From stories about tracing the steps of caribou to tracking the path of garbage, Outside magazine's Bruce Barcott found many environmental books to like this year. He gives us his list of favorites.
CURWOOD: So, if you are scratching your head about what to get friends and family as the holidays roll around, take a moment to listen to Bruce Barcott. Bruce reviews books for Outside magazine. Here’s his list of favorites of 2005.
BARCOTT: This wasn’t the best year for the environment, but it was a great year for environmental books. My best-of list starts with three books about tracking and living with wild animals. In “Eating Stone,” Ellen Meloy follows a herd of 80 bighorn sheep through the desert Southwest from the autumn rut through the manic heat of summer. In between, she catches them playing cliff-climbing games and jumping, as she writes, “straight up in the air like a piece of toast.”
Alongside “Eating Stone” I’d put “Being Caribou,” Karsten Heuer’s book about migrating 2,000 miles with a herd of Alaskan caribou. I’d also add “Return to Wild America,” Scott Weidensaul’s survey of the remaining wildlife around the edge of North America. All three convey both the ecstasy of humans encountering the wilderness and the peril that wild places and animals face in the 21st century.
My favorite investigative book of the year is Elizabeth Royte’s “Garbage Land.” Many of us are curious about what happens to our garbage after we throw it out, but only Royte had the guts – and the stomach – to actually follow her own trash and find out. “Garbage Land” is a journey through the mysterious world of landfills, metal shredders, and biosolids. It ain’t pretty, but it is utterly fascinating.
The best science book of the year is “Thin Ice,” a book about a climatologist who’s tracking global warming by pulling ice cores out of glaciers. It’s written by Mark Bowen, an MIT-trained scientist. Bowen brings together history and high adventure in wrapping the tale of modern-day climatology around one researcher’s quest for ice on some of the highest peaks on the planet. “Thin Ice” also acts as a nice antidote to Michael Crichton’s horrible anti-science potboiler, “State of Fear,” which was easily the worst book I read all year.
Finally, for my top book of the year, I can’t choose just one. I’ve got two. “Trawler,” by Redmond O’Hanlon, and “Collapse,” by Jared Diamond.
In “Trawler,” the world’s most eccentric travel writer signs aboard a North Sea commercial fishing boat. In between bouts of seasickness, O’Hanlon sorts through an array of fish species that come up in the trawler’s net. Then he does an amazing thing: He uses the evidence of those fish to write a gripping defense of evolution.
“Collapse” is Jared Diamond’s follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” Where that book explored the rise of civilizations, “Collapse” examines the spectacular fall of the ancient Maya, the Anasazi, and other once-prosperous cultures. How can we avoid their fate? By solving our environmental problems, says Diamond. The good news, he writes, is that “we are the ones in control of those problems, and we can choose or not choose to start solving them.”
Next year I’m hoping to read a great book about those solutions.
CURWOOD: Bruce Barcott writes for Outside magazine.
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