Featured Book Review
One of the challenges of being a general naturalist – particularly a self-taught one – is that of establishing a sturdy foundation in all, or at least most, of the major areas of nature study. For those who undertake any formal, institutionally guided study in one of the fields, such a foundation is provided in the required, hierarchically structured first and second year courses that lead to increasingly advanced – and specialized – areas of study. But for those of us “going it alone,” despite reading dozens of books on entomology, botany, or what-have-you, we often don’t have the experience of that one course of study to lay the comprehensive groundwork on which to build higher levels of understanding – hence our structures are most always riven with gaps and lack sufficient robustness to rise past a certain height.
The challenge is that popular works of natural history, even when delving into relatively complex topics, usually only explain the information pertinent to the subject at hand. What is needed is a work that can provide the full foundation of an area of study – a textbook, for example. However when it comes to the sciences, textbooks are designed to be used in conjunction with an instructor-led course, often wooden in style to the point of unreadability, and generally expensive to the point of absurdity. Fortunately, when it comes to entomology, an exception recently was made known to me: Bugs Rule! An Introduction to the World of Insects by Whitney Cranshaw and Richard Redak. Keep reading…
Recent Book Reviews
Consider the following story:
A young man, born and raised in the backcountry of Northeast Oregon, one day decides to leave his family and set out on foot in search of adventure. Over a period of months that stretches into years, he crosses the entire state, eventually crossing from Oregon into Northeast California. Roaming the forests in the shadow of Mt. Shasta on his own for quite some time, he eventually meets a mysterious dark-haired woman. They fall quickly in love and eventually start a family.
Meanwhile back in Oregon, the young man’s aging mother dies. His old father remarries a physically disabled woman and the two eventually have two children of their own. However one day the father and his new family are accused of a crime for which the evidence is only circumstantial. Without any trial, the father, his wife, and their two children are pursued by the authorities, and eventually shot and killed in cold blood. Keep reading…
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.”
Thus said the Lorax, making his own introduction to the rapacious Once-ler in the classic 1971 book named for its title character by Theodor Seuss Geisel – Dr. Seuss. It’s a book I suspect most readers of The Well-read Naturalist have read. Indeed, I suspect it’s the most widely read book on the subject of the importance of conservation ever published. Its message is simple, direct, and remarkably memorable – and so effectively presented that ever since its publication various groups, commonly those with ties to various extractive industries or assorted apologists for such, fearing its power to evoke action in its readers have sought to have it removed from libraries and classrooms across the United States. Keep reading…
The feeling was really more of being struck the being stung. Standing on the hillside behind our Oregon home, I must have been 15 or 16 years old. I was performing some chore my father has set me to – clearing weeds most likely as I was using hoe when the incident occurred. I remember standing up from a stoop with the hoe in my left hand when suddenly something struck the back of my right with a perceived force that I swear knocked it backwards. My first thought was that I had been shot (we lived in the country) but looking down and seeing no blood, I was perplexed. It was only when the burning sensation and swelling began that it dawned on me that I had been stung. Keep reading…
Much like scents, flavors can have remarkable powers over our minds. Even a small taste of just the right flavor can, as Proust so eloquently described – at length – in his À la recherche du temps perdu, unlock a veritable treasure chest of memories. For myself, it’s the flavors from my childhood that seem to have the greatest ability to send my mind whirling back through time. Raspberries and salmonberries, Astoria cinnamon toast and pannukakku – and razor clams. Indeed, as I discovered when reading David Berger’s Razor Clams; Buried Treasure of the Pacific Northwest, even the well-written description of a flavor can possess this remarkable mnenosynic ability. Keep reading…
Mark on Sundays
This week, Mark looks back on a number of the books he’s reviewed over the past year that in one way or another have Hen Harriers or grouse shooting as at least part of their subject. Beginning with Gill Lewis’ Sky Dancer from Oxford University Press (a book with which seems particularly impressed), he moves through some others you might have already read as well as others of which you might not yet even have heard. Pop over to his blog to see the entire list, titled “Some Books,” with links to the individual review for each.
Newly Noted Books
2017 having been the bicentennial of the birth of one of America’s most iconic nature writers – Henry David Thoreau – it’s not at all surprising that the publishing world saw a spike in books taking as their respective subject his life, his work, or simply invoking his spirit.
I’ll be honest, having read Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice’s four books about ants and found them to be absolutely brilliant, I may have actually squealed (in a manly, dignified way, of course) with glee upon learning of the publication by University of Chicago Press of her new “Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Spiders.”
For as long as I can remember, most every bit of American history I’ve ever read has in one way or another led back to the Chesapeake Bay. Which makes it rather unfortunate that, like many life-long westerners, I’ve never once set eyes upon it.
The first books of natural history I can recall reading were David Quammen’s “Natural Acts” and Bernd Heinrich’s “Ravens in Winter.” While I know I had read others before, these two stick in my mind due to the power each of them had to demand that I look more deeply at the world around me and ask not just “what” but “why?”
Recounting the story of the life and work of the late Peter M. Douglas, long-serving chairman of the California Coastal Commission, and indefatigable advocate for the preservation of and open access to the magnificent coastline of the U.S. state of California, this new book will – it is hoped – bring greater attention to one of those most responsible for making it still possible for us all continue to be able to enjoy a visit to some of the worlds most remarkable coastal areas.
The public perception – due in no small part to the success of the film “Blackfish” – of keeping cetaceans, particularly Orcas, in captivity has taken a decidedly downward turn from the family-friendly spectacle it once was. But where did all this fascination with keeping these enormous marine mammals in captivity first begin, and how did the general public become so enamored of them in the first place?
For all those who have liked Richard Crossley’s unconventional approach to presenting his subjects in his three previous guides about the birds of eastern North America, of Britain and Ireland, and raptors respectively, it is entirely reasonable to assume that his most recently published fourth guide – The Crossley ID: Waterfowl – will also be received with similar appreciation and enthusiasm.
As a long-time enthusiast of the Very Short Introductions series form Oxford University Press, I was very pleased to discover last year that they have another series dedicated to providing any interested reader with the essential information needed for a better understanding of a range of subjects: What Everyone Needs to Know.
What with the slashing of both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments by… well, we don’t speak his name here at The Well-read Naturalist as we don’t like to swear, interest in the struggle between public lands and private interests has taken an expected notable upswing.
As those who follow The Well-read Naturalist’s Twitter or Instagram feeds will likely already know, I make a regular habit of reading from the collected essays in Melissa Harrison’s Seasons quartet of anthologies from Elliott & Thompson. However what most likely don’t know is just how regular this habit is, or why I do it. It’s easy enough to assume that I find the essays, poems, and diary extracts enjoyable and inspiring; Ms. Harrison’s exquisite editorial taste assures that nothing less would have been included. However even more than these collections being superb assemblies of writings about nature, in then I have found something more than I originally expected that has been of deep and lasting value to me, for which I am deeply grateful to all those whose works are included as well as to their remarkable editor, that perhaps may well be of similar help to others, hence I take somewhat of a personal risk by explaining it here. Keep reading…
The Well-equipped Naturalist
For as long as I’ve ventured afield in search of whatever nature might wish to show me, I’ve gone fully vested. That is to say, I’ve worn a field vest. Not that I have anything against day packs or shoulder bags, mind you; I just find that vests (or as my British friends call them, waistcoats) allow me to carry what I need in a way that allows me easy access to all of it while still letting me move about with a feeling of being unencumbered.
On the day this article is published, it will be exactly one month until the day of the 2017 North American Solar Eclipse; an event that is expected to cause tens of millions of people to stop what they are doing and turn their eyes (properly protected, it is hoped) skyward to witness one of […]
My dear Galileo,
Each evening for weeks now I have carried my telescope to the top of a nearby hill and pointed its 70mm objective lens toward the clearly visible bright dot in the sky that I have learned to identify as Jupiter. Bringing it into focus, its 17.5x magnification – more than your early 8x model but less than your eventual 20x one – shows me clearly that what I am seeing is not a star but a planet; a planet with tiny illuminated dots seemingly nearby it.
Episode 85 of Palaeocast takes up the topic of ichthyosaurs. Included is both a very interesting discussion between host Dave Marshall, and Dr. Ben Moon and Fiann Smithwick about these fascinating creatures, and a bit of behind-the-scenes recollection of the production of the recently released BBC documentary “Attenborough and the Sea Dragon”
Pained lobsters, monkey fight clubs, and the formidable tail-mounted weaponry of prehistoric animals – this week’s episode of CBC’s “Quirks & Quarks” with Bob McDonald has quite a lot of interesting natural history content in it.