A complete list of all the books reviewed on this website over the years.
- Last Chance to See…
The late Douglas Adams travels the world visiting endangered species.
- The Salmon of Doubt: And Other Writings
Literary loose ends by the late hitchhiker, including the start of an unfinished Dirk Gently novel.
- The War Against Cliché
by Martin Amis. Lit-Crit as is should be writ. I first read this book in 2001. It is an anthology of Martin Amis's Literary Criticism pieces for various publications. I hope Mr Amis never reviews any of my books. He can be pretty scathing at times. But he knows what he's talking about, and he…
- Deep Country: Five Years in the Welsh Hills
by Neil Ansell. Chopping, gathering, watching. This is a charming book by a chap who lived in a rickety, old cottage in the hills of central Wales for five years, chopping wood, gathering mushrooms, and watching nature. But don't just take my word for it. Why not let Neil Ansell himself tell you all about…
- Deer Island
by Neil Ansell An unexpected memoir. Deer Island was not at all what I expected. Having thoroughly enjoyed Neil Ansell's previous book, Deep Country: five years in the Welsh hills, and seeing his new book's title, I naively assumed that this was going to be more of the same: deeply personal nature writing. As it…
- ‘The Last Wilderness’ by Neil Ansell
A journey into silence. Neil Ansell’s latest book is about revisiting one particular region five times in the space of a year. As he puts it: I wanted to achieve a synthesis between the intensity of the new that comes with first sight, and the depth that comes with familiarity, by choosing a place that…
- Gig: The Life and Times of a Rock-star Fantasist
A writer and poet's obsession with music.
- Walking Home
by Simon Armitage Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way. Walking Home is the poet Simon Armitage's account of trying to walk the Pennine Way the wrong way (north to south), performing poetry readings en route to pay his way. As with Armitage's other non-fiction, the book is entertaining, northern and humorous. As ever,…
- Instead of a Book
by Diana Athill Letters to a Friend I love reading books of letters. The veteran author Diana Athill's letters to her friend the American poet Edward Field were never going to hold quite the same fascination for me as the Correspondence of Charles Darwin, or Philip Larkin's non-PC rantings to his mates, but Instead of…
- ‘The Laws of Thermodynamics’ by Peter Atkins
A very short introduction.
- Fighting for Birds: 25 Years in Nature Conservation
by Mark Avery. An experienced pragmatist describes the minefield that is nature conservation. I downloaded this book to my Kindle after hearing Mark Avery interviewed on episode 94 of Charlie Moores' excellent Talking Naturally podcast. Avery is the outspoken former Conservation Director of the RSPB. He is also a scientist and a pragmatist. Fighting For…
- ‘Inglorious’ by Mark Avery
Conflict in the Uplands. Inglorious makes a case for the banning of driven grouse-shooting: a particularly British passtime which does far more harm to the environment than its apologists would have you believe. I live immediately below a grouse moor and regularly take walks up there. Before I read this book, although I tended to…
- Charles Darwin: The Story of the Amateur Naturalist Who Created a Scientific Revolution and Changed the World
A short, very readable biography of Charles Darwin.
- The Peregrine, the Hill of Summer & Diaries: The Complete Works of J.A. Baker
Beatifully observed, poetic nature writing.
- Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram
Iain (M) Banks gets paid to travel round Scotland drinking malt whisky.
- Sir Thomas Browne: a life
by Reid Barbour Biography of a 17th-century polymath. An academic, though entertaining biography of the 17th-century polymath, Sir Thomas Browne. I struggled a bit in places, as, being an academic book, it assumed greater prior knowledge in the reader than I actually had.
- Captain Beefheart: the Biography
Stupendous biography of rock music's greatest genius.
- How to be a Bad Birdwatcher
by Simon Barnes. Birdwatching, not Birding Simon Barnes's fun book explains how you can enjoy watching birds without the need to become an over-the-top, full-blown birder. It's all about accumulating bird-identification skills by stealth—sometimes by accident—until, without any real concerted effort, you can tell a blue tit from a great tit. After that, the world…
- ‘The Good Bee’ by Alison Benjamin & Brian McCallum
A celebration of bees and how to save them.
- ‘Keeping On Keeping On’ by Alan Bennett
Volume three of his popular diaries (and other stuff). As with the previous two volumes in this series, Alan Bennett's diary entries from the last ten years are hugely entertaining, as are the articles that follow them. However, the inclusion of a couple of plays at the end of this thick and enjoyable third volume…
- Untold Stories
Alan Bennett at his Alan Bennettest.
- The History of Life
by Michael J Benton A very short introduction. Covering over 3.5 billion years of life on earth in just 166 pages was always going to be something of a tall order. The History of Life is a whistle-stop tour of that period, taking us from the earliest fossils to the modern day. Michael Benton is…
- Bento's Sketchbook
A compelling mix of journal, reminiscences, sketches, and art theory.
- Understanding a Photograph
by John Berger Essays on photographs, photography and photographers. John Berger thinks a lot about images. I greatly enjoyed his book Bento's Sketchbook, so, when his thoughts on photography were reissued, I couldn't wait to read them. One important point that Berger makes—I paraphrase, no doubt inaccurately—is that, despite what the photographer might want or…
- Darwin & His Children
by Tim M. Berra His other legacy. I've read literally dozens of books about Charles Darwin. In most of them, his children, if they're mentioned at all, hover in the wings somewhere. Tim Berra's book puts them centre-stage. Each of Charles and Emma Darwin & His Children gets their own chapter. Many people will know…
by Julia Blackburn The Delicate Life of John Craske. Threads is an unusual, extremely enjoyable book: not so much a biography of the invalid Norfolk fisherman turned artist John Craske, as a book about trying to write a biography of the invalid Norfolk fisherman turned artist John Craske. As we used to be instructed in…
- ‘Time Song’ by Julia Blackburn
Searching for Doggerland
- ‘Aftermath’ by Ronald Blythe
Selected writings, 1960–2010.
- Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village
Classic oral history from an amalgam of Suffolk villages.
- ‘In the Artist’s Garden’ by Ronald Blythe
Book 9 in the Wormingford series.
- ‘The Bookman’s Tale’ by Ronald Blythe
Book 6 in the Wormingford series.
- ‘Borderland’ by Ronald Blythe
Book 3 of the Wormingford series.
- ‘A Year at Bottengoms Farm’ by Ronald Blythe
Book 4 of the Wormingford series.
- A Writer's Day-Book
Essays about books and authors.
- Field Work
by Ronald Blythe Essays on literature, art and the countryside. I'm a big fan of Ronald Blythe's gentle writing style. His Wormingford series of diaries, which first appeared in his regular column in The Church Times should be seen as a national treasure. Field Work is a series of essays about the countryside and country…
- ‘River Diary’ by Ronald Blythe
Book 5 of the Wormingford series.
- ‘Stour Seasons’ by Ronald Blythe
Book 10 in the Wormingford series.
- The Time by the Sea
by Ronald Blythe Memoir of artistic friendships in Aldeburgh, 1955–1958. The Time by the Sea is veteran author Ronald Blythe's memoir of the three years he spent in Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Benjamin Britten and E.M. Forster. As with all of Blythe's non-fiction, it is a delightful read.…
- ‘Under a Broad Sky’ by Ronald Blythe
Book 8 in the Wormingford series.
- ‘Out of the Valley’ by Ronald Blythe
Book 2 of the Wormingford series.
- ‘Village Hours’ by Ronald Blythe
Book 7 in the Wormingford series.
- ‘Word From Wormingford’ by Ronald Blythe
Book 1 of the Wormingford series.
- At the Yeoman's House
Short book about veteran author's extremely old house.
- A Walk at the Edge of the World
by Nicholas Bone, Sans façon and Ian Cameron The script of a play about walking. Stense bought me this book, which is the script to a play she saw. She thought I'd like it. I did, very much indeed. As I wrote to Stense, after reading the script twice, the play is clearly heavily influenced…
- ‘Round About Town’ by Kevin Boniface
Diary of a postman.
- Wild Wales
by George Borrow Its People, Language and Scenery. George Borrow's 1862 classic describes a journey on foot round Wales. It is fantastically entertaining. Reading it gives you an excellent overview of life in Wales in the mid-nineteenth century. But far more entertaining is Borrow's occasional patronising pomposity, and his occasional opinionated remarks about tea-totallers, abolitionists,…
- Darwin's Garden: Down House and The Origin of Species.
The first book with the word Darwin on the spine that I ever gave up on.
- You Are Here: A Dossier
TV satirists write a Stupid White Men for the UK.
- Wuthering Heights
Brontë classic, written just down the road from here.
- The da Vinci Code
- Charles Darwin: Vol.1: Voyaging
Part 1 of an entertaining two-part biography of Charles Darwin.
- ‘Charles Darwin: Vol.2: The Power of Place’ by Janet Browne
Part 2 of an entertaining two-part biography of Charles Darwin. Charles Darwin: The Power of Place is part 2 of Janet Browne’s two-part Darwin biography. You can read my combined review of both volumes here.
- Darwin's Origin of Species: A Biography
A short biography of one of the most revolutionary books ever written.
by Sir Thomas Browne Reflections on the iniquity of oblivion. I first encountered the seventeenth-century polymath Sir Thomas Browne in an essay by one of my favourite writers, Stephen Jay Gould. Many years later, I encountered him again in W.G. Sebald's mastepiece, The Rings of Saturn. Sebald refers to Browne's essay on an ancient urn-burial…
- Brunel: The Life and Times of Isambard Kingdom Brunel
A balanced biography of the legendary early Victorian engineer.
- ‘Love of Country’ by Madeleine Bunting
A Hebridean Journey. Love of Country documents numerous trips Madeleine Bunting made to different islands in the Hebrides: a region of the British Isles that contains a surprising amount of history. I enjoyed this book very much (although having the middle-name Lewis, I'm probably biased).
- The Plot: a Biography of an English Acre
A daughter's investigations into her eccentric father.
- ‘The Diary of a Bookseller’ by Shaun Bythell
A year in the life of a Scottish bookseller.
- The Dinosaur Hunters
The Victorian search for dinosaurs.
- Slightly Out of Focus
Brief, punchily written account of his WWII exploits by the famous photojournalist. How come nobody has made this into a film?
- The Making of the Fittest
by Sean B Carroll DNA and the ultimate forensic record of evolution. I enjoyed The Making of the Fittest very much indeed. It gets into details, and requires a higher degree of concentration than many other popular science books. There's even some mathematics involved—but don't let that put you off. If you pay attention, this…
- ‘On the Moor’ by Richard Carter
Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk. I like the cut of this chap’s jib. You should definitely buy this book.
- Saturn's Moons: WG Sebald—a Handbook
by Jo Catling & Richard Hibbit (eds). One for the Sebald nerds. This book is intended for serious Sebald groupies. It is meticulously researched, extremely academic, and weighty in both senses of the word. I found it fascinating reading, even though it does border on the obsessive at times. The only real disappointment was the…
- On Extinction: How We Became Estranged from Nature
How our estrangement from Nature has led to collapse and extinction of entire ways of life.
- ‘Evolution’ by Brian & Deborah Charlesworth
A very short introduction.
- ‘In Patagonia’ by Bruce Chatwin
Wandering about Patagonia with no clear plan in mind. I first read In Patagonia many years ago, and had been meaning to re-read it for some time. My memories of it still left a lasting, albeit vague, impression. But my ageing eyes were put off by the small typeface in my battered old copy of…
- Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin
The correspondence of an unusual and gifted writer.
- Imperial Ambitions: Conversations with Noam Chomsky on the Post-9/11 World
What America (and the rest) is really up to.
- ‘The Light in the Dark’ by Horatio Clare
A winter journal.
- ‘A Single Swallow’ by Horatio Clare
Following the migration from South Africa to South Wales.
- ‘Claxton’ by Mark Cocker
Field notes from a small planet.
- ‘Crow Country’ by Mark Cocker
A meditation on birds, landscape and nature.
- ‘A Claxton Diary’ by Mark Cocker
Further field notes from a small planet.
- ‘Our Place’ by Mark Cocker
Can we save Britain’s wildlife before it’s too late?
- The Moonstone
- Life, Love and the Archers
by Wendy Cope Reflections, reviews and other prose. I'm turning into something of a fan of prose written by poets, be it the letters of Philip Larkin, the ‘nature writing’ of Kathleen Jamie and Nan Shepherd, or the humorous memoir/travel writing of Simon Armitage. They all seem to have a wonderful, deceptively simple precision that…
- ‘Darwin’s Backyard’ by James T Costa
How small experiments led to a big theory. For many years, one of the many items on my list of books and articles I might one day write has been ‘Book about Charles Darwin’s experiments’. Now I know exactly how Darwin must have felt when he received Alfred Russel Wallace's bombshell letter: SCOOPED, DAMMIT! The…
- Common Ground
by Rob Cowen A strange book about a local edge-land. This book, which has received rave reviews, wasn't what I expected. I was expecting a fairly typical ‘nature writing’ account of the author's local patch of edge-land near Harrogate in Yorkshire. Perhaps I should have read the dust-jacket more carefully: Blurring the boundaries of memoir,…
- Doubling Back
by Linda Cracknell Ten paths trodden in memory. Doubling Back is an unusually personal book about walking, in that many of the walks described in it might not have made it into other writers' books. This is by no means intended as a criticism: these walks were important enough to Cracknell to write about, which…
- ‘The Making of the British Landscape’ by Nicholas Crane
From the Ice Age to the Present. This book wasn’t what I expected. Not that that’s a bad thing. From its title, I assumed The Making of the British Landscape was going to be all about geophysics, geology and physical geography: plate tectonics, mountain-building, fault lines, erosion, glaciation, cwms, clints, grykes, drumlins, escarpments, longshore-drift, all…
- Two Degrees West
by Nicholas Crane An English Journey You know Nicholas Crane from off the telly. He's the chap with the brolly who walks a lot. Anyway, back in the last millennium, he set off on foot to walk along the line of longitude two degrees west of Greenwich (the central meridian) from Berwick-upon-Tweed to the Dorset…
- Darwin and Lady Hope: the Untold Story
by L.R. Croft. Perpetuating a Darwinian myth This is a truly dreadful book. I review it in detail on the Friends of Charles Darwin website.
- The Voyage of the Beagle: Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited during the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the World
Darwin's first masterpiece.
- The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, volume 7: 1858–1859
Darwin's correspondence leading up to the publication of On the Origin of Species.
- ‘The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, volume 8, 1860’
Letters to and from Darwin in the immediate aftermath of the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’.
- ‘The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex’ by Charles Darwin
Darwin finally sets out to enlighten us on our origins.
- The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms
by Charles Darwin The great man's final book. Pure Darwin! I have posted a review of this book on the Friends of Charles Darwin website.
- ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals’ by Charles Darwin
How animals and people express emotions, and what this tells us about our ancestry.
- ‘Insectivorous Plants’ by Charles Darwin
Darwin at his most Darwinian.
- Flat Earth News: An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media
An excellent exposé of the failure of the newspaper industry.
- The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life
Dawkins's lavishly illustrated magnum opus-cum-coffee table book.
- The Devil's Chaplain: Selected Essays
Dawkins demonstrating that he can write wonderfully sensitively, as well as rant.
- The God Delusion
by Richard Dawkins Why Faith is not a virtue. Although I don't agree with everything he has to say, I greatly admire Richard Dawkins as a writer. But, when it came out, I decided not to read The God Delusion, because I didn't expect to get much out of it: I was already an atheist,…
- The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
Dawkins returns to what he's best at.
- ‘Notes From Walnut Tree Farm’ by Roger Deakin
The jottings of a great observer of nature’s minutiae.
- Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain
A celebration of all things natatorial.
- Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees
A celebration of all things arboreal.
- Status Anxiety
How people worry about their status, and what they can do about it.
- Four Fields
by Tim Dee ...in four very different parts of the world. Four Fields is a strange book. I enjoyed reading it, but I'm not quite sure that I ‘got’ it. Stretching our usual idea of what might constitute a field, Tim Dee visits four of them in four very different parts of the world: his…
- ‘Greenery’ by Tim Dee
Journeys in Springtime.
- ‘Ground Work’ by Time Dee (ed.)
Writings on places and people.
- ‘Landfill’ by Tim Dee
A celebration of gulls.
- The Running Sky: A Birdwatching Life
A perfect blend of science and poetry.
- Darwin in Scotland: Edinburgh, Evolution and Enlightenment
Darwin's influences and influencees north of the border.
- Darwin's Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins
How Charles Darwin's abhorrence of slavery influenced his science.
- Night Walks
by Charles Dickens Victorian essays. Night Walks is vol. 88 in Penguin's Great Ideas series of little books by ‘great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilisation and helped make us who we are’. In the case of this particular book, I think that's stretching things a bit. Not that Night Walks isn't…
- The Place at the End of the World: Essays from the Edge
Journalism from the world's war zones.
- ‘The Abundance’ by Annie Dillard
Enigmatic essays. I read The Abundance immediately after reading Annie Dillard's earlier collection of essays Teaching a Stone to Talk. Once again, I was impressed at her skill of choosing off-beat essay topics which often end up making surprisingly profound observations. If anything, I think I preferred this collection.
- ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’ by Annie Dillard
Pulitzer-Prize-winning ruminations on the natural world. I put off reading the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for longer than I should. I’d gathered it was a rather spiritual book, and I seldom enjoy such writing. But my misapprehensions were misplaced: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is an absolute delight. Annie Dillard muses about our relationship with…
- ‘Teaching a Stone to Talk’ by Annie Dillard
Expeditions and encounters. Having greatly enjoyed Annie Dillard's Pulitzer-Prize-winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, I thought I'd try reading some of her essays. On the whole, I enjoyed this book very much—and especially the title essay, which isn't nearly as silly as it sounds. Dillard has a knack for choosing off-beat essay topics, which often lead…
- ‘For the Time Being’ by Annie Dillard
Strange essay collection that doesn't quite work. I read this book immediately after reading Annie Dillard's essay collections Teaching a Stone to Talk and The Abundance. I was hopeful that I would enjoy this book as it was the original source of one of my favourite essays from The Abundance. Unfortunately, I struggled a great…
- ‘The Writing Life’ by Annie Dillard
Definitely not a writing guide.
- The Missing of the Somme
by Geoff Dyer An essay about Remembrance The Missing of the Somme is a book-length essay about the cult of Remembrance that developed during and after the Great War: The issue, in short, is not simply the way the war generates memory but the way memory has determined—and continues to determine—the meaning of the war.…
- The Ongoing Moment
by Geoff Dyer Recurring themes in famous photographs by famous photographers. I really enjoyed this strange book, which I read hot-on-the-heels of John Berger's Understanding a Photograph. It's primarily about the recurring themes that appear in famous photographs by famous photographers: hats, steps, benches, blind people, doors, beds, drive-in-movies, views from car windows, roads vanishing…
- ‘White Sands’ by Geoff Dyer
Experiences from the Outside World. Geoff Dyer begins this collection with an explanatory note: [T]his book is a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. What’s the difference? Well, in fiction stuff can be made up or altered. My wife, for example, is called Rebecca whereas in these pages the narrator’s wife is called Jessica. So that’s…
- Working the Room
by Geoff Dyer. Essays Geoff Dyer groups this collection of essays into four sections—Visuals, Verbals, Variables and Personals—to reflect, respectively, pieces about the visual arts (mainly photography), literature, miscellaneous stuff, and personal stuff. I read it on my Kindle, so the Visuals section turned out to be less enjoyable than it should have been due…
- Yoga for People Who Can't be Bothered to Do It
by Geoff Dyer Occasionally amusing travel pieces. I only discovered Geoff Dyer's writing recently. I very much enjoyed his Working the Room and The Missing of the Somme, but Yoga for People Who Can't be Bothered to Do It didn't do much for me, I'm afraid to say. The individual ‘travel’ pieces were OK, but…
- Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Live
A fascinating analysis of the development of Darwin's thinking.
- A Year in the Woods: The Diary of a Forest Ranger
A rather special book from a forest ranger.
- The Crimson Petal and the White
Massive Victorian-era novel with plenty of rude bits.
by Paul Farley & Michael Symmons Roberts Journeys into England's true wilderness. Edgelands is an account of the in-between, uninhabited, overlooked places that are not part of the countryside. A list of the book's chapter headings gives an indication of the sorts of places the authors are interested in: Cars, Paths, Dens, Containers, Landfill, Water,…
- Don't You Have Time to Think?
The Correspondence of physicist, Nobel laureate and bongo player, Richard Feynman.
- Dry Store Room No.1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum
The personalities and politics behinds the scenes at the Natural History Museum.
- ‘The Wood for the Trees’ by Richard Fortey
The long view of nature from a small wood. Retired trilobite palaeontologist and current TV presenter Richard Fortey used the proceeds from one of his television series buy a small woodland plot in Oxfordshire. This enjoyable book describes his getting to know the history and ecology of the wood in depth. My kind of book.…
- ‘The Tree’ by John Fowles
Dissing science (and art) for no good reason.
Short novel about how children misunderstand the adult world.
- ‘Ravilious & Co.’ by Andy Friend
The pattern of friendship.
- Kuhn vs. Popper: The struggle for the soul of science.
Over-academic analysis of two differing scientific philosophies.
- ‘Man of Iron’ by Julian Glover
Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain. As someone who has taken holidays on the Isle of Anglesey since (literally) before I was born, I’ve long had a soft-spot for the legendary engineer Thomas Telford. Whether we headed to Anglesey along the coast, or took the longer, more spectacular route through Snowdonia, we were travelling…
- Diary of a Madman and other stories
by Nikolai Gogol A masterpiece, apparently. I had great hopes for this book: everyone says Gogol was a genius; the book had a cool cover; it was nice and short. It did nothing for me. I just didn't get it. It reminded me of Kafka, but I didn't get Kafka either. But if short stories…
- ‘Triggers’ by Marshall Goldsmith
Sparking positive change and making it last. I bought this book having heard a favourable review of it on one of my favourite podcasts. It’s a self-help book about changing yourself for the better. It sounded pretty constructive. There are a few useful, although hardly ground-breaking suggestions in this book. And it’s pretty readable—although, as…
- The Walker's Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs
by Tristan Gooley How keeping your eyes peeled can tell you more about your walk. An entertaining book about the signs to look out for when you're out and about that tell you a bit more about where you are. For example, how the non-symmetrical profile of a tree gives you clues about prevailing winds.…
- Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History
My favourite book of all time (probably).
- ‘Ever Since Darwin’ by Stephen Jay Gould
Reflections in Natural History.
- ‘The Flamingo’s Smile’ by Stephen Jay Gould
Reflections in natural history.
- The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox: Mending and Minding the Misconceived Gap Between Science and the Humanities
Gould's last science book. It goes on a bit, but the chapter criticising Edward O Wilson's misappropriation of the term Consilience is Gould at his best.
- ‘Hen's Teeth & Horse's Toes’ by Stephen Jay Gould
Science essays. The third of Stephen Jay Gould’s long-running series of popular science essay collections that first appeared in his monthly column in Natural History magazine, Hen's Teeth & Horse's Toes covers topics which include: evolutionary oddities (e.g. the eponymous horse's toes); evolutionary adaptations; essays on a number of scientists; the Piltdown Man forgery; science…
- The Mismeasure of Man
Why intelligence testing is stupid.
- Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville: A Lifelong Passion for Baseball
The late, great science writer's final book—about baseball.
- ‘The Panda’s Thumb’ by Stephen Jay Gould
More Reflections in Natural History. The second of Stephen Jay Gould’s long-running series of popular science essay collections that first appeared in his monthly column in Natural History magazine, The Panda’s Thumb covers topics including: how imperfections in organisms’ demonstrate their evolutionary history; Charles Darwin and his theories; human evolution; science and politics; the rate…
- The Structure of Evolutionary Theory
The maestro's magnum opus.
- A Buzz in the Meadow
by Dave Goulson A fantastic sequel to a fantastic prequel. Dave Goulson's previous book, A Sting in the Tale, about bumblebees, was one of my favourite books of 2013. So I greatly looked forward to reading this sequel, about the insect life inhabiting his somewhat derelict farm in France. As with its predecessor, what I…
- A Sting in the Tale
by Dave Goulson Fascinating book about bumblebees. This is a fantastic book: a wonderful mixture of memoir and science writing. By the end of it, you are almost as hooked on the wonderful creatures that are bumblebees as is Dave Goulson—if such a thing were possible. I particularly liked the way Goulson describes the simple-sounding…
- Granta 100: One Hundred
Extra thick edition, celebrity guest editor, Hockney cover, big name authors: this must be the 100th edition!
- Granta 101: One Hundred and One
A return to form for the relaunched Granta.
- Granta 102: The New Nature Writing
More environments than nature writing, really—but still great stuff.
- Granta 103: The Rise of the British Jihad
Far better than I initially thought it was going to be.
- Granta 104: Fathers: The Men Who Made Us
Themed on dads.
- Granta 105: Lost and Found
Another eclectic mix.
- Granta 106: New Fiction Special
- Granta 107
- Granta 108: Chicago
Pieces about the Windy City.
- Granta 109: Work
Pieces loosely themed on the subject of work.
- Granta 110: Sex
Very poor edition, depite its sexy theme.
- Granta 111: Going Back
A return to form for Granta.
- Granta 112: Pakistan
All about Pakistan.
- Granta 113: The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists
An entire edition of Granta utterly wasted.
- Granta 114: Aliens
Typical Granta mixed bag.
- Granta 115: The F Word
by John Freeman (ed.). Granta 115 is a feminist issue. Granta 115 really didn't work for me. A couple of very good non-fiction pieces, but, to be honest, my eyes kept glazing over and I skipped entire chunks of it. BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour tends to have the same effect. Granta seems to be…
- Granta 116: Ten Years Later
by John Freeman (ed.). Ten years since 911, and how is the world faring? Hoo-bloody-ray! I was beginning to lose hope: a return to form for Granta! Lots of excellent pieces about the current state of the world, ten years after the 911 attacks. Some excellent reportage—and even some of the fiction is pretty damn…
- Granta 117: Horror
by John Freeman (ed.). Ho-hum. After an excellent start with two very good memoir-type pieces by Will Self and Paul Auster, this edition of Granta then became rather ho-hum. The theme was Horror, but the editor stretched it to breaking point at times (thank goodness). A slightly better non-fiction to fiction ratio than usual, I…
- Granta 118: Exit Strategies
by John Freeman (ed.). Too much fiction, yet again. For once, most of the pieces in this edition of Granta actually seem to fit the chosen theme, Exit Strategies, very well. Most of the pieces are about people trying to get out of particular situations. There are a couple of excellent pieces of memoir, particularly…
- Granta 119: Britain
by John Freeman (ed.). More of the same. The theme for Granta 119 is Britain (as opposed to Great Britain). So, of course, the cover shows a cracked and broken teacup. How very symbollick. The book-cum-magazine contains the usual mix of prose, poetry, and photography. As ever, it does not contain nearly enough non-fiction, but…
- Granta 120: Medicine
John Freeman (ed.) An anthology of illness and its treatment. This edition of Granta is themed around illness and its treatment. As ever, my advice to the reader is to skip anything which is obviously fiction, and concentrate on the factual (some of which is first-person fiction, but it is impossible to tell unless you…
- Granta 121: The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists
by John Freeman (ed.). There's more to 'new writing' than novels. Granta's obsession with 'young [insert nationality] novelists' continues unabated. Brazil is a fascinating country. I would like to learn more about the place. Granta 121 is a missed opportunity. From the brief author biographies included with each piece in this edition of 'the magazine…
- Granta 122: Betrayal
by John Freeman (ed.) The straw that broke the camel's back The theme of Granta 122 is Betrayal, which is ironic to say the least. As a long-term subscriber, I feel utterly betrayed. Granta used to be a fantastic mix of reportage, memoir, photography, and fiction. In recent years, though, it has become more and…
- Granta 124: Travel
by John Freeman (ed.) Meh! Having recently cancelled my long-standing Granta subscription, I fully expected things to pick up. They haven't. I didn't even bother opening Granta 123: The Best of Young British Novelists 4: yet another edition consumed by fiction. True, the latest edition, Granta 124: Travel, did have a piece by one of…
- Granta 125: After the War
by Sigrid Rausing (ed.) The end of an era. This was the end of an era for me: my final edition of Granta. I cancelled my subscription of many years some months ago. Since Ian Jack left as editor a few years back, Granta seems to have become increasing obsessed with fiction at the expense…
- Granta 133
by Sigrid Rausing (ed.) What Have We Done? I gave up my longstanding subscription to Granta a few years ago as it seemed to be publishing more fiction at the expense of non-fiction. But Granta 133 was advertised as including non-fiction articles by acclaimed ‘nature’ writers, Barry Lopez, Kathleen Jamie, and the late Roger Deakin…
- Granta 80: The Group
Short pieces by various writers based on the theme The Group
- Granta 81: Best of Young British Novelists 2003
Short pieces by the names to look out for during the next decade.
- Granta 82: Life's Like That
Short pieces by various writers on the theme Life's Like That.
- Granta 83: This Overheating World
Short pieces on (mostly) environmental issues.
- Granta 84: Over There: How America Sees the Rest of the World
A series of essays about how Americans see the rest of us, plus some essays and fiction with the tables turned.
- Granta 85: Hidden Histories
This issue of Granta excavates histories both personal and political: repressed memories, unexplored lives, forgotten wars, secret careers.
- Granta 86: Film
A collection of pieces based around the general theme of films and the cinema.
- Granta 87: Jubilee
Granta celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary.
- Granta 88: Mothers
An edition based around the theme of mothers.
- Granta 89: The Factory
The rise and fall of industry.
- Granta 90: Country Life: Dispatches from what's left of it
Great collection of writing, loosely themed on the countryside.
- Granta 91: Wish You Were Here
Collection of excellent writing on no particular theme.
- Granta 92: The View from Africa
Collection of writing mostly about Africa.
- Granta 93: God's Own Countries: Are you living in one?
A collection of writing mostly themed around religious belief and its effects.
- Granta 94: On the Road Again: Where Travel Writing Went Next
A collection of writing themed around travel.
- Granta 95: Loved Ones
A collection of writing themed around relationships.
- Granta 96: War Zones
A collection of writing (loosely) themed around war zones.
- Granta 97: Best of Young American Novelists 2
Granta's latest selection of promising young American writers.
- Granta 98: The Deep End
'People whose experience of life suggests they have something to tell us about survivial.'
- Granta 99: What Happened Next
One to go till the big one!
Final, posthumous volume of playwright Simon Gray's wonderful series of diaries.
- The Year of the Jouncer
Playwright Simon Gray's follow-up to The Smoking Diaries.
- The Last Cigarette
The third in playwright Simon Gray's series of diaries.
- The Smoking Diaries
Playwright Simon Gray's amusing and meandering reminiscences.
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Amusing novel narrated from the viewpoint of an autistic boy.
- ‘A Carnival of Losses’ by Donald Hall
Notes nearing ninety.
- ‘Essays After Eighty’ by Donald Hall
A brilliant collection of mostly humorous essays from the late American poet.
- ‘All Among the Barley’ by Melissa Harrison
Rural idylls weren’t quite as idyllic as they seemed.
- ‘Clay’ by Melissa Harrison
A city-nature novel. Clay is an unusual novel in that, while it is set in London, the natural world plays a major part in the story. Indeed, Nature (capital N) could almost be seen as one of the novel's characters. Harrison is excellent at describing the changing seasons, and at how Nature just gets on…
- At Hawthorn Time
by Melissa Harrison An extraordinary modern rural novel. As a person who reads almost no fiction, I have to say I enjoyed Melissa Harrison's At Hawthorn Time very much indeed. It's an extraordinary novel, slipping back and forth between three storylines, the backdrops to each of which are issues concerning rural life in the twenty-first…
by Melissa Harrison Four walks in English weather. When I first heard that Melissa Harrison had written a book about rain, the thoughts of Thomas Henry Huxley on reading Darwin’s On the Origin of Species sprung to mind: ‘How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!’ The weather in general—and rain in particular—is a…
- ‘Built on Bones’ by Brenna Hassett
15,000 years of urban life and death. Built on Bones explores how archaeologists interpret dental and skeletal remains. In particular, it examines what we can infer from changes in humans’ bodies associated with our move from hunter-gatherer groups to agricultural and, later, urban societies. Or, as Brenna Hassett puts it: ‘This book is about human…
- Catch 22
There was only one catch…
- The Book of Barely Imagined Beings
by Caspar Henderson A 21st Century Bestiary. The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is a modern take on the medieval idea of a bestiary of wonderful animals. As anyone interested in the natural world knows, all animals are wonderful in their own way, so Caspar Henderson's choices of which beasts should appear in his book…
- Charles Darwin, Geologist
What Charles Darwin did for geology.
- ‘Of Walking in Ice’ by Werner Herzog
A quest to save a friend.
- ‘Watling Street’ by John Higgs
Travels through Britain and its ever-present past.
by Christopher Hitchens Essays on literature, politics, and religion. Arguably is a fantastic collection of articles by the late Christopher Hitchens, taken from many of the publications he wrote for over the years. The essays are elegant, outspoken, irreverent, and often very funny. I read Arguably on the Kindle. This turned out to be a…
- Hitch 22
by Christopher Hitchens A memoir. The late Christopher Hitchens' memoir mainly comprises the memories of a hard-working, hard-thinking, hard-drinking journalist. There is a lot of politics in this book. But there is also plenty of humour, especially when Hitchens is laying into hypocrisy. But keep a dictionary to hand for looking up the occasional difficult…
- Leviathan or, the Whale
by Philip Hoare. A wonderful history of man's relationship with the whale. Philip Hoare's meticulously researched book, which is destined to become a classic, tells you pretty much everything you need to know about man's historical relationship with whales. It's a fascinating read. The book shares the same subtitle, or, The Whale, as Herman Melville's…
- The Sea Inside
by Philip Hoare Whale-obsessed author explores our relationship with the sea. I loved Philip Hoare's big book about whales, Leviathan, so looked forward to reading The Sea Inside, which appeared to be something of a sequel. To be honest, I struggled to get into this book. It jumped around from subject to subject an awful…
- ‘Spike Island’ by Philip Hoare
The memory of a military hospital.
- The Evolutionists: American Thinkers Confront Charles Darwin, 1860–1920
How Darwinian thinking influenced other disciplines in the USA.
- ‘Irreplaceable’ by Julian Hoffman
The fight to save our wild places.
- The Small Heart of Things
by Julian Hoffman Being at Home in a Beckoning World. My online friend Julian Hoffman's book, The Small Heart of Things: Being at Home in a Beckoning World, is an fascinating collection of essays about the relationships we develop with certain locations, thereby making them into ‘places’, and sometimes even homes. Such relationships are honed…
- The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of science.
Science between the Banks and Darwin voyages.
- Of Moths & Men: Intrigue, Tragedy & the Peppered Moth
The story of how some of Bernard Kettlewell's famous peppered moth experiments contained certain flaws.
- The Making of the English Landscape
by W.G. Hoskins Classic study of how the English built their landscape. W.G. Hoskins's The Making of the English Landscape is rightly regarded as a classic. He describes how the English landscape as we see it today was determined by, and is a record of, our long and complex history. It's a fascinating read. If…
- ‘Darwin’ by Jonathan Howard
A very short introduction.
- ‘Victorians Undone’ by Kathryn Hughes
Tales of the flesh in the age of decorum. I was given this book as a birthday present by a friend. I presume it was the chapter entitled Charles Darwin’s Beard that made her think I might like it. What can I say: my friends know the kind of topics that interest me. At first…
- The Great Naturalists: From Aristotle to Darwin
A whistle-stop tour of the history of natural history.
- The Eye: A Natural History
How animals see and how they perceive.
- The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain: Writings 1989–2009
Fantasic collection of recollections.
- ‘The Ascent of John Tyndall’ by Roland Jackson
Victorian scientist, mountaineer, and public intellectual. An excellent biography of the Victorian scientist John Tyndall, friend of Charles Darwin, who features in two chapters of my book On the Moor. You can read my detailed review here.
- Sebald's Vision
by Carol Jacobs High-brow analysis of the enigmatic author's oeuvre. This is a very high-brow book. I will eagerly read anything that might assist me in my ongoing efforts to get my head around the unclassifiable wonderfulness of W.G. Sebald's published works. Carol Jacobs certainly knows her onions. She has spotted all manner of running…
- ‘Poetry Notebook’ by Clive James
Sorting the poetic wheat from chaff. To her great amusement during a recent telephone conversation, I explained to my friend Stense how, having finally managed to start appreciating certain poetry in recent years, I had just bought a collection by a poet whose earlier work I had very much enjoyed, only to find it utterly…
- ‘Somewhere Becoming Rain’ by Clive James
Collected writings on Philip Larkin.
- Among Muslims
by Kathleen Jamie Meetings at the Frontiers of Pakistan. I only read this book because it happens to be by one of my favourite authors, Kathleen Jamie. I'm very glad I did. It tells of her visit to the frontiers of Pakistan, and of her return visit ten years later. She meets and stays with…
- ‘The Bonniest Companie’ by Kathleen Jamie
A typically wonderful collection of poems.
- ‘Findings’ by Kathleen Jamie
Nature writing from the other side of the fence.
- ‘The Overhaul’ by Kathleen Jamie
A fantastic book of, erm… poetry!
- ‘Selected Poems’ by Kathleen Jamie
A highly enjoyable poetry collection.
- ‘Sightlines’ by Kathleen Jamie
A second volume of superb ‘nature writing’.
- ‘Surfacing’ by Kathleen Jamie
A third collection of wonderful essays from my favourite writer.
- The Tree House
by Kathleen Jamie Poetry grounded squarely in the real world. I love Kathleen Jamie's prose writing so much that I've started reading her poetry. As with her prose, I greatly enjoyed her recent volume of poems, The Overhaul, for its no-nonsense, unpretentious, unromantic take on the natural world, and our place in it. This earlier…
- The Creative Life in Photography
by Brooks Jensen Thoughts on photography. I've been enjoying Brook Jensen's short podcasts about photography for several years. So, when I heard that he had a book out, taken from articles previously published in his LensWork magazine, I thought I should read it. Jensen sees photography very much as an art form, which its practitioners…
- The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments
Ten classic science experiments and the stories behind them.
- Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise
Expositions on assorted scientific subject, using coral as the unifying theme.
- The Single Helix: A Turn Around the World of Science
Short science essays from the famous geneticist and snail man.
- Darwin's Island: The Galapagos in the Garden of England
A modern-day updating of Darwin's less well-known books.
- The Trial
by Franz Kafka. Don't bother. Extract from a letter I wrote to Stense, having just read The Trial: I need to talk with you about Kafka, mate. If memory serves, you are something of a fan. Didn't you direct a play called Kafka Dances, or something like that? Or was that some other babe theatre…
- Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives
by Frank Key A medium-sized mass of potted nonsense. It would be incorrect to refer to Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives as the eponymous author's magnum opus on at least two counts, namely: Mr Key's true magnum opus must surely be the monumental collection of implausible tales to be found on his Hooting…
- Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary
A complete transcript of Darwin's Beagle Journal.
- Fossils, Finches and Fuegians: Charles Darwin's Adventures and Discoveries on the Beagle, 1832-1836
A detailed account of Darwin's Beagle voyage.
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
by Stephen King. Death to slovenly adverbs! An excellent present from Stense. The cult author Stephen King explains how he goes about writing his punchy prose. Not being a great fan of fiction, I have only ever read one of King’s novels (Misery, which was excellent), but the advice he imparts applies equally well to…
- ‘River’ by Esther Kinsky
File under Sebaldian.
- ‘Keep Going’ by Austin Kleon
Ten ways to stay creative in good times and bad.
- ‘Show Your Work’ by Austin Kleon
10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered.
- To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surface
A literary walk down the Sussex Ouse.
- The Languid Goat is Always Thin: The World's Strangest Proverbs
Weird proverbs from around the world.
- ‘Philip Larkin: Collected Poems’ edited by Anthony Thwaite
All of Larkin’s poems in one handy volume.
- ‘Selected Letters of Philip Larkin’ (Anthony Thwaite, ed.)
Hugely entertaining correspondence from one of Britain’s most popular poets. Reading other people’s letters is one of my guilty pleasures. I first read this selection of Philip Larkin’s letters in 1993, writing to a friend shortly after I’d begun: ‘So far, the guy seems a bit of a prat.’ But I ended up enjoying the…
- Letters to Monica
Philip Larkin's letters to his long-term, long-sufferring girlfriend, Monica Jones.
- ‘Humanism’ by Stephen Law
A very short introduction. Having gradually begun to calm down after a couple of days’ impotent rage at the result of the EU Referendum, I turned to this short book on humanism in an attempt to restore some of my faith in humanity. I was seeking reassurance that people, as individuals, still mostly try to…
- The Constant Gardener
by John le Carré Who killed Tessa Quayle? I don't tend to read much fiction. I enjoy it, but life's just too short to read stuff that isn't true. But I obtained several free unabridged John le Carré audiobooks a couple of years back as part of a promotional offer on the Guardian website, so…
- The Honourable Schoolboy
by John le Carré Subterfuge in Hong Kong. I don't tend to read much fiction. I enjoy it, but life's just too short to read stuff that isn't true. But I obtained several free unabridged John le Carré audiobooks a couple of years back as part of a promotional offer on the Guardian website, so…
- A Perfect Spy
by John le Carré Where's Pym? I don't tend to read much fiction. I enjoy it, but life's just too short to read stuff that isn't true. But I obtained several free unabridged John le Carré audiobooks a couple of years back as part of a promotional offer on the Guardian website, so I used…
- Smiley's People
by John le Carré The conclusion of the magnificent ‘Karla Trilogy’. I don't tend to read much fiction. I enjoy it, but life's just too short to read stuff that isn't true. But I obtained several free unabridged John le Carré audiobooks a couple of years back as part of a promotional offer on the…
- The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
by John le Carré Classic tale of deception behind the Iron Curtain. I don't tend to read much fiction. I enjoy it, but life's just too short to read stuff that isn't true. But I obtained several free unabridged John le Carré audiobooks a couple of years back as part of a promotional offer on…
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
by John le Carré There's a mole in the Circus. I don't tend to read much fiction. I enjoy it, but life's just too short to read stuff that isn't true. But I obtained several free unabridged John le Carré audiobooks a couple of years back as part of a promotional offer on the Guardian…
- Our Kind of Traitor
by John le Carré A would-be defector from the Russian mob. I don't tend to read much fiction. I enjoy it, but life's just too short to read stuff that isn't true. But I obtained several free unabridged John le Carré audiobooks a couple of years back as part of a promotional offer on the…
- Cider with Rosie
by Laurie Lee. Countryside classic. I first read Laurie Lee’s classic memoir of his inter-war-years childhood in a Gloucestershire Cotswold village when I was at school. I re-read it every 15 years or so. It is as gentle and charming as ever.
- Four Hedges
by Clare Leighton A beautifully illustrated year in a garden. I'm a big fan of the publisher Little Toller's Nature Classics Library, in which they re-print classic nature writing in a lovely modern format. They really are a joy to handle as well as read. Four Hedges describes a year in the 1930s in the…
- A Sand County Almanac
by Aldo Leopold American nature classic. It turns out that this classic of American nature writing had somehow completely eluded this nature-writing fanboy. This might well be due to my rather parochial enjoyment of the genre. Perhaps I should branch out across the Pond more often. Well done to Jen for spotting a reference to…
- Programming PHP
Without this book, this website would be a shadow of its current self. Highly recommended.
by John Lewis-Stempel The private life of an English field. Meadowland is an account of a year in the field's of John Lewis-Stempel's farm in Herefordshire. His family has been rooted in the area for centuries. It is clearly a place he loves very much. Lewis-Stempel comes across as a traditional landed countryman, with a…
- ‘Estuary’ by Rachel Lichtenstein
Out from London to the Sea. In Estuary, Rachel Lichtenstein travels on and about the Thames estuary, meeting people with different connections to the place: writers, artists, singers, sailors, bargemen, mudlarkers, cocklers, historians, naturalists, Sealanders. The book provides an interesting snapshot of a time when traditional ways of life around the estuary are dying out.…
- The Outrun
by Amy Liptrot Recovering from addiction in the far north. The Outrun is an account of Amy Liptrot's descent into alcoholism, having left her native Orkney for the bright lights of London, and her gradual recovery, first in London, then in Orkney. It's an incredibly brave book. At times, I cringed at Liptrot's honesty, as…
- ‘The Dun Cow Rib’ by John Lister-Kaye
A very natural childhood. The Dun Cow Rib is John Lister-Kaye’s memoir of his childhood, and of his development as a naturalist and conservationist. Born into a privileged family, John was dispatched to boarding school at an early age after his mother developed a rare and serious heart condition. Formal education at a strict school…
- Gods of the Morning
by John Lister-Kaye A Bird's Eye View of a Highland Year. John Lister-Kaye's nature writing is as entertaining as always. In this volume, he describes a year at his field centre at Aigas in Scotland, noting how seasonal phenomena have changed over the years—quite possibly due to climate change. An enjoyable read.
- Nature's Child: Encounters with Wonders of the Natural World
Delightful book about encouraging a young daughter's love of nature.
- At the Water's Edge: A Personal Quest for Wildness
Famous nature writer's observations from his daily circular walk.
- ‘Dream Island’ by R.M. Lockley
Not particularly interesting narratives of sailing back and forth between islands and the mainland I very much enjoyed R.M. Lockley’s Letters From Skokholm. Indeed, it is one of my favourite ‘nature classics’ to be re-published by the wonderful Little Toller Press. I enjoyed Dream Island far less. Whereas Letters From Skokholm was all about bird…
- Letters From Skokholm
Wartime letters to a close friend about the wildlife on a Welsh island.
- ‘Improbable Destinies’ by Jonathan Losos
How predictable is evolution? The late Stephen Jay Gould more than once observed that, were it possible to roll back time and re-run evolutionary history, we would most likely end up with very different results. Minor differences in circumstances can lead to very different evolutionary pathways. Others, most notably Simon Conway Morris, hold that evolution…
- A Rough Ride to the Future
by James Lovelock Thought-provoking and infuriating. I was prompted to read A Rough Ride to the Future after being pulled up on Facebook by a well-known popular science writer. The topic in question was nuclear power (which I strongly support), in which I described James Lovelock as ‘an embarrassing ally, with all that Gaia stuff…
- Beechcombings: The Narratives of Trees
Non-sentimental nature writing at its best.
- A Brush With Nature: 25 Years of Personal Reflections on Nature
The best of Mabey's BBC Wildlife magazine pieces.
- The Cabaret of Plants
by Richard Mabey Botany and the imagination. The Cabaret of Plants comprises a series of mostly (but see below) very well-researched essays about all things plant. The essays are arranged according to rough themes (famous trees, the history of botany, the mythology of plants, etc.). As always, Mabey is very readable and informative. Unfortunately, the…
- Fencing Paradise: The Uses and Abuses of Plants
A series of essays about man's relationship with plants.
- ‘Nature Cure’ by Richard Mabey
Nature writer recovers from depression by reconnecting with nature.
- The Book of Nightingales
Short monograph on the role of nightingales in western culture.
- The Perfumier and the Stinkhorn: Reflections on Natural Science and Romanticism
Short but enjoyable book, based on a series of radio programmes.
- Turned Out Nice Again
by Richard Mabey A little book about the weather. Like its predecessor, The Perfumier and the Stinkhorn, this is a very short book based on a series of 15-minute radio programmes. Like its predecessor, you can read this book in a single sitting. In this case, though, the book is about the British obsession with…
- ‘Turning the Boat for Home’ by Richard Mabey
A life writing about nature.
- The Unofficial Countryside
How nature can sometimes thrive in man-made environments.
- Weeds: How Vagabond Plants Gatecrashed Civilisation and Changed the Way We Think About Nature
British nature writer wants to cut nature's vagabonds some slack.
- Gilbert White: A biography of the author of The Natural History of Selborne.
Brief biography based on limited documentation—so probably the definitive one!
- H is for Hawk
by Helen Macdonald Multi-prize-winning goshawk memoir. When Helen Macdonald's father died unexpectedly, she was utterly devastated. The strange, very personal way she chose to try to deal with her grief was to train a young goshawk. The idea wasn't as random as it sounds: Macdonald has been obsessed with falconry since she was a small…
- ‘Ness’ by Robert Macfarlane & Stanley Donwood
A haunting prose-poem (I think).
- ‘The Gifts of Reading’ by Robert Macfarlane
The joy of giving books as presents.
by Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood & Dan Richards Beautiful, but expensive. Holloway is a very beautiful book. Stunningly illustrated by Stanley Donwood, its first edition ran to only 277 copies, and was produced using traditional printing techniques. This new edition is for the mass market. The book explores the idea of holloways: ancient sunken tracks…
by Robert Macfarlane A celebration of landscape writers and words. Landmarks is really two books in one: a series of essays about nature writers who have influenced Robert Macfarlane, and a proto-dictionary of mainly old, mainly British words used to describe features in the landscape. As someone who reads an awful lot of ‘nature writing’…
- Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination
Mankind's new-found passion for mountains.
- ‘Underland’ by Robert Macfarlane
A deep time journey.
- The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot
by Robert Macfarlane. Third book in a magnificent trilogy about landscape. This book is ‘the third in a loose trilogy about landscape and the human heart’. Its predecessors, Mountains of the Mind and The Wild Places, set unreasonably high standards; The Old Ways lives up to them. Macfarlane describes a number of journeys he made…
- The Wild Places
by Robert Macfarlane. Author seeks the remaining wild places of Britain and Ireland. This is a fantastic book, and even more enjoyable than the same author's universally praised debut, Mountains of the Mind. Macfarlane is a flowing, confident writer with a talent for the unusual phrase. He was born, we learn, in 1976—damn his eyes!…
- ‘Hawkfall and Other Stories’ by George Mackay Brown
Orcadian short stories.
- Back to the Front
Breathing new life into some old Beefheart classics.
- A Book of Silence
by Sara Maitland A journey is search of the pleasure and powers of silence. As a natural introvert, with a love of tranquillity, and a dislike for unnecessary noise, I was intrigued by the idea of a whole book on the subject of silence. A Book of Silence is a deeply personal and, at times,…
- HMS Beagle: Survey Ship Extraordinary
Meticulously detailed ship's plans of HMS Beagle, for anyone thinking of making a model or replica.
- Don McCullin
- ‘Draft No. 4’ by John McPhee
Essays on factual writing.
- An Encyclopaedia of Myself
by Jonathan Meades Writer and TV presenter's childhood reminiscences. I am a huge fan of Jonathan Meades's intelligent, entertaining, thought-provoking, irreverent, and amusing television programmes, so I really looked forwards to reading this memoir of his childhood in Wiltshire. I wasn't disappointed. As expected, the book was intelligent, entertaining, thought-provoking, irreverent, and amusing: a real…
- Museum Without Walls
by Jonathan Meades An book about places Jonathan Meades makes some of the most intelligent, entertaining, thought-provoking, irreverent, and amusing programmes on television. Museum Without Walls is about… Well, why don't I let Meades himself explain? I really enjoyed this book. Highly recommended.
- ‘First You Write a Sentence’ by Joe Moran
The elements of reading, writing… and life.
- The North (And Almost Everything In It)
by Paul Morley (...but mostly Stockport) Paul Morley spends several chapters at the start of this long (584-page) homage to the North of England trying to define what people mean by The North. In Morley's case, The North is Stockport. If Stockport isn't specific enough, The North is primarily the Reddish area of Stockport. This…
- ‘In My Mind’s Eye’ by Jan Morris
A thought diary.
- ‘Thinking Again’ by Jan Morris
A second volume of gentle diary-entries-cum-essays.
- Names for the Sea
by Sarah Moss Strangers in Iceland. This book wasn't at all what I expected. It tells of Sarah Moss and her family's one-year transplant to Iceland. I was expecting it to be all about glaciers and volcanoes and the northern lights—all of which feature in this book—but Names for the Sea is far more about…
- Wild Hares and Hummingbirds
by Stephen Moss. The Natural History of an English village. In Wild Hares and Hummingbirds, Stephen Moss records, on a month-by-month basis throughout a single year, his encounters with nature on or near his local patch on the Somerset Levels. I enjoyed it very much. Harry Brockway's excellent scraperboard illustrations, which appear at the start…
- ‘The Gallows Pole’ by Benjamin Myers
18th-century Yorkshire meets the Sopranos: intrigue, betrayal, murder, and revenge in the Calder Valley.
- The Happy Atheist
by PZ Myers Relentlessly unsubtle wholesome fun. I tend not to read books about atheism, as I consider myself a fully paid-up member who doesn't need converting. But the scientist and blogger PZ Myers is usually pretty good entertainment value, so I ended up enjoying The Happy Atheist far more than I thought I was…
- ‘The Offing’ by Benjamin Myers
Summer friendship in the North Riding.
- ‘Under the Rock’ by Benjamin Myers
The poetry of a place.
- Speak, Memory
by Vladimir Nabokov Otherworldy memoir. I seldom read fiction, so have not read any of Nabokov's novels, excellent though, I am assured, they are. But Speak, Memory, Nabokov's (factual) memoir of his childhood and youth in a rich Russian family, and the early days following his emigration to the West after the defeat of the…
- Evolution's Captain: The Tragic Fate of Robert FitzRoy, the Man Who Sailed Charles Darwin Around the World
Biography of the captain of HMS Beagle.
- ‘Sea Room’ by Adam Nicolson
The story of one man, three islands and half a million puffins.
- ‘The Seabird’s Cry’ by Adam Nicolson
The lives of puffins, gannets, and other ocean voyagers.
- ‘The Fish Ladder’ by Katharine Norbury
A journey upstream. The Fish Ladder is a strangely compelling book. It starts very slowly. So slowly that you begin to wonder whether it's ever going to go anywhere. Then the pace picks up. It tells two main stories: adoptee Katharine Norbury's attempts to trace and make contact with her birth-mother and family; and her…
- ‘How to be Right’ by James O’Brien
…in a world gone wrong.
- ‘The Atlantic Ocean’ by Andrew O'Hagan
Essays on Britain and America. As a long-term subscriber of the London Review of Books, I’ve admired Andrew O’Hagan’s long-form essays for many years. He has a knack for picking subjects you’d never think of reading about and making them unexpectedly interesting. Many of the essays in this eclectic collection first appeared in the LRB.…
- Trawler: A Journey Through the North Atlantic
How to go mad on a boat.
- Some Thoughts on the Common Toad
by George Orwell Enjoyable essay collection. Some Thoughts in the Common Toad is vol. 99 in Penguin's Great Ideas series of little books by ‘great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilisation and helped make us who we are’. It comprises a number of articles/essays by George Orwell. I have never read any…
- ‘The Development of Darwin’s Theory’ by Dov Ospovat
Natural History, Natural Theology, and Natural Selection, 1838–1859.
by Alice Oswald Poem about a Devon river. To be honest, I don't get poetry. But I kept coming across references to Alice Oswald's book-length poem Dart, then I heard her interviewed on an excellent Guardian podcast, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I'm glad I did, because Dart is very enjoyable. I…
- Darwin's Apprentice
by Janet Owen An archaeological biography of John Lubbock John Lubbock is one of those people I've always intended to find out more about, but have never got round to it. Well, now I have. Janet Owen's biography of Lubbock, published 100 years after his death in 1913, concentrates primarily on his archaeological and ethnographic…
- The Rough Guide to Evolution: Darwin's big idea that changed the world
A handy guide to all things evolutionary.
- ‘Into the Tangled Bank’ by Lev Parikian
In which our author ventures outdoors to consider the British in nature.
- The Sense of Style
by Steven Pinker The thinking person's guide to writing in the 21st century. I enjoyed this book far more than I thought I was going to. As a cognitive scientist with a professional interest in language, Steven Pinker should know what he’s talking about when it comes to stringing grammatically correct, easy-to-understand sentences together. The…
- How to Win Every Argument
by Madsen Pirie The use and abuse of logic. I heard about this book via the Merseyside Skeptics Society's excellent podcast, Skeptics with a K. The book classifies and describes the different sorts of tricks and logical fallacies people tend to use—either deliberately or inadvertently—in arguments. Pirie's thesis is that, by learning to recognise such…
How language is (ab)used in order to persuade by stealth.
- ‘Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit’ by Steven Pressfield
Don't bother. Reading a book entitled and sub-entitled Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit: why that is and what you can do about it, a writer might reasonably expect to pick up one or two tips about how to get people to actually read their shit. But this book offers next to no such advice…
- ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield
A useless book.
- The Cloudspotter's Guide
Everything you didn't know you wanted to know about clouds.
- The Edge of the World
by Michael Pye How the North Sea made us who we are. I feel to have been mislead somewhat by the subtitle of this entertaining book. I’d kind of assumed that the North Sea would feature more prominently, taking something of a leading role. Instead, The Edge of the World is a thematic medieval history…
- The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions
David Quammen travels the world, visiting endangered species.
- The Flight of the Iguana: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature
Science, journalistic and autobiographical essays.
- Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind
David Quammen travels the world, visiting the habitats of four man-eaters.
- The Reluctant Mr Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution
Handy analysis of Darwin's procrastination over publishing Origin of Species.
- How to Write Everything
by David Quantick A fun and funny book. This is a fun (and funny) book. David Quantick has written in most genres, and this is his guide about how you can to. Do you see what I did, there? I wrote something. Q.E.D.
- Alfred Russel Wallace: A Life
A very readable biography about the co-discoverer of Natural Selection—the man who nearly scooped Darwin.
- ‘Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species’ by Sabina Radeva
Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection explained for young children.
- The Origin of Darwinism
by James Randerson (ed.). Charles Darwin and The Origin of Species I reviewed this new Guardian ebook on the Friends of Charles Darwin website.
- ‘Signalling from Mars’ by Hugh Brogan (ed.)
The letters of Arthur Ransome Reading other people’s correspondence is one of my guilty pleasures. As a child, I loved Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books. As an adult, I finally got to realise my childhood dream of visiting Wild Cat Island. So, when I came across a copy of Ransome’s letters in a favourite…
- Swallows & Amazons
by Arthur Ransome Classic children's book telling of war with pirates. I first read Swallows & Amazons when I was at school. I loved it, and went on to read as many other books in the series as I could obtain from the local library. The book tells the tale of a perfect summer holiday…
- ‘The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being’ by Alice Roberts
Evolution and the making of us.
- The Enlightenment
by John Robertson A very short introduction. I’ve always struggled to get my head around what precisely was meant by the Enlightenment. To me, it means a period in the eighteenth century, in which intellectuals tried to be a bit more, well, enlightened. It speaks to me of science, and networking, and the idea of…
- ‘Heligoland’ by Jan Rüger
Britain, Germany, and the struggle for the North Sea.
- ‘The Seafarers’ by Stephen Rutt
A journey among birds.
- ‘Wintering’ by Stephen Rutt
A season with geese.
- ‘The End of Epilepsy?’ by Dieter Schmidt & Simon Shorvon
A history of the modern era of epilepsy 1860–2010.
- Schott's Original Miscellany
Everything you never really needed to know in one handy volume.
- ‘W.G. Sebald’ by Uwe Schütte
The writer and his work.
- ‘The Emergence of Memory’ by Lynne Sharon Schwartz (ed.)
Interviews with the late W.G. Sebald.
- ‘Across the Land and the Water’ by W.G. Sebald
Selected poems, 1964–2001.
- After Nature
by W.G. Sebald Three long-form poems, best read as prose. After Nature comprises three long poems. Their subjects are, in order: the 16th-century painter Matthias Grunewald; the 18th-century botanist, zoologist, physician and explorer Georg Wilhelm Steller, and his place on the Bering expedition to farmost eastern Russia; and Sebald's own early life. To be honest,…
- ‘Campo Santo’ by W.G. Sebald
File under Sebaldian.
- On the Natural History of Destruction
by W.G. Sebald. An extended essay on the ‘scandalous deficiency’ of texts about the Allied bombing of Germany. This is an astonishing book. I put off reading it for ages, due to the specialist nature of its thesis: the paucity of German texts about the Allied bombing of Germany in the Second World War. But…
- ‘The Emigrants’ by W.G. Sebald
File under Sebaldian.
- ‘A Place in the Country’ by W.G. Sebald
Essays on five writers and a painter who influenced Sebald’s work.
- ‘The Rings of Saturn’ by W.G. SEBALD
- ‘Vertigo’ by W.G. Sebald
File under Sebaldian.
- Me Talk Pretty One Day
Laugh-out-loud autobiographical humour.
- ‘The Living Mountain’ by Nan Shepherd
1940s masterpiece of nature writing.
- Reality Hunger
by David Shields. A Manifesto Reality Hunger is a strange, thought-provoking book. It comprises several-hundred unattributed quotations, some by the author, some straight lifts, some amended by him. The quotations are given attributions at the end of the book for legal reasons, but Shields urges the reader not to read them. Shields's central argument in…
- Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion-Year History of the Human Body
How our evolutionary history is written into our bodies.
- Darwin Slept Here: Discovery, adventure, and swimming iguana's in Charles Darwin's South America
Young travel writer follows in the footsteps of Darwin.
- Black Apples of Gower
by Iain Sinclair Stone-footing in memory fields. An entertaining book, which is best explained by the author…
- Edge of the Orison
by Iain Sinclair In the Traces of John Clare's ‘Journey out of Essex’. As with his London Orbital, I found Iain Sinclair's Edge of the Orison hard-going at times, but, if you let the words in the more difficult passages simply wash over you, it's an equally enjoyable read. In this book, Sinclair is accompanied…
- London Orbital
by Iain Sinclair. Walking around the M25 I found London Orbital hard going at times—particularly at the start—but I soon got into the swing of things, as Iain Sinclair and his mates make a long circuit around London, keeping within spitting distance of the M25 motorway. This seemed to involve visiting a surprisingly large number…
- The Little Book of Slugs
Various wacky folk remedies for the evil that is slug. Personally, I'll stick with the slug slinging.
- ‘Devotion’ by Patti Smith
Why she writes. Devotion is a short book in three parts: Part one describes Smith going about her writing process. To someone like me who tends to plan things out and write top-down, her writing technique seems spontaneous, haphazard, and bizarre. But as anyone who has read her previous book, M-Train will know, it’s a…
- ‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith
Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe and their lives together.
- ‘M Train’ by Patti Smith
A fascinating exercise in ‘writing about nothing’.
- ‘Year of the Monkey’ by Patti Smith
Further quirky memoirs.
- ‘The Faraway Nearby’ by Rebecca Solnit
A curiously compelling mix of memoir and anti-memoir.
- A Field Guide to Getting Lost
by Rebecca Solnit How ‘getting lost’ is a great way to find yourself. I liked this book a lot. I read it soon after reading Solnit's memoir, The Faraway Nearby, and it's every bit as difficult to describe. The book comprises nine essays on all manner of subject matter, loosely themed on the concept of…
by Rebecca Solnit A history of walking. I was very much looking forward to reading Wanderlust, as I had recently enjoyed Rebecca Solnit's The Faraway Nearby and A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Wanderlust is a much bigger and more ambitious book—so much bigger that I often struggled to read the very small print in…
- ‘On Photography’ by Susan Sontag
Wonderful insights marred by pretentious language. I first encountered the late Susan Sontag on the much-missed, long-defunct late-night BBC 2 Arts programme The Late Show. Sontag was being interviewed by a clearly besotted Michael Ignatieff. She came across as a fascinating and charming intellectual with plenty of interesting stuff to say. Ever since, as a…
- The Complete Maus
The author's father's holocaust experiences, narrated in cartoons.
by Jean Sprackland A Year of Discoveries on the Beach. In Strands (great title!), the poet Jean Sprackland writes about the things she finds during a final year of walks on her local beach, Ainsdale Sands, in North West England before moving down to London: Victorian shipwrecks, beached whales, prehistoric footprints, Cunard liner teacups. My…
- The Confusion: Volume 2 of the Baroque Cycle
Part two of the historical page-turner.
- Quicksilver: Volume 1 of the Baroque Cycle
- ‘Darwin and the Barnacle’ by Rebecca Stott
Charles Darwin’s eight-year barnacle odyssey.
- The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House
The tale of a notorious Victorian child-murder. (Not to be confused with fiction!)
- 60 Degrees North
by Malachy Tallack Around the world in search of home. I always said that, in the unlikely event of my ever going on a long sea cruise (my idea of hell), I would want to follow the extended route the Vikings took across the Atlantic: Denmark/Sweden/Norway, Orkney, Shetland, the Faeroes, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland. So far,…
- Return to Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village in the 21st Century
Sequel to a classic 1969 study of an English village.
- ‘In Pursuit of Spring’ by Edward Thomas
Cycling across southern England in early 1913.
- ‘Darwin’s Most Wonderful Plants’ by Ken Thompson
Darwin’s botany today.
- HMS Beagle: The ship that changed the course of history
A biography of one of the most important ships in history.
- The Green Road Through the Trees
by Hugh Thomson A Walk Through England. Näively judging this book by its cover (and title), I assumed it would be about walking through woods, waxing lyrical about trees, and so forth. Although trees do crop up in The Green Road Through the Trees, they are mainly incidental. This is a book about following the…
- On Silbury Hill
by Adam Thorpe Monograph about an enigmatic hill. A pet gripe of mine is the appalling production quality of most British hardback books, printed on little better than yellowing blotting paper. I have no complaints on that front about this book. In fact, its beautiful production was one of the reasons I bought it. On…
- The Hobbit
by J.R.R. Tolkien There and back again I hadn't read The Hobbit for 30 years. With the film version on its way, I thought it was about time I refamiliarised myself with the plot, so I could tut knowingly and mutter “That doesn't happen in the book!” under my breath throughout the movie. The Hobbit…
- The Children of Húrin
by J.R.R. Tolkien Tolkien's longest unfinished tale (now finished). Having been a huge Tolkien fan in my youth, I decided to give the newly published Children of Húrin a try, being already familiar with the story from an incomplete version that had previously been published in Tolkien's Unfinished Tales. This new version has been made…
- The Silmarillion
The whole of Tolkien's mythology, massively condensed into a single volume.
- Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
Why its important to get you're punctuation, right!
- The Lunar Men: The Friends who Made the Future, 1730–1810
A collective biography of a remarkable group of friends.
- ‘Unnatural Selection’ by Katrina van Grouw
Art meets science in this stunningly illustrated book.
- Darwin in Cambridge
A useful booklet about Darwin's Cambridge connections.
- ‘Dispelling the Darkness’ by John van Wyhe
Voyage in the Malay Archipelago and the discovery of evolution by Wallace and Darwin. As an unashamed, self-confessed Darwin groupie, I should perhaps come clean at the start by saying that, although I also have a major soft-spot for Alfred Russel Wallace, the recent tendency to describe him as ‘forgotten’ or ‘overlooked’ or ‘the discoverer…
- True North: In praise of England's better half
The Guardian's Nothern Editor explains why things aren't quite so grim up north.
- The English Village
by Martin Wainwright. An enjoyable short history of what made England England. I enjoyed this brief history of the English village. I was particularly pleased by how much emphasis Martin Wainwright—a Guardian writer and Northerner blogger—places on northern English village life, which tends to get overlooked by the southern media. I was also delighted to…
- Darwin's Mentor: John Stevens Henslow 1796-1861
The biography of John Stephens Henslow, Charles Darwin's tutor at university, and an all-round, thoroughly good chap.
Well plotted but slightly over-long novel: Victorian lesbians, pickpockets and pornographers—but not as racy as it sounds.
- The Elizabethans
by A.N. Wilson. Tales from the reign of Good Queen Bess. Having enjoyed Wilson's earlier book about the reign of a later queen, The Victorians, I was looking forward to finding out a bit more about the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth. The Elizabethans is a pretty good book. There was a bit too…
- The Victorians
Pretty much all you could ever want to know about the Victorians, although there isn't enough science and engineering.
- The Jeeves Omnibus, vol. 1
by P.G. Wodehouse What-ho! A collection of Jeeves novels, which are very funny, plus one ‘novel’ made by joining a bunch of Jeeves short stories together, which is a bag of shite.
- ‘The Jeeves Omnibus, vol. 2’ by P.G. Wodehouse
Oh, I say!
- ‘Human Evolution’ by Bernard Wood
A very short introduction. The evolution of the hominins—that branch of our evolutionary tree since our most recent common ancestor with the chimpanzees—should be a subject of immense personal interest. Sadly, I didn't find this book particularly compelling. In fairness, it describes the key discoveries in our gradual (and ongoing) piecing together of our family-tree,…
- The Ice Age
by Jamie Woodward A very short introduction. The title says it all: this is a brief introduction to the Ice Age. I’ve since read a few other books in Oxford University Press’s brief introduction series, but this one stood out. Woodward gets the mix of history and scientific theory exactly right. As a self-confessed Darwin…
- Mrs Dalloway
by Virginia Woolf Stream-of-consciousness classic. I first read Mrs Dalloway in 1990. It inspired me to parody. Even so, it left a lasting impression, so I thought it was about time I re-read it. I'm glad I did. It is a remarkable novel, describing a single day in the criss-crossed lives of a number of…
- The Invention of Science
by David Wootton A new history of the Scientific Revolution. David Wootton states his thesis right at the start of The Invention of Science: Modern science was invented between 1572, when Tycho Brahe saw a nova, or new star, and 1704, when Newton published his Opticks… I'm no historian, but my keen amateur interest in…
- The ‘Wormingford’ series by Ronald Blythe
A magnificent ten-volume series of weekly diary-entries-cum-essays.
- The Invention of Nature
by Andrea Wulf The adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the lost hero of science. Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) was a nineteenth-century rockstar. A scientific celebrity. One of the most famous men in the world. He seems to have been held in high esteem by pretty much everyone who was anyone (with the notable exception of…
- ‘Animal Behaviour’ by Tristram D. Wyatt
A very short introduction.
- The Shining Levels
by John Wyatt Living in the Lakeland woods. The Shining Levels is the late John Wyatt's account of a year spent living in a Lakeland forest as a forestry worker. To be honest, I enjoyed it less than many of the other classics of nature writing published by Little Toller books. Even though it was…
- Darwin's Mysterious Illness: A medical puzzle unsolved for 150 years
13-page booklet examining the possible causes for Darwin's illness.
- Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea: from Darwin to DNA
An excellent introduction to evolution.
- Parasite Rex: Inside the bizarre world of nature's most dangerous creatures.
The weird and wonderful ways in which parasites make a living.
- ‘On Writing Well’ by William Zinsser
The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction.
- ‘Sexual Selection’ by Marlene Zuk & Leigh W. Simmons
A very short introduction.