Saturday, June 20, 2009

On the Bookshelf

If you enjoy Wild & Free Montana, then you might also enjoy some of the following books that you've probably never heard of. Some are old favorites, and some have landed on the bookshelf rather recently.


"Your Inner Fish" (2008) by Neil Shubin. Though not meant to be, this book is a slam-dunk rebuttal of the anti-science, anti-evolution, pro-ignorance crowd. Shubin uses funny stories from his research as a thread to tie together, in an easy-to-read manner, the 3.5 billion year history of the human body. Ever wondered about the origins of the hiccup? Then this is your book.

"Sex, Time and Power" (2003) by Leonard Shlain (deceased). It's true, men will never understand women. This book, however, helps us understand why we don't understand the opposite sex. It's a fascinating exploration, and the author even comes up with compelling arguments to explain the evolutionary persistence of peculiar attributes like left-handedness, homosexuality and patriarchy. Guys, read this only if you're ready to accept your role as second fiddle to the great producer of human life -- woman.

"A Natural History of Sex" (2001) by Adrian Forsyth. If you're looking for titillation, this ain't the place. Not even close. But if you want to understand the evolutionary how's and why's of reproducing sexually, instead of or in addition to asexually, then this is an interesting read. Plus, it's a good book for raising some eyebrows when you leave it in plain view on your bookshelf.


"Winter World" (2003) by Bernd Heinrich. If you've ever asked how animals survive the demands of winter, then you will enjoy this book.

"Summer World" (2009) by Bernd Heinrich. And if you've ever wondered how animals have adapted to the heat of summer, or if you enjoyed Winter World, then you will also want to read this book.

"Locust" (2004) by Jeffrey Lockwood. If, like me, you thought locust plagues were all from another continent, then you have a lot to learn from this book. It weaves the story of how locust swarms shaped the settling of western United States.


"Mammals of Montana" (2001, updated in 2012) by Dr. Kerry Foresman. This incredibly detailed and thorough book is the best guide to all of Montana's 109 mammal species. Most guides just cover the big animals, or what we sometimes call, "charismatic megafauna." But not this book, it covers everything from grizzly bears to pygmy shrews. Some biologists call is a "field guide," but I covet it too much to take outdoors.

"Handbook of the Canadian Rockies" (1995, updated in 2009) by my hero, Ben Gadd. Hands-down, the best all-around field guide to just about anything in this part of the country. In addition to covering plants, animals, bugs, fish, etc., this handy book also delves into areas like history, weather, lichens, community ecology and seasonal ecology. One-stop shopping for all of your natural history questions. Did I mention, four things to do to pass the time in a small tent on a rainy day?

"Amphibians and Reptiles of Montana" (2004) by Kirwin Werner, Bryce Maxwell, Paul Hendricks and Dennis Flath. A great ID book with lots of color photos and range maps throughout. Written by my heroes over at the MT Natural Heritage Program, and dedicated to my deceased biology mentor, Jim Reichel.

"The Amphibians and Reptiles of Alberta" (1993) by Anthony Russell and Aaron Bauer. A very detailed and thorough guide that makes a good compliment to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Montana. Unfortunately, it's now out of print and hard to find.

"Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains" (1996) by Carl Schreier. A nice, regional guide. Doesn't include everything you might stumble upon, but then what guide book does?

"Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers" (1995) by Doug Ladd. A nicely-done guide arranged by flower color. Short descriptions but full-color throughout.

"Field Guide to the Insects of North America" (2007) by Kenn Kaufman. This guide makes up for short descriptions by including a huge number of species. All photos are in color, which also helps.

"Mammal Tracking in North America" (1988) by James Halfpenny. This is a good guide if you spend lots of time in mud or snow, ruler in hand, wondering about the animals who were there just before you arrived.


"Mind of the Raven" (1999) by Bernd Heinrich. The master Naturalist, Heinrich has undoubtedly spent more time observing and studying Ravens than anyone else in history. He is also among the best out there for making science writing come alive.

"A Guide to Bird Behavior" (1979+) (volumes 1, 2, 3) by Donald Stokes. Each volume describes the lifestyles and habits of 25 common bird species. Of course, there are way more than 75 interesting species out there, but you will find plenty to keep your interest in these books.

"Tales of a Low-rent Birder" (1986) by Pete Dunne. If you think some people are crazy in their birding pursuits, you don't know the half of it! Dunne is rather humorous in his approach to writing, and this book just speeds along.


"Montana Native Plants & Early Peoples" (1976) by Jeff Hart. Hart describes the ties between Montana's First Peoples and the plants they used to survive. He gives 1-3 page vignettes of 65 plant species, from subalpine fir to false hellebore.

"The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants, Mushrooms, Fruits, and Nuts" (1997) by Katie Lyle. This one is half plant guide and half cookbook.

"The Rocky Mountain Berry Book" (1991) by Bob Krumm. This little book briefly talks about 15 plants that produce edible fruits, and gives recipes for each.

"Lewis and Clark's Green World" (2003) by A. Scott Earl and James Reveal. This is a local botany guide and history lesson cleverly disguised as a coffee table book. The authors divided the expedition's journey into 10 segments, and devoted a botanical chapter to each.


"Grizzly Years" (1990) by Doug Peacock. After serving as a combat medic in the Vietnam War, a disillusioned veteran struggles to re-enter "civilized society" after his discharge. He adapts by spending his time in wild country, watching and studying wild grizzly bears on their own turf. This books is the culmination of 20 years of bear study, mostly taking place in remote areas of Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.

"America's Last Wild Horses" (1970) by Hope Ryden. THE classic expose on horses, horse history and horse cultures in North America. This is probably the most well-researched book I've ever read, and it stands the test of time.

"Montana's Wildlife Legacy" (2008) by Harold Picton and Terry Lonner. This book offers a short history for each of Montana's big mammals -- especially the hunted species. It documents the state's game management efforts at rebuilding over-hunted species, including compilations of known wildlife trapping and transplanting records. Also available as a video.

"Bats of British Columbia" (1993) by David Nagorsen and R. Brigham. This is one of those technical books that working biologists tend to keep. And since we'll probably never have a "Bats of Montana" book during my lifetime, this one is as close as it gets. Not for the general reader.


"The Log From the Sea of Cortez" (1941) by John Steinbeck. It has absolutely nothing to do with Montana, but this book remains in my most-treasured collection. The Log itself is blended science and philosophy, and can be thick reading. But the first 77 pages (in the Penguin edition) is some of the best writing I've ever crossed paths with. It is a roll-in-the-aisle fun and loving tribute to Steinbeck's biologist buddy, Ed Ricketts. Even if you don't read The Log, read the tribute. Ed was the inspiration for the Steinbeck classic, Cannery Row.

"The Sea Turtle, So Excellent a Fishe" (1967) by Archie Carr. One of my all-time favorite reads. If you've ever had an inkling towards turtles, this is your book. Dr. Carr was a gifted writer who founded the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

"A Sand County Almanac" (1949) by Aldo Leopold. Leopold is considered the "father" of wildlife biology, and we would have far fewer environmental battles if this little book was required reading in high school. My tattered copy is from a writer friend who knew that I needed to read it several decades ago. His inscription simply states, "John, Your photos enhanced my stories. Thanks."


"A Beautiful, Cruel Country" (1987) by Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce. This fascinating memoir was written by a woman who grew up along the Arizona-Mexican border in the 1800's. It's written in chronological order, from early girlhood, which makes it a little bit slow at first, but it keeps getting better and better. The illustrations alone are worth the price of the book -- wood engravings by Michael McCurdy. (Mr. McCurdy has taken down his website due to debilitating illness, but you can  still find many of his illustrated books for sale, including Thoreau's "Walden" and Giono's "The Man Who Planted Trees.")

"The Prairie Keepers" (1995) by Marcy Houle. This is one of those rare books written from the personal side of biology. Houle recounts her encounters and relationships with ranchers and other people living in the Zumwalt Prairie (northeastern Oregon) while she was there studying raptors.