Consider the great outdoors by diving into a book about your favorite animal, science phenomena, or place on earth. The recommendations below fulfill the Waterloo 2021 Reading Challenge prompt: read a book about animals, science, nature, or the environment.

The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think by Jennifer Ackerman

The author contends that recent research on how birds communicate, work, play, parent, and think reveals that the creatures are remarkably intelligent. The complex behavior of birds recounted here demonstrates that birds have sophisticated mental abilities previously unrecognized by conventional avian research. She makes the case that bird intelligence shows that humankind is not alone in using language and tools or constructing complex structures and manipulating other creatures.

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Greenwood by Michael Christie

It’s 2034 and Jake Greenwood is a storyteller and a liar, an overqualified tour guide babysitting ultra-rich vacationers in one of the world’s last remaining forests. It’s 2008 and Liam Greenwood is a carpenter, fallen from a ladder and sprawled on his broken back, calling out from the concrete floor of an empty mansion. It’s 1974 and Willow Greenwood is out of jail, free after being locked up for one of her endless series of environmental protests: attempts at atonement for the sins of her father’s once vast and violent timber empire. It’s 1934 and Everett Greenwood is alone, as usual, in his maple syrup camp squat when he hears the cries of an abandoned infant and gets tangled up in the web of a crime that will cling to his family for decades.

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Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America by Eliza Grizwold

Stacey Haney, a lifelong resident of Amity, Pennsylvania, is struggling to support her children when the fracking boom comes to town. Like most of her neighbors, she sees the energy companies’ payments as a windfall. Soon trucks are rumbling down her unpaved road and a fenced-off fracking site rises on adjacent land. But her annoyance gives way to concern and then to fear as domestic animals and pets begin dying and mysterious illnesses strike her family–despite the companies’ insistence that nothing is wrong. Griswold masterfully chronicles Haney’s transformation into an unlikely whistle-blower as she launches her own investigation into corporate wrongdoing.

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The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World by Patrik Svensson

In The Book of Eels, we meet renowned historical thinkers, from Aristotle to Sigmund Freud to Rachel Carson, for whom the eel was a singular obsession. And we meet the scientists who spearheaded the search for the eel’s point of origin, including Danish marine biologist Johannes Schmidt, who led research efforts in the early twentieth century, catching thousands upon thousands of eels, in the hopes of proving their birthing grounds in the Sargasso Sea.

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Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley

Paras, short for “Perestroika,” is a spirited racehorse at a racetrack west of Paris. One afternoon at dusk, she finds the door of her stall open and–she’s a curious filly–wanders all the way to the City of Light. She’s dazzled and often mystified by the sights, sounds, and smells around her, but she isn’t afraid. Soon she meets an elegant dog, a German shorthaired pointer named Frida, who knows how to get by without attracting the attention of suspicious Parisians. Paras and Frida coexist for a time in the city’s lush green spaces, nourished by Frida’s strategic trips to the vegetable market. As the cold weather nears, the unlikeliest of friendships bloom. But how long can a runaway horse stay undiscovered in Paris?

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Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake

Neither plant nor animal, it is found throughout the earth, the air and our bodies. It can be microscopic, yet also accounts for the largest organisms ever recorded, living for millennia and weighing tens of thousands of tonnes. Its ability to digest rock enabled the first life on land, it can survive unprotected in space, and thrives amidst nuclear radiation. In this captivating adventure, Merlin Sheldrake explores the spectacular and neglected world of fungi: endlessly surprising organisms that sustain nearly all living systems.

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The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams

From the Grand Tetons in Wyoming to Acadia in Maine to Big Bend in Texas and more, Williams creates a series of lyrical portraits that illuminate the unique grandeur of each place while delving into what it means to shape a landscape with its own evolutionary history into something of our own making. Part memoir, part natural history, and part social critique, The Hour of Land is a meditation and a manifesto on why wild lands matter to the soul of America.

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The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief, and Compassion: Surprising Observations of a Hidden World by Peter Wohlleben

Through vivid stories of devoted pigs, two-timing magpies, and scheming roosters, The Inner Life of Animals weaves the latest scientific research into how animals interact with the world with Peter Wohlleben‘s personal experiences in forests and fields. Horses feel shame, deer grieve, and goats discipline their kids. Ravens call their friends by name, rats regret bad choices, and butterflies choose the very best places for their children to grow up. In this book, Peter Wohlleben follows the hugely successful The Hidden Life of Trees with insightful stories into the emotions, feelings, and intelligence of animals around us.

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The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Overstory is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of – and paean to – the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers’s twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

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The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Over the last half-billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, The New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before.

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Bill Gates has spent a decade investigating the causes and effects of climate change. With the help of experts in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, political science, and finance, he has focused on what must be done in order to stop the planet’s slide toward certain environmental disaster. In this book, he not only explains why we need to work toward net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases, but also details what we need to do to achieve this profoundly important goal.

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All book descriptions were borrowed from Goodreads.com.

Learn more about the 2021 Reading Challenge here.

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