12 of the most beautiful books about nature
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I’ve always read a lot. I became the person I am today because of the books I’ve read, really. (I’ve also shared my book recommendations for the last decade over at Tolstoy Therapy.)
While I’ve spent the last few years spending as much time as I can in wild places, I’ve read a lot of books about nature. Here I wanted to share some of my favourites, which I hope other nature lovers can pick up and enjoy too.
Most of these are beautiful books about nature but also about life; about how we interact with and find comfort, beauty, and answers in the wild.
I’d love to hear if you have any other recommendations, especially novels set in nature (I’m planning to share my favourites soon). What have you been reading lately?
12 of the most beautifully written books about nature
1. Gathering Moss: A Natural & Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer
When was the last time you paid attention to moss? For most of us, the answer would probably be… umm, not recently.
Robin Wall Kimmerer is best known for Braiding Sweetgrass, her stunning celebration of the indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and teachings of plants.
Here in Gathering Moss, Robin brings together science and personal reflection for a quiet and beautiful little book exploring how mosses live – both alone and intertwined with countless other beings. At the same time, she reflects on what these fascinating organisms have to teach us.
2. Closer to the Ground by Dylan Tomine
Closer to the Ground is a real delight of a book for nature lovers and slow-living aficionados. It’s quiet, unpretentious, and exactly what I needed for restful evening reading when I picked it up. Each night I could leave my city life for time in the Pacific Northwest, heading out fishing for salmon, cutting firewood, and picking mushrooms.
There are some overlaps with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Our Year of Seasonal Eating, Barbara Kingsolver’s memoir about the day-to-day rituals of a life closer to the ground. Do check that out too if you like Dylan Tomine’s writing.
3. A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There by Aldo Leopold
Originally written as a series of sketches based upon the flora and fauna of rural Wisconsin, many credit this book with launching a revolution in land management.
A Sand County Almanac gathers informal yet beautifully evocative writing by Leopold over a forty-year period as he travelled through the woodlands of Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona, Sonora, Oregon, Manitoba.
This lovely illustrated edition has an introduction by Barbara Kingsolver, author of one of my all-time favourite novels, Prodigal Summer.
4. The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry
“For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free…” If Mary Oliver is the queen of nature poetry, Wendell Berry must be king.
In The Peace of Wild Things, Wendell Berry invites us to pause, notice the world around us, and savour its beauty. His poems are love letters to the land, the cycles of nature and its seasons, and the ebb and flow of life, death, friendship, and belonging.
5. Kinship: Belonging in a World of Relations, Vol. 1
Planet is the first volume of Kinship, a fantastic series of books about our connection with the natural world which curates contributions from some of the very best writers on nature.
This first installment focuses on the planet we call home and the cosmos within which our “pale blue dot” nestles. United States poet laureate Joy Harjo opens up the volume by asking us to “Remember the sky you were born under.”
Essays follow from geologist Marcia Bjornerud who takes readers on a Deep Time journey, geophilosopher David Abram who imagines the Earth’s breathing through animal migrations, and other writers offering a poignant reminder of our interconnectedness.
The following volumes of Kinship are Place, Partners, Persons, and Practice, which you can enjoy as a beautifully designed 5-volume set.
6. Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty
“This diary chronicles the turning of my world, from spring to winter, at home, in the wild, in my head.”
Evocative and raw, this debut explores the world of blackbirds, frogs, dandelions, Irish hares, and more through the eyes of Dara McAnulty, an autistic teenager and conservationist.
In this book, we witness Dara’s journey to coping with the uprooting of home, school, and his mental health through the solace of wild places. Diary of a Young Naturalist offers what I look for most in books about nature: a reminder to open my eyes to the seemingly unremarkable corners of nature around me and the magic they hold.
7. Oaxaca Journal by Oliver Sacks
If you’ve heard of Oliver Sacks, it’s probably in the context of his bestselling books about the human mind, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. He’s best known as a neurologist, but also had another scientific passion: the humble fern.
Since childhood, Oliver was fascinated by the ability of these primitive plants to survive and adapt in many climates. Oaxaca Journal is the enthralling account of his trip with a group of fellow fern enthusiasts to the beautiful province of Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s a captivating evocation of a place, its plants, its people, and its myriad wonders.
8. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
This engrossing memoir is geobiologist Hope Jahren’s treatise on plant life – but also a celebration of the curiosity and passion that has driven her time spent studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil.
If you enjoy reading Lab Girl, I’d also recommend The Sun is a Compass, one of my favourite non-fiction books on adventure, travel, and the intricate beauty of nature. It’s about one couple’s human-powered journey 4000 miles across Alaska, which I wrote more about here.
9. A Forest Journey The Role of Trees in the Fate of Civilization by John Perlin
Originally published in 1989 and wonderfully refreshed for 2023 by Patagonia, A Forest Journey celebrates – with beauty, grace, and reverence – the major role that forests have played in human life.
This is a stunning book about the cathedrals of nature that most of us don’t pay anywhere near enough attention to… and a welcome reminder to slow down, look up, marvel, and do what we can to protect these heroes of our past, present, and hopefully our futures.
10. How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery
Oh, I love this book. If you follow my book recommmendations at Tolstoy Therapy, you’ve probably heard me mention How to Be a Good Creature before, especially in the context of beautifully illustrated books.
It’s a stunningly poetic and life-affirming memoir, featuring illustrations by Rebecca Green and stories from Sy Montgomery about the personalities and quirks of the thirteen animal friends who have shaped her life.
From tarantulas to pigs, Sy shares how her life as an author, naturalist, and adventurer has intersected with and been informed by the creatures she meets in this unique book.
11. The Overstory by Richard Powers
The Overstory is a huge, sprawling book that covers an enormous amount of ground. Nine characters live out their separate lives until the threads between them are pulled together and they converge around the book’s central character: trees.
As you read, you can’t help but ponder humankind’s past, present, and future alongside nature. I loved it.
12. Botancium: Welcome to the Museum by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis
Botanicum isn’t about human experiences of the natural world like the other books on this list, but it is a stunning introduction to botany to help you learn more about the world around you.
It’s a perfect book for both young and grown nature lovers, packed with beautiful illustrations and descriptions of familiar and exotic plant life in our world: from perennials to bulbs, conifers, and tropical exotica.
Like these books about nature? You might also enjoy the recommendations in these posts:
- 8 books to help you slow down and escape the hustle
- 14 books like Walden to imagine life in the woods