Helen Macdonald's 6 favorite books

The acclaimed international best-seller recommends books having to do with the environment and the natural world

Favorites of Helen Macdonald.
(Image credit: Courtesy Image)

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $15). An indelibly powerful exposé of the terrible effects of pesticides, this 1962 book shaped the burgeoning environmental movement. Carson is a phenomenally important writer, and this book is more relevant than ever. We seem to have forgotten the lessons she taught.

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (Ballantine, $8). Wise and lyrical meditations from the 1940s on environmental ethics, human and natural history, and the passage of time. Some measure of how fiercely good it is: A well-read, retired U.S. Army colonel once told me that he considered Leopold to be better than Shakespeare.

Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez (Vintage, $17). A wondrous investigation into the Arctic and its place in our imagination, as well as an exploration of landscape, culture, science, hunting, morality, and value. There is a moment in this book when Lopez feels compelled to bow to arctic ground-nesting birds with deep humility and reverence for their tenacity. It always reduces me to tears.

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Journals by R.F. Langley (Shearsman, $18). A selection of journal entries by the English poet R.F. Langley, dealing centrally with what Ruskin called the "prime necessity" of seeing. Langley's subjects range from moths to etymology, from the philosophy of observation to reading Shakespeare. It is astoundingly brilliant.

The Peregrine by J.A. Baker (NYRB Classics, $16). A darkly poetic and episodic work about a man obsessively watching wild peregrine falcons in the British countryside. Written at a time when the extinction of the peregrine and nuclear apocalypse both seemed imminent, this is a book about the poetry of death and loss as much as it is about hawks.

The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley (Knopf, $40). I adore books on how to identify everything from flies to lichens, flowers to whales. This superbly written and illustrated guide to American avifauna, like all field guides, tells us much about birds, but also about us: how we encounter the natural world, our urge to know and collect, our need to carve nature at the joints.

— British naturalist Helen Macdonald is the author of H Is for Hawk, an acclaimed international best-seller that is now available in paperback. Her 2001 poetry collection, Shaler's Fish, was recently published in the U.S. by Atlantic Monthly Press.

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