Historian Andrea Wulf is the best-selling author of The Invention of Nature. Her latest book, The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, retells the same story of the pioneering naturalist and explorer, but in a lavishly illustrated graphic novel.
Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie by Lauren Redniss (2010).
Category-defying, stunningly beautiful, and utterly mesmerizing, Radioactive represents the perfect marriage between art and science. Redniss' text and magical images take the reader on a biographical and visual journey.
Half-Earth by Edward O. Wilson (2016).
One of the most memorable passages I've ever read about environmental destruction is Wilson's list of the 19 species of freshwater mussels that have gone extinct in Alabama's Mobile River basin. Half-Earth is almost like an obituary: evocative, and in its sparse itemization strangely emotional.
American Eden by Victoria Johnson (2018).
I've always loved stories about forgotten heroes — and with this fantastic biography of early American botanist David Hosack, Victoria Johnson unearthed a brilliant figure. Luckily for Hosack, she's a true scholar and gifted storyteller.
The Moth Snowstorm by Michael McCarthy (2015).
Some books change the way you see things and stay with you forever. This is one of them. It's an unashamed plea for the importance of seeking joy in nature — a joy that humans have experienced for more than 50,000 generations. Our ability to imagine developed as we evolved, McCarthy explains, and our bond with the natural world lies buried in our DNA. It's the best argument I've heard so far for nature appreciation as part of our very essence.
Views of Nature by Alexander von Humboldt (1808).
Humboldt, the most famous scientist of his age, was obsessed with scientific measurements, but he also said that we need to use our imagination to understand nature. In Views of Nature, he combined poetic landscape descriptions with scientific observations, thereby creating the blueprint for nature writing today.
Horizon by Barry Lopez (2019).
Lopez is one of my all-time favorite writers. Like so many others who loved 1986's Arctic Dreams, I waited patiently (or maybe impatiently) many years for a new full-length Lopez nonfiction book. When it finally arrived this year, I devoured it. It's a masterpiece of nature writing that reminds us of the environmental crisis we're facing. I don't know of any other writer who so evocatively and poetically weaves together science, culture, and nature.