Five books

Chris Packham's required reading for nature lovers

10 Billion

Stephen Emmott

Probably the most important book you could ever read. But unless you want nightmares it's not for bedtime. Nevertheless I found the savagery of its truth somehow uplifting, I felt a queasy relief as I digested this blunt and brutal treatise of the reality of our excessive population and its inexorable result. Then I felt giddy having had the horror so precisely explained. This short, diagrammatic outline of the impact of 10 billion humans on planet earth with its statistical analysis and clinical prose is the best contraception you’ll ever need. And its consequent message is clear...don’t have children.


The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

Elisabeth Tova Bailey

I’m not keen on indulging zoological celebrities. I can coo at a glamorous animal but its sparkle quickly fades because in truth its beauty can never be greater than any other. So I was immediately drawn to this wonderful championing of an everyday underdog - a snail, a creature ignored, poisoned or crushed by most. The bed ridden author is drawn into a cascade of fascination for the little mollusc that first inhabits a potted plant and then its own vivarium. And her measured excitement and developing determination to unravel its natural history vividly reminded me of all those formative hours I spent staring into jam jars full of humble but brilliant things. The result is a lovely celebration of curiosity and the immeasurable reward that brings.

 

The Future of Life

Edward O. Wilson

Wilson is the guru for my ilk - the learned, considered master of ecology. And for me this is his finest hour. The opening letter to Thoreau is a sublime precursor to the succinct pragmatism that is to come. You read it and you believe and love and trust him...then he hits you in the face with the facts about the horrific state of life on earth and quietly informs you how rapidly the handcart is heading to hell.

But essentially he explains why, and how, and what the result will be, and then critically and skilfully he outlines what we could do to prevent it. So rather than pessimistic this is an articulate manual for protecting our planets biodiversity and for our own survival. It should be mandatory reading.


A Sand County Almanac

Aldo Leopold

Escudilla. If you want nature writing to rival Thoreau’s Walden then this short section of Leopold’s collection of essays is it. Poetic and eloquent, it so defines this mountain in Arizona. You can see, hear, feel it - it's spellbinding. Then go on to explore his original philosophies on ecological conscience and the aesthetic importance of nature and its conservation. And then pinch yourself because you will struggle to believe this was published in 1949. And then curse your grandparents for not implementing his ‘land ethic’ - oh that they had, our world would be such a better place.

 

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival

John Vaillant

Siberia, 1997, a man-eater, a poacher, and Yuri Trush, the lead tracker, on the trail of nature's greatest masterpiece gone rogue. It's gripping stuff in a frozen fairy tale landscape and it comes to a dizzying climax deep in the Russian taiga forest. But the book offers so much more. It's fabulously informative, historically and ecologically, and concludes with a refreshingly realistic discussion about the problems of protecting tigers when they are worth more dead than alive. Together with Steven Rinella’s equally exceptional American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon, for me it defines the best of modern nature writing because it bravely explores the reality of nature in the 21st Century, rather than only painting ravishing portraits of it.

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