This summer my family and I had frequent visits from a ruby-throated hummingbird that would peer quickly into our large kitchen window. More recently, I was lucky enough to be hiking in the Colorado prairie, surrounded by a vista of distant mountains. Nature can be equally mesmerizing whether viewed from up close, from afar or from an armchair. These books will take you on quite the tour around the world, offering glorious glimpses of natural wonders big and small.
What does Earth look like from very far away—from space? Not only is the view breathtaking, but the perspective also offers valuable insights about the fragile state of our planet. This is the premise of Earth from Space, from Yann Arthus-Bertrand, one of the world’s leading aerial photographers and the founder of GoodPlanet, an environmental foundation.
This unique volume features more than 150 satellite photos coupled with interviews with scientists and activists, and is a natural follow-up to Arthus-Bertrand’s wildly successful Earth from Above. At first glance, some of these images resemble beautiful abstract works of art, such as the intricate, ink-like swirls on the opening and end pages. These mysterious views capture, for instance, a forest fire in Siberia, the rising waters of Venice and the sandbanks and algae sculpted by waves in the Bahamas.
Chapters address issues such as world hunger, climate change, pollution, urban sprawl and disasters, explaining the challenges we face and how satellites help us monitor these issues. Earth from Space gives readers an opportunity to understand and visualize global issues in a tangible, intriguing way.
Another remarkable offering awaits in Extraordinary Birds: Essays and Plates of Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library. The perfect package for bird lovers, it consists of a sturdy, book-like box containing 40 frameable prints from the museum’s Rare Book Collection, plus a paperback book of accompanying essays by Paul Sweet, collection manager of the ornithology department. Sweet offers a history of ornithology and explains the significance of each print.
This book is a follow-up to Sterling’s popular 2012 release, Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library. For both collections, editors spent hours in the museum’s vault, carefully selecting prints for inclusion. Certainly the editors must have lost track of time as they worked, and it’s easy to get lost in these pages.
Each print represents its own story of adventure. For example, two are by Edward Lear, better known today for his nonsense poems, but at age 18, he was hired as a draftsman for the Zoological Society of London. His Red-capped Parrot is stunning; his Eurasian Eagle-Owl is formidable. Readers also learn about the excellent artist Elizabeth Gould, who drew 2,999 plates for her naturalist husband, John, without receiving any credit! At least she got her own species, Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird, named in her honor.
INTO THE WILD
Biologist and photographer Paul Nicklen provides plenty more armchair adventures with Bear: Spirit of the Wild. He grew up on Baffin Island, Canada, and has traveled the globe, spending bone-chilling hours submerged in icy water photographing polar bears, boating up the Yukon in search of grizzlies and trekking the Great Bear Rainforest to observe spirit bears. As two bear experts write in the book’s epilogue: “To roam the last corners of the Earth where wild creatures still thrive is a privilege reserved to only a select handful.” Luckily, with this book, readers get to tag along.
The result is a truly dazzling display of photographs: a white spirit bear chomping on salmon while relaxing on a mossy green carpet in the forest; a young grizzly splashing through a river like a torpedo; a pair of polar cubs peeking over their mother’s back. Essays by Nicklen and other environmentalists offer perspectives on various bears’ habitats and the threats they face.
Nicklen is also a contributor to The Masters of Nature Photography, a compilation of winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition sponsored by BBC Worldwide and the British Natural History Museum. Portfolios of 10 photographers are included, along with an artist profile and discussions of each photograph.
Here, for example, is Frans Lanting describing his glorious shot of a herd of bull elephants in Botswana: “For a short time, a group gathered across the water from me, just as the full moon started to rise, with the pink light of the dying sunset reflected back onto the landscape and the elephants?a primeval scene of ancient Africa. To capture the full reflection of the elephants, I had to wade waist-deep into the water. That was tricky, as a bull coming behind me could have put me in an uncomfortable position.” Reading anecdotes like this makes these wildlife masterpieces all the more impressive and enjoyable.
In celebration of the travel publisher’s 40th anniversary, Lonely Planet offers its own photography collection in Lonely Planet’s Beautiful World. Here are more than 200 large-format glimpses of places both familiar and remote. A supercell storm near Alvo, Nebraska, forms over grasslands with unimaginable force and fury. Green turtles swim amid a sea of brilliantly colored fish in the Galápagos. Antlered red deer in London’s Richmond Park peer ahead like enchanted beasts of long ago.
This is a book chock-full of photographs, with no text except a short introduction that describes how the beauty of Yosemite Valley “can make you catch your breath.” The editors continue with a valuable message that applies to all of these books: “The world is full of places like that. But we don’t see them every day and sometimes we need to be reminded that they are there.”