From Ecology to Adventure: 18 Nature Books That Will Leave You Inspired
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As the world grapples with the devastating effects of climate change and habitat destruction, it’s clear that preserving nature and its ecosystem is vital. Reading great books about nature exposes us to new perspectives on the natural world, the climate crisis, and the fascinating complexities of the world’s ecosystems.
Reading books about nature can help us understand the natural world while inspiring us to be more mindful of our environment. Books about trees and forests are my own personal favorite book niche, and I highly recommend the ones below.
Whether you are looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life or seeking inspiration to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, there is no shortage of books that can help you achieve your goals.
Here I’m sharing some of the best books about nature for avid readers and nature lovers to explore.
The nature books here include eco-fiction books, non-fiction books, books about animals, books about trees, books about climate change, and books for young readers–as well as links to expanded posts with even more recommendations in some of these categories.
These beautiful books will spark your love of nature and inspire you to celebrate the natural world, view the great outdoors in a whole new way, and become a protector of our planet.
Whether you are a seasoned environmentalist or someone who is just beginning to explore the natural world around you, I hope you’ll be inspired to pick up a nature book and start reading.
Fiction Books About Nature
Fiction is almost always my first foray into any topic, and the natural world is no exception. I love a great novel with an awe-inspiring natural setting.
Cecily is a journalist with the chance of a lifetime: complete a dangerous record-breaking climb with a world-renowned mountaineer and get the interview of her career. As the team prepares for their summit push, tragedies at lower elevations have her wondering: are these majestic mountains the only killers, or is there one among them as well? An excellent, tense wilderness thriller.
Aggie is a ten-year-old who loves birds and climbing trees. But after a fight with her mother about her climbing, she lights a fire that ends in tragedy–and flees into the woods.
Joining the search for her is Celia, 16 and bitter, but intrigued by Aggie and her autistic brother, Burnaby, just as a new relationship turns dangerous. A fantastic nature novel with three unforgettable characters, brilliant, sensitive, and tied to the Washington landscape.
The River begins slowly: college friends Wynn and Jack drifting down a Canadian river in their canoe. When the two men spot a wildfire in the distance, they try to warn two other pairs on the river. Their leisurely journey turns into a race to safety, where the fire is not the only threat they face.
Heller is obviously a skilled outdoorsman; he doesn’t ignore the beauty and brutality of the setting or what it takes to survive in it, even as he builds the tension of this fast-paced nature story.
More: 13 Eco-Fiction Novels to Read for Earth Month
Nonfiction Books About Nature
Nonfiction books are an excellent way to explore the awe-inspiring power of nature. A nonfiction book offers the chance to learn alongside real people about the complexity of the natural world, from the comfort of our own homes. Some of these books have taken me to places I’m unlikely to ever visit in person, but my life is richer for having read about them.
The Next Everest: Surviving the Mountain’s Deadliest Day and Finding the Resilience to Climb Again
Author: Jim Davidson
Publish Date: 2021
In The Next Everest, Davidson tells of his 2015 attempt to climb Everest–a lifelong dream cut short by the largest earthquake in Nepal in 81 years. He made it off the mountain in a dicey rescue and wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to return after leaving a devastated Nepal. He did, in 2017, and he tells the story of training and working up the courage to finally reach the summit.
An illuminating journey to Everest and some of the world’s most breathtaking terrain, detailing what it takes to climb it, but also its importance to Nepal’s economy and climbers’ responsibility to keep the mountain clean and healthy for future climbers.
In Underland, Robert Macfarlane journeys into some of the earth’s deepest, most unimaginable spaces, including natural caves, mines, urban caverns, and more. He explores their natural history and roles in the beginning of human time and their imagined roles many millennia in the future.
Macfarlane evokes both claustrophobia and a dizzying sense of the vastness of time and space. The expedition is an exploration of connections–between places, people, species, and time itself. It will leave you filled with awe at the wonders of the natural world and the place of human beings within it.
Hope Jahren is a scientist who studies trees, plants, seeds, and soil. This book is a reflection on her journey from her childhood days playing under her father’s laboratory tables to leading her own labs and research.
I was enthralled by Jahren’s writing, her keen and poetic observations of the natural world, and her grave, sometimes deadpan and sometimes dramatic narration of the audiobook. Love of science is at the core of Jahren’s story, but human relationships–particularly with her colleague, Bill–also take center stage. Their adventures in science and all its trappings are delightful and unexpected.
Books About Animals
If you love to explore nature by learning or reading about animals, these books are for you. Animals play different roles in each of the books listed here, but our connection to animals is undeniable.
Whether your fascination lies with a unique species of bird, the plight of the polar bears, or just details about your favorite animals, books featuring animals allow us to see the natural world in a different way.
In a post-apocalyptic future, a man and his daughter are the only remaining humans. Nature has survived (or revived–we don’t know), and he teaches her to live in harmony with it. He tells her stories of a bear that saved a village, and of her mother, buried on a nearby mountain.
The girl soon finds herself alone and needing to draw on those lessons and stories from her father. The Bear is a short, sparse, and beautiful fable of the natural world. It’s reminiscent of The Road, but feels more hopeful–nature goes on, even when humans don’t.
Once There Were Wolves
Author: Charlotte McConaghy
Publish Date: 2021
Genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Inti arrives in Scotland to manage the reintroduction of wolves into the wilds of the Highlands. Her twin sister, Aggie, is in tow, and dealing with trauma from her past. Inti believes in the wolves; the locals, however, fear for their safety and their livestock, and their fears seem founded when a man is found dead.
I LOVED this gorgeous, atmospheric eco-fiction novel with fantastic characters and relationships. Wonderful on audio and my best book of 2021.
Author: Annie Hartnett
Source: Ballantine Books via Netgalley
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
If you’re looking for an odd read with animals as part of the story, this is it. Collectively narrated by the gossipy…residents?…of a local cemetery, the focus in this story is a magical, prodigal daughter in Starling family and her ill father who hallucinates ghosts and animals and obsesses over a missing young woman.
Between the magic, the ghosts, the visions, and the graveyard gossips, there’s a lot of levity here, mixed in with the very real crises of drugs and disease. Despite these dark themes, this had one of the most delightful endings in recent memory.
Related: 8 Heartwarming Books for Dog Lovers
Books About Trees
I never would have predicted that the hidden life of trees would become my bookish special interest, but here we are. There is so much happening far below the ground and high in the branches, from the trees in the Amazon rainforest to the ones in your own backyard.
These fiction and nonfiction nature books about trees will draw you into a world you never imagined.
Richard Powers’s twelfth novel and 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner absolutely blew me away. Powers constructs a novel that begins with a series of seemingly disconnected stories, each grounded by a tree, and some of them stretching back more than a century. The “understory” finally lands us on a number of central characters.
These disparate characters come together in a larger-than-life narrative that is a work of activism, a meditation on our place in the world, and an awe-stricken view into the complex and impressive lives and resilience of trees.
The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth
Author: Ben Rawlence
Publish Date: 2022
Genres: Fiction, Nonfiction
“The world is in the grip of unprecedented change. The planet you think you live on no longer exists.”
In this investigative journey into the boreal forests of the north, Rawlence travels to the treelines of places such as Norway, Siberia, Alaska, and Greenland to examine six hardy tree species and how the world is changing on the edges.
The shift in climate that wrought the change has devastating cascading effects on the treelines, the forests, the economy, and even the oceans. Rawlence weaves a riveting narrative that combines science with local lore and tradition. While this book provides little in the way of solutions, the hope there is lies in the long-proven adaptability and ingenuity of the forests.
My kids and I adored this middle grade novel about an old oak tree named Red that watches over the neighborhood and the many animals that live in its branches. For decades, the tree has been known as the “wishtree,” where each year, people tie their wishes written on strips of cloth.
When a new family moves in and they aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms, Red decides to intervene. This is a beautiful, touching story of nature and friendship that both kids and adults will love.
Related: Fiction and Nonfiction Books About Trees
Books About Climate Change
There are plenty of nonfiction books about climate change, and many of the other books on this list overlap this category. I am always drawn to the dystopic imaginings of the different ways that climate disasters wreak their havoc; all of these are relatively new releases and have interesting takes on climate fiction.
In recent years, these books have felt less fictional and more prescient, and it may just be stories that convince the rest of the living world of the urgency of the situation.
At a remote vacation house, a group of children avoids their neglectful and self-indulgent parents. One young boy’s fascination with a children’s Bible becomes eerie when its events start playing out in the wake of a destructive storm. As chaos descends, the children take charge and eventually leave, seeking safety, and the apocalyptic events continue.
Millet’s climate change allegory is not subtle in its modern agenda and Biblical symbolism, but it’s short, hard-hitting, and unputdownable. Read this if you loved 2020’s Leave the World Behind–I may have loved this even more.
The Annual Migration of Clouds
Editor: Premee Mohamed
Publish Date: 2021
Genres: Literary Fiction, Dystopia
This compelling novella imagines a future after climate disasters have ravaged the world. Amid the turmoil emerged a parasite called Cad, which formed a symbiotic relationship with the people it infected–until they died painfully.
Reid is a teen girl infected with Cad who has received an offer to attend an elite, protected university whose existence is only rumored. Thrilled but uncertain about leaving, Reid ponders the impact of her decisions. Literary and thought-provoking, with excellent passages on how the careless consumption and choices of previous generations (i.e., US) created the disasters.
In the year 2042, climate change has prompted new restrictions: no funerals, no burials, and all the dead must be cremated–the remains are the property of the state. Alma, 21, alone and mourning her mother, is determined to claim her ashes. In her quest, she befriends Bordelon, a homeless 19-year-old, as well as several women who aid in their own unique ways.
Friedman’s writing on grief, found family, and loyalty hits hard at times, but some of the climate details make this a bit perplexing. Nonetheless, it is an intriguing take on speculative climate fiction.
Related: 11 Creepy Dystopian Books that Will Make You Fear the Future
Kids’ Books About Nature
These children’s nature books are wonderful choices for readers of all age ranges, and those below have a permanent place on our bookshelf. They would also be excellent choices for a classroom collection.
Screechers are reviled in Perchance, while the adorable hummingbears are the lifeblood of the economy, drawing tourists each year. Eleven-year-old Willodeen loves all animals, but especially the stinky screechers. When they are hunted almost to extinction, she is the only one who cares–but others worry that the hummingbears have not made their annual migration to Perchance.
Willodeen must stand up for the screechers before it’s too late–and she might even discover why the hummingbears are missing. A lovely story on the delicate balance of nature, with a beautiful blend of magic and science.
Author: Lauren Wolk
Narrator: Holly Linneman
Publish Date: 2020
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
After losing everything during the Depression, Ellie and her family move to Echo Mountain in the wilds of Maine. Ellie loves it; she finds freedom in the woods and nature. Ellie’s joy is short-lived when an accident–that she is blamed for–leaves her father in a coma. Ellie tries outlandish schemes to wake him before taking to the mountain in search of an old woman healer known as “the hag.”
Wolk’s writing is delicious–she has an amazing talent for evoking nature and setting a scene, and she writes children with such sensitivity (also see Wolf Hollow). Her characters tend to be wise beyond their years, but she never forgets they are children, and she affords them the naivete and innocence they deserve. I loved listening.
The Goose Girl is the first in The Books of Bayern series, which was a fantastic, immersive read-aloud with my kids. The fictional kingdom of Bayern feels historical, with the addition of people with magical abilities to communicate with nature. In The Goose Girl, Ani is a princess who is sent to Bayern to marry the prince and cement peace between two kingdoms, but she is betrayed and forced to hide and tend geese to survive.
Hale’s books are smart and enjoyable for both kids and adults. There is some violence, but the political maneuverings depicted in the books raised a lot of great discussions.
Related: 16 Magical Kids’ Fantasy Books to Enchant Your Middle-Grade Reader