Wild reading - books for the summer

Whether you're swinging in a hammock in the shade, or stretched out in the summer sunshine, disappear into a great book this summer, with our guide to the latest wildlife books.

Woman reading outside by a river

© Bildquelle / ullstein bild / Getty


The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, by Kate Bradbury. Bloomsbury, £16.99.

Read our Q&A with Kate Bradbury


Far from Land, by Michael Brooke, illustrated by Bruce Pearson. Princeton University Press £24.95. 

In the last couple of decades, research aided by micro-gadgetry has revolutionised understanding of some seabirds, revealing the scale and complexity of their journeys. Each new finding can amaze, such as how neighbouring puffins on a Welsh island can winter in utterly different parts of the North Atlantic. Michael Brooke has drawn on his knowledge of current science to give a timely summary of research so far and a brilliant global overview of seabird behaviour.

Reviewed by Kenny Taylor, puffinologist


A Black Fox Running, by Brian Carter. Bloomsbury, £14.99.

There is a possibility with animal stories that they will lurch into sentimentality, but there is no risk of that with this visceral book. Set in the wild folds of Dartmoor and first published in 1981, it has been reprinted by Bloomsbury for adults rather than children. This is the story of Wulfgar the fox, told from nose level. Its thrilling plot veers from the gutsy protagonist and his mate Teg, to their nemesis Scoble the trapper and his horrible dog. The descriptions range from violent to exquisite, and it’s an intense and transporting read.

Reviewed by: Miriam Darlington, nature writer


Secret Pigeon Service, by Gordon Corera. William Collins, £20.

The humble pigeon has a superpower, one that resonates particularly in times of war: it can find its way home. During the dark days between Dunkirk and D-Day, the British secret service harnessed this ability to enlist
intelligence-gatherers in Nazi-occupied Europe. While the battle of Britain raged over Dover, pigeons evaded German falcons to return their vital cargo. This rip-roaring read reveals the untold tale of a band of Belgian
pigeon fanciers, whose data flew all the way to Churchill’s desk.

Reviewed by: Paul McGuinness, editor of History Revealed Magazine.


Wild and Free, by Dominic Couzens. AA, £14.99. 

You don’t need to disappear off to a craggy moor if you’re yearning for solitude and wildlife. Britain is brimming with unsung nature spots where few people tread, and in this easy-to-navigate book Couzens takes you by the hand and leads you to 100 of them. Here be no exits through gift shops – these sites are largely off the beaten track, yet within reach of a large town or city. Every page is imbued with the author’s enthusiasm and knowledge, reminding us that our countryside is a resource to treasure. Keep it in the glovebox and let the fun begin.

Reviewed by: Sarah McPherson, section editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine

Click here to read an extract from Wild and Free


Buzz, by Thor Hanson. Icon Books, £16.99.

Interactions between bees and the rest of life on Earth are the antidote to any simplistic portrayal of nature as blandly competitive and ‘red in tooth and claw’. For more than 65 million years, bees and flowering plants have come to depend on each other, while humans and bees have also developed close and intricate partnerships. Through conversations with American experts, Hanson presents a smooth and accessible account of the insects that provide a significant amount of what we eat, introducing their fascinating diversity of behaviour. A reminder of why bees are wonders that we must protect.

Reviewed by: Matt Shardlow, conservationist and writer


The Lynx and Us, by David Hetherington, photos by Laurent Geslin. Scotland: The Big Picture, £25.

Lithuania has 193 human settlements named after wolves and bears but only three after lynx, even though they have always existed there. This anonymity makes the lynx a candidate for reintroduction to landscapes now devoid of large predators. In particular, David Hetherington would like to bring the lynx back to Scotland, where it has not been seen since the Middle Ages. The lynx is a solitary, low density species with a large home range. Its favourite food is roe deer, devourer of woodland. Even when reintroduced to areas with naive prey, it settles down to an average harvest of 3–10 per cent, enough to ameliorate the wider environment without hammering the deer population. Its impact on humans and livestock is limited. Read this beautifully illustrated introduction to decide for yourself if they should return.

Reviewed by: Stephen Mills, wildlife writer


Rainforest, by Tony Juniper. Profile, £16.99.

Rainforests, in all of their glorious diversity, are the among the most extraordinary features of our planet, yet we are doing our level best to erase them. In this book, environmental campaigner Tony Juniper explores how vital these places are and the many far-reaching consequences of their destruction. It is very clear that the real value of rainforests does not come from timber or the mineral wealth beneath the trees, but from their incomprehensible variety of life, which this book encourages us to celebrate and cherish. 

As well as examining each of the Earth’s main rainforest regions in detail, Juniper proposes some ways to halt and reverse the damage that has already been done. Rainforest is a little vertebrate-centric – much more could have been said about the small yet fascinating organisms that underpin the ecological processes in these forests – but overall it is a must-read.

Reviewed by: Ross Piper, entomologist


Close Encounters with Humankind, by Sang-Hee Lee. W W Norton & Company, $26.95.

To describe this as a toilet book is not a criticism. The short, punchy, stand-alone chapters (including Are We Cannibals? Are Humans Still Evolving?) lend themselves perfectly to reflective moments in the smallest room of the house. Unlike any other species, humans’ evolutionary story cannot be explained by biology alone. Sang-Hee Lee reveals how history, culture and politics make things really tricky, especially when we are inclined to project our own morality, prejudices and ideologies onto our ancestors.

Reviewed by Stuart Blackman, science writer


52 European Wildlife Weekends, by James Lowen. Bradt, £15.99.

Think you’ve got to travel across the globe to see exciting wildlife? Think again. From watching brown bears climbing trees in the mountains of northern Spain to spotting goshawks cruising over downtown Berlin, this remarkable guide ably demonstrates that there’s still plenty of great species on our doorstep in Europe. While jetting off for a weekend to the likes of Arctic Norway or the Azores may be pushing it, Lowen offers top tips on how to turn a break into a week of wildlife watching.

Reviewed by: Simon Birch, environmental writer


Chasing the Ghost, by Peter Marren. Square Peg, £16.99.

After the author received a copy of William Keble Martin’s Concise British Flora in Colour on his 15th birthday, he set out to find all 1,500 illustrated flowers. Half a century later, this is the story of the hunt for the final 50 rare
species, some confined to a single location. But this book is not only about flowers, it’s a heart-warming tale of
fellowship with old botanical acquaintances and new friends whose generosity helped in his quest. As Marren says, “The twin summits of botany are finding a flower and making a friend.”

Reviewd by: Phil Gates, botanist


The Long Spring, by Laurence Rose. Bloomsbury, £18.34.

Every year, two billion birds cross the Mediterranean to breed in Europe. Naturalist Laurence Rose follows their epic journeys north from “the sweat of Africa to the ice of the high Arctic”. Travelling by train, bus, boat, bicycle and on foot, he encounters new arrivals in each of the countries that he passes through, from hoopoes in southern Spain to bluethroats in the north of Norway. Along the way, Rose also considers the impact that changes in climate and conservation policy have had on migration.

Reviewed by: Pete Dommett, wildlife writer


Epitaph for the Ash, by Lisa Samson. Harper Collins, £12.99.

As the elms of Britain were ravaged by disease the ash tree became a vital habitat for our fauna and flora. Now this tree with its mythological healing properties, the namesake of many of our towns and villages, is under threat as well. Lisa Samson’s prognosis was as precarious as the tree she grew so close to when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Her quest to travel the length and breadth of the land takes us on a leafy green
jewel of a journey into a kingdom that will change the way you look at the ash tribe forever.

Reviewed by: Miriam Darlington, nature writer


Eye of the Shoal, by Helen Scales. Bloomsbury, £16.99.

Acclaimed author and marine biologist Helen Scales takes readers on a glorious and riveting exploration of the
lives of fish. Through a vivid and amusing portrayal of these lesser-loved creatures, Eye of the Shoal questions the everyday notion that fish are dull, unintelligent beings (not to mention cold, slimy and smelly) that humans simply catch to eat, recasting them as inspiring animals who can sing and dance, who are able to shape giant sculptures from sand, and who can use light, colour and even electricity to their advantage – whether to hide, to send messages or to hunt. In making her case, the author embarks on unexpected and intriguing journeys – not only across oceans, but deep into history.

At a time when we are hearing so much about the damage being wreaked upon our oceans, this is a refreshingly jubilant celebration of life and an open invitation to appreciate and experience the exciting world beneath the waves. Fish, indeed, have much to tell us about life, the ocean and everything.

Reviewed by Olive Heffernan, science writer


The Weather Detective, by Peter Wohlleben, Rider, £9.99.

Read our Q&A with Peter Wohlleben


Darwin, by Joahn Van Wyhe, NHM, £18.99.

Many books paint Charles Darwin as ‘the man with an idea that changed the world’, but he was so much more than that. In this deliciously digestible book, science historian John Van Wyhe treats us to a fresh perspective on
Darwin’s life, including his forgotten work on coral atolls, his barnacle-fancying and his passion for worms. The archive images, particularly of the naturalist’s own sketches, make each page a visual delight, and the detail will surprise even the most seasoned Darwinian. What could have been more of the same is anything but.

Reviewed by: Jules Howard, author


These reviews originally appeared in BBC Wildlife Magazine. Take a look inside the current issue, and find out how to subscribe

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