There might be water on Mars, but we still only have one home, and it’s constantly surprising us. These imaginative books offer a lively look at our world—and beyond.
LET'S TALK ABOUT THE WEATHER
Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future brims with information so intriguing that it begs to be read in one lengthy sitting. It’s a visual treat, featuring Lauren Redniss’ arresting, atmospheric artwork, plus an original typeface she calls Qaneq LR, after the Inuktitut word for “falling snow.” Every aspect of this creation has been carefully considered by Redniss, a Guggenheim fellow and finalist for the National Book Award for her vivid biography of Marie and Pierre Curie, Radioactive.
Redniss reports extensively, beginning with a mind-boggling stop at a Vermont cemetery where coffins, bodies and bones were washed away by Hurricane Irene’s floods. She discusses weather staples such as rain, fog, wind and cold, finding unexpected treats for each topic and weaving together seemingly disparate strands, such as a conversation with endurance swimmer Diana Nyad and a visit with a wind engineer at Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mosque.
This is hardly an ordinary weather book. Like a tornado, Thunder & Lighting will blow you away.
HUNDRED ACRE WOOD
A.A. Milne would have been pleased as punch with The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest That Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood. Landscape designer and historian Kathryn Aalto combines historical photographs with biography to explore the places that inspired Milne and his artistic partner, E.H. Shepard.
Throughout his books, Milne recreated many of the wonders he experienced as a boy, “hunting butterflies along the coast, bicycling across many shires, and climbing peaks in Wales.” The Hundred Acre Wood is based on Ashdown Forest, “a landscape of sweeping heathland and atmospheric woodlands thirty miles south of London.” In 1925, Milne and his wife bought Cotchford Farm as a country haven on the edge of the forest. (The property was later bought by Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones, who eventually drowned in its pool.) Every March, people gather at a nearby bridge for the World Poohsticks Championship, a game from The House at Pooh Corner that involves racing twigs downstream.
You’ll yearn for a real walking tour of this enchanted forest.
PROTECTING THE SEA
When oceanographer Enric Sala sees swarms of sharks, he happily jumps in, knowing they’re a sign of healthy seas. In 2007 he left academia to actively help protect the ocean, founding an organization that shares its name with his book, Pristine Seas: Journeys to the Ocean’s Last Wild Places. It’s a gorgeous pictorial tour of 10 diverse ocean spots that remain untouched by human activity, ranging from Arctic waters to coral reefs, where vibrant colors abound in seemingly ethereal ways.
On an atoll south of Hawaii, Sala encounters a twinspot grouper with fangs “like an underwater vampire” who surprised him by tugging at his ponytail. Sala and his team discover that pristine seas feature an inverted food chain, with an abundance of predators like sharks, polar bears, seals and crocodiles, which thrive when safe from fishermen and hunters.
Sala’s writing is snappy and informative, while the photos offer glorious, magical glimpses into underwater worlds seen by so few.
Young blacktip reef sharks of Millennium Atoll. Copyright © 2015 Enric Sala.
From Pristine Seas, reprinted with permission from National Geographic.
SNAPS FROM SPACE
You won’t see photographs like the ones in Earth and Space: Photographs from the Archives of NASA anywhere else. Photographing space, known as stellar astrophotography, is the result of collaboration among NASA’s many engineers, scientists and artists. Tour the universe with more than 100 brilliantly colored photos, starting with scenes of Earth, such as a satellite view of the massive debris field created by the 2011 Japanese tsunami. Venture farther into space and see stars being born amid Milky Way dust, an intergalactic “dance” performed by two faraway galaxies and a taffy-like strip that’s the supernova remnants from an exploded star. Detailed captions explain the science behind these unimaginable sights.
As Bill Nye remarks in the book’s preface, “The views amaze and astonish us; the images themselves are artwork.”
OVER HERE, BIRDWATCHER
Nextinction is a colorful, zany follow-up to Extinct Boids, a collaboration between filmmaker and bird lover Ceri Levy and gonzo artist Ralph Steadman. Dubbing themselves “Gonzovationists,” Steadman and Levy focus on the 192 critically endangered birds on the IUCN Red List, all of which can be saved. As with their first book, this one features both the aforementioned real as well as some imagined species.
All of Steadman’s avian caricatures ooze personality and attitude, while Levy’s descriptions are similarly lively. Accompanying the large illustrations are side panels filled with their emails, diary entries and phone conversations about the birds and the making of the book. Nextinction is a memorable, unique book that manages to infuse fun and fancy into a very serious subject.