl Safina (Picador, $18).
In this groundbreaking work, Safina takes a giant leap for a scientist, devoting himself to helping readers understand the emotional lives of wolves, whales, and dolphins, as well as the personalities of individual animals. Science has recently come a long way: We seek now to coexist with animals rather than objectifying or slaughtering them.
Ada Blackjack by Jennifer Niven (Hachette, $17).
I am a sucker for adventure stories with a woman in the hero's role. In 1921, Ada Blackjack, a 23-year-old Inuit woman, accompanied four men on an Arctic expedition to Wrangel Island. As the team encounters every imaginable nightmare — polar bears, fierce storms, and ice, ice, ice — Niven's account becomes a moving testament to human will. Buy it at Amazon.
— Jane Alexander, a Tony- and Emmy-winning actress, is a former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts and a longtime conservation activist. Her new book, Wild Things, Wild Places, chronicles her travels to experience and preserve wilderness.