The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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December 1, 2013

Good books make great holiday gifts

CAMERON — For the nature lovers on your holiday gift list, a good book is always appreciated. Here are a few titles I’ve recently discovered that any nature lover will enjoy.

Reserves of Strength: Pennsylvania’s Natural Landscape, by Michael Gadomski (2013, $34.99, Schiffer Publishing), is a coffee table book that features the natural heritage of my home state. Gadomski is a veteran naturalist and skilled photographer who has explored every corner of Penn’s Woods.  A short caption identifies each of the 400-plus images, and often includes interesting bits of natural history. I was especially pleased to find my favorite place in Pennsylvania, Rickett’s Glen State Park, featured in a number of photos. I was also pleased that I didn’t find a single human in any of the photos.

Bugs Rule! An Introduction to the World of Insects, by Whitney Cranshaw and Richard Redak (2013 $55.00, Princeton), is an entomology textbook written for non-science majors.  With a heavy emphasis on natural history, “Bugs Rule!” will appeal to a much broader audience than traditional entomology texts. Imagine that, a textbook that can be read for pleasure.  More than 800 color photos and many informational sidebars enhance the book’s readability.

The Private Life of Spiders, by Paul Hillyard (2011, $19.95, Princeton), reviews the most interesting aspects of spider biology, from hunting behavior to the use of webs, trapdoors, and venom.  It also explains how spider silk is made and that it is twice as strong as silkworm silk. The final chapter explores the dread many humans feel toward spiders. Reading this book many not eliminate a fear of spiders, but it will certainly engender a bit of respect and maybe even a little admiration.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees, 2nd edition, by David More and John White (2013, $49.95, Princeton), is exactly what the title suggests — everything you’d like to know about trees. At more than 800 pages it is definitely not a field guide, but neither is it a botanical textbook. It is more a celebration of trees that any curious naturalist can appreciate. The highlights of the book are the thousands of beautiful color illustrations depicting everything from entire trees to flowers, leaves, bark, fruits, and seeds.

Speaking of trees, Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees, by Nancy Ross Hugo (2011, $29.95, Timber Press) is an introduction to tree biology and a detailed examination of ten familiar species. The author calls them “intimate views.”  Wherever you live, you’ll know at least one of these featured species. The list of species includes American beech, American sycamore, black walnut, eastern red cedar, ginkgo, red maple, southern magnolia, tulip poplar, white oak, and white pine. Hugo writes of these species as the old friends they have come to be.

Birds & People by Mark Cocker and David Tipling (2013, $65.00, Jonathan Cape), is a richly illustrated tome (592 pages) that explores the rich historic and cultural interactions between birds and people. We’ve used bird’s meat, eggs, and decorative feathers, for example, since the dawn of time. “Birds & People” is arranged by bird families, though some of the smaller groups are ignored.  Open it to any page, and you’ll be hooked for an hour. The hundreds of color images that illustrate the book include penguins, hummingbirds, bowerbirds, and birds of paradise by photographer Tipling. At some point, “Birds & People” should receive a lifetime achievement award for both Cocker and Tipling.

 Honeybee Democracy, by Thomas D. Seeley (2010, $29.95, Princeton), explores how honeybee swarms create new hives. Turns out it’s a group effort by many individuals. Over the course of hours to days, hundreds of bees explore possible new hive sites and then somehow make a group decision. The cooperative behavior of the most familiar and most important insect on the planet makes fascinating reading.

And if anyone on your gift list enjoys feeding birds and prefers getting books at the library, a big red bow taped to a 20-pound bag of black-oil sunflower seed or sunflower kernels will surely please.   

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