Good popular books about ecology?


A friend asked the other day about recommendations for good popular books about ecology. Initially, I kind of drew a blank. Which surprised me.

I think there are plenty of great popular books about evolution – the first one that comes to mind is Beak of the Finch(I realize it’s more than 20 years old, but gosh, it holds up well.) And in the field of animal behavior you have a whole bunch, too – one that first came to my mind is Ravens in Winter (again, not the newest book, I realize).

But for ecology? Hmmm. The first one that I thought of is a bit obvious, A Sand County AlmanacThis has aged well, but doesn’t quite describe the contemporary field of ecology. I was also thinking of Rob Dunn’s The Wild Life of Our Bodies – and even more so, the forthcoming Never Out of Season will totally fit this bill.

I can think of many great natural history books. I was hoping to find a book that is principally about ecology and the people that do ecology.

I asked about this on twitter, and the community provided a great conversation, some bits of which are below. I realized, well, yes, there are plenty of books about contemporary ecology.

I’d like to use the comments for y’all to contribute your thoughts about good general books about ecology – please add your thoughts!

So, what do you think? If you were teaching about ecology to non-majors, for example, what nonfiction book would you want to read?

21 thoughts on “Good popular books about ecology?

  1. Future of Life and Diversity of Life by E.O. Wilson

  2. Sean Carroll’s “Serengeti Rules”. Haven’t done this yet, but I’m thinking of eventually having our intro eco/evo students read it because that class is the third in our intro series, following genetics and then cell/molec. Carroll starts out discussing general principles (and discoveries of) basic rules of feedback, inhibition, etc as it applies to gene expression, etc and then moves into discussing how the same ideas apply to ecology (mostly in the form of trophic cascades, top-down and bottom-up regulation, etc.). Nothing earth shattering to somebody trained as an ecologist, but I think it could be appealing and useful to intro students and lay people.

  3. Sand County is, in my opinion, ageless…

    I recently read A Year in the Maine Woods by Heinrich. Everything I’ve ever read by him is fantastic. This one felt kind of like a 1990’s version of Sand County.

    I just finished reading Naturalist by E.O. Wilson. Fantastic–especially inspiring and appropriate, I think, for students pursuing or thinking about a career in ecology.

  4. When I teach Intro Ecology I use The Ecological World View by Charles Krebs. It’s cheap (for a textbook) and highly readable.

  5. I enjoyed Sex, drugs, and sea slime.
    Although mostly fictional comics, Jay Hosler has great work out there.

  6. I’ll add +1 for Robin Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass – a wonderful book that blends ecology the science & the philosophy. And Kimmerer’s first book Gathering Moss is an equally good read.
    Kohler’s Landscapes & Labscapes is a good potted history of how the lab vs field ecology disciplines developed, but probably more interesting to ecologists than general readers.

  7. Rob’s first book, Every Living Thing, is one of my favorites. I used it as a blueprint for a lecture about biodiversity science for a class I’m teaching this semester. It is more specifically about species discovery and biogeography, but it covers Linnaeus, Wallace, Terry Erwin, and Dan Janzen. It also covers van Leeuwenhoek and the discovery of the microscopic world.

  8. Anything by E.O. Wilson. Also Alan Rabinowitz, although they’re less popular. (I have only found one other person who’s ever heard of him, and that was because he was on This American Life, I think.)

  9. The View from Lazy Pint (Carl Safina). +1 for all things Quammen and The Sixth Extinction.

  10. I would consider Barry Lopez’s writing ecology … no? But then I’m a geologist.

    Also, I love Wendell Barry, and was surprised nobody mentioned Grays Harbor lepidopterist Robert Michael Pyle (though I’ve only read Wintergreen).

  11. After seeing your post, I went back in time and wrote a post on this too. I shamelessly stole your introductory observation that there seem to be many more popular books about evolution than ecology. :-)

    That old thread overlapped a lot with the suggestions in this thread. Leopold, Quammen, and Heinrich. I have The Serengeti Rules on my pile at home and am planning to write a review when I read it, but won’t get to it until at least the summer as I’m away on leave until July.

    I think part of the issue is that there’s a lot of popular nature writing and environmentalist/conservation writing. Not a lot of popular writing about what might be called “fundamental ecology”.

  12. Thanks for sharing your earlier post, Jeremy – not sure if I remember it subconsciously or not! (If it was consciously, I surely would have linked to it).

  13. Heinrich’s In a Patch of Fireweed is required in my Ecology Class along with a traditional textbook. I think the combination of his personal story with his emphasis on the the importance of natural history and quantifying observations makes this book essential (and fun) reading for all new ecologists.

  14. Thanks for this post! There are some great suggestions. I have a couple to add if I’m not too late to the party:
    1. Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art (2013) Harry Greene
    2. The Wolf’s Tooth: Keystone Predators, Trophic Cascade, and Biodiversity (2011) Cristina Eisenberg
    3. Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators (2009) William Stolzenburg
    4. Driven to Extinction: The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity (2011) Richard Pearson.

  15. Three that had a huge impact on me before I became an ecologist:
    1) Biodiversity of Life by Wilson
    2) Arctic Dreams by Lopez — outstanding portraits of some arctic animals
    3) Song of the Dodo by Quammen.
    Changed my life.

  16. I m actually struggling to think of good popular treatments of ecology. I tend not to read popular science related to ecology. I tend to read popular science books on topics I know less about because I like learning new things; I already know a lot about ecology. Plus, most popular science about ecology is about conservation and climate change. I tend to go for popular science that s more about ideas than applications. But maybe there s stuff I m missing? I hear

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