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Just as immersion in nature inspires a mix of profound awe and renewed curiosity about this Earth we call home, so, too, does filmmaker and novelist Priyanka Kumar’s mesmerizing essay collection, Conversations With Birds—rendered in finely wrought prose, steeped in memory and thrumming with endless curiosity.

Kumar reflects on her childhood in northern India, formative years during which she enjoyed lush nature every day. As a young adult studying film at the University of California, Santa Cruz, she realized that she had become alienated from the natural realm that once brought her such joy. An impromptu bird walk and fortuitous encounter with a long-billed curlew reshaped the way Kumar has experienced the world ever since: “My hunger to know more about the bird was like a bridge that would one day lead me back to nature’s elusive womb.”

In the years since, Kumar has embarked on journeys far and near to commune with birds (cranes, owls, tanagers, eagles) and other creatures that inhabit the American Southwest. She chronicles her encounters thoughtfully and with passion, dotting her work with references to Orpheus, Henry David Thoreau, Ravi Shankar and more.

But travel isn’t necessary for engaging with nature; just looking up at a tree that you walk by daily could reveal new wonders. Kumar and her family have only to sit by the large round window that looks out on their Santa Fe backyard, where they might observe a passing bobcat or the beheaded remains of flowers that were eaten by deer.

However, birds remain Kumar’s truest loves. “How is it that we can love birds . . . and not be attentive to how bird habitats all around us are being fragmented or overgrazed or paved over with concrete?” she writes. It’s a question that circles through Conversations With Birds from beginning to end as Kumar celebrates the creatures that live among us and urges us to consider our role in protecting our collective future. After all, she knows from experience that “the seeds of transformation lie dormant in all of our hearts. Sometimes it just takes the right bird to awaken us.”

The essays in Conversations With Birds are rendered in finely wrought prose, steeped in memory and thrumming with endless curiosity about nature.

New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Horowitz (Our Dogs, Ourselves) has done it again. She’s created a heartwarming and personal story about dogs that seamlessly incorporates captivating science about our beloved canine companions. In The Year of the Puppy: How Dogs Become Themselves, Horowitz, a specialist in canine cognition and head of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard University, follows the first year of a puppy’s life—her own family’s new puppy, as it happens.

In part one, Horowitz describes the birth and early development of their puppy, Quiddity (Quid). Many owners never experience the early weeks—or even years, with many rescues—of their dogs’ lives, and this section makes fascinating reading as Horowitz meets not just her puppy but the puppy’s mom: Maize, a young dog surrendered to a shelter in Georgia when her owners realized she was pregnant. Maize was transported to New York, where she was fostered by an experienced woman named Amy who took on responsibility for the new mom and her pups—11 in all, it turns out.

In part two, Horowitz and her family choose Quid as their own, and she traces the puppy’s weekly development and integration into their family, where every experience is new: new people, new big dogs, new cat, new house. Training at the outset consists of taking Quid out to pee every two hours and rewarding her for positive behaviors—though the puppy often moves through 12 behaviors in 10 seconds. Fortunately, there are also naps.

Horowitz writes with a gentle humor that any pet owner will appreciate. “After bringing a puppy home, that potential dog vanishes and is replaced by an actual biting, running, peeing, whining dog in our home every hour of every day,” she writes. “She bites the cat in the face and bothers the dogs, who have taken, rightfully, to just turning away in disdain.”

The book is more than an entertaining personal narrative, however. Along the way, Horowitz draws on her extensive knowledge to offer insights into canine behavior. She goes beyond training-focused instructional manuals to show that often what humans label as “misbehavior” is actually normal puppy behavior. We expect dogs to live in our world. But, as Horowitz chronicles one year in Quid’s life, she gently urges us to become more aware of the incredibly rich and complex world dogs inhabit. The better we understand our pooches, the more likely we are to succeed at providing a wonderful home for everyone.

It’s a given that for dog lovers, The Year of the Puppy is a must-read. But even cat lovers will find much to enjoy in this endearing scientific memoir.

Alexandra Horowitz has created another heartwarming and personal story that seamlessly incorporates captivating science about our canine companions.
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Mary Roach investigates the uneasy relationship that exists between humans and wildlife in Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law. Traveling to India, Vatican City and other locales, she meets with a wide cast of characters that includes predator attack investigators, a bear manager and a human-elephant conflict specialist, all in an effort to understand how humankind is striving to coexist with the animal kingdom. Roach mixes expert reporting with moving insights into the natural world while unearthing pertinent questions about wildlife and habitat preservation.

In Liquid Rules: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives, Mark Miodownik examines the prominence of liquids (drinking water, bottled soap, the list goes on) and the critical roles they play in the modern world. The narrative is framed by a transatlantic flight during which Miodownik notes the ubiquity of liquid matter, from the fuel that powers the plane to the offerings on the airline’s refreshment cart. Illustrations and photos add an appealing visual dimension to the book, and topics like climate change and conservation will inspire lively dialogue among readers.

Bill Bryson’s The Body: A Guide for Occupants is an engaging survey of the human physique. Bryson delves into the history of anatomy, examines the nature of disease and pain, and generally explores the ways in which our bodies function. He blends scientific fact and input from experts with humanizing anecdotes, and his trademark wit is on display throughout the proceedings. An illuminating look at the systems, organs and processes that define the human organism, The Body is filled with fascinating facts. From start to finish, it’s vintage Bryson.

Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski is a reader-friendly overview of the ways in which physics shapes our lives. Making connections between commonplace activities (popping popcorn, for instance) and larger phenomena, from weather patterns to medical technology, Czerski demonstrates that scientific processes large and small take place all around us. Over the course of nine chapters, she covers a range of fundamental physics concepts, writing in an accessible, offbeat style. With a gift for intriguing anecdotes, Czerski makes physics fun.

You don't need scientific training to enjoy these entertaining, offbeat books.

Documentary filmmaker Tom Mustill has seen all manner of wondrous things. But those awe-inspiring experiences, including collaborations with David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg, still could not prepare him for the astounding close encounter that fundamentally changed his life.

As the British debut author details in How to Speak Whale: A Voyage Into the Future of Animal Communication, the year was 2015; the location, the waters off Monterey Bay, California; and the context, a kayak tour with his friend and co-paddler, Charlotte, wherein they witnessed 120 humpback whales, each “the size of an airport shuttle bus,” enjoying a massive group buffet. Suddenly, one of the whales breached and landed atop the duo with “a release of energy equivalent to about forty hand grenades.”

A YouTube video of the event went viral, and Mustill found himself the subject of news reports and memes, as well as “a lightning conductor for whale fanatics.” He became a bit of a fanatic, too, when his whale specialist friend Dr. Joy Reidenberg said it seemed as if he and Charlotte had survived because the whale decided to veer to one side in midair. Of course, Mustill mused, there was no way to really know if the whale attempted to spare them. It’s not like he could ask—or could he? 

In How to Speak Whale, a mix of thoughtfully explained hard science and colorfully described hands-on adventures (a beachside whale dissection is particularly memorable), Mustill chronicles his incredible journey into the fascinating and profound world of animal communication. He interviews and observes people who are specialists in everything from whale song to bat chirps to interspecies sign language, as well as psychologists, computer scientists, historians, cryptographers, artificial intelligence experts and more.

Thanks to Mustill’s gift for storytelling, it’s as interesting to learn about these experts as the creatures they study. Reidenberg is a particular delight, as is Dr. Roger Payne, whose album of whale song recordings went multiplatinum in 1970. Through it all, there runs an undercurrent of appreciation and wonderment as Mustill gulps down knowledge and determinedly questions whether “decoding animal communications [is] no longer a fantasy but a technical problem.”

Wild (and thrilling!) as that may seem, Mustill’s findings offer hope that someday a book called How to Speak Whale might be more dictionary than discussion, more conversation than exploration.

In How to Speak Whale, Tom Mustill chronicles his incredible journey into the fascinating and profound world of animal communication.
Behind the Book by

I get excited by stupid animals. That is to say, animals that most people consider “stupid,” such as insects or chickens. Once, during a safari trip in South Africa, I shouted for the driver to stop the vehicle so I could get out to chase after a dung beetle. While the other tourists looked on with pity and confusion, I snapped a million pictures of the beetle with tears of joy in my eyes.

I’m simply fascinated by the lives of dung beetles. Or hermit crabs. Or chickens. I am fascinated with how they behave and what this means about the way they think. I am a cognitive scientist by trade, and my main study animal is the dolphin, perhaps one of the most intelligent nonhuman animals on the planet. And yet it’s the unintelligent ones that have truly captured my heart.

Read our starred review of ‘If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal’ by Justin Gregg.

Usually when a scientist studying animals writes a book meant to get the public excited about animal cognition, they focus on all the ways in which animals think and act like humans. I could have written about, for example, how New Caledonian crows are able to create complex tools out of twigs to help them fish insects out of a log. Then I could have framed this fact as “crows are able to make tools just like humans.” This idea of an animal doing something humanlike is inherently appealing. So the obvious approach would have been for me to write a book regaling readers with examples of complex humanlike (or crowlike) behavior in simple animals—such as how dung beetles use the Milky Way to navigate the African plains.

But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted people to get excited about dung beetles for their unintelligence, not their intelligence.

It wasn’t until I had a conversation with my editor, Pronoy Sarkar, that I finally figured out how to do this, and the idea for If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal took shape. It isn’t a book about animal intelligence, per se—or even about animal unintelligence. It’s really more about human stupidity. In it, I call into question the base assumption that human intelligence—our capacity for science and engineering that stems from cognition that is particularly sophisticated and unique to our species—is a good thing. Instead of trying to elevate “stupid” animals by showing how they can think intelligently, I show that thinking intelligently in a humanlike way might actually be a crappy biological solution. Evolutionarily speaking, human intelligence might actually be stupid.

“Evolutionarily speaking, human intelligence might actually be stupid.”

Looking at everything happening in the world today—the conflict in Ukraine and the threat of nuclear war, or the climate emergency, or the deepening political division in many Western democracies—I am honestly concerned about the future of our species. Plenty of pundits are predicting with alarming certainty that the human species is teetering on the brink of extinction—not because of any external forces, such as comets or plagues, but because we are extincting ourselves through carbon emissions and advanced forms of holocaust-inducing warfare. Through things that are, in other words, products of our complex, intelligent way of thinking.

This is precisely why I am asking people to reevaluate the goodness of human intelligence and consider that dung beetles and chickens might in fact be better designed for life on this planet than we are.

I didn’t write this book because I think humans are idiots. We are not. We are exceptional in many beautiful ways and a wonder of evolution when viewed from some angles. But from other angles, the human mind is dangerous—capable of both worrying about and bringing about its own extinction. I wrote If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal not to bash humans but to inspire people to widen their love of the animal kingdom. I want people to walk into their garden and marvel at the creatures in it precisely because they aren’t as smart as us.

“Dung beetles and chickens might in fact be better designed for life on this planet than we are.”

And yes, I also want people to understand that even the traditionally “stupid” animals aren’t actually stupid. Bees and wasps, for example, are far more cognitively complex than most people realize. They have consciousness, emotions and basic math skills. They can problem solve and use tools. They have individual personalities and can recognize faces. They have a lot of the cognitive skills that we used to believe belonged solely to Homo sapiens. But so what? It’s not necessarily a good thing to think like a human. In fact, the simplicity of how insects think makes them far more wondrous.

I really hope people take that lesson to heart and are kinder to the creatures around them. All creatures just want to live a pleasure-filled life for the brief moments that we exist on this planet. Fortunately, you don’t need intelligence to experience joy. And if there’s anything we need more of on this planet right now, it’s joy.

Cognitive scientist Justin Gregg extols the virtues of not-so-bright animals.

We may think we know what intelligence is. After all, human intelligence is what enables us to read intriguing nonfiction books such as If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal: What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity by animal behavior and cognition researcher Justin Gregg, who works with the Dolphin Communication Project at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. But as Gregg makes clear in his engaging third book, we might not know as much as we think about intelligence. In fact, we might be entirely wrong in our assumptions. It might be time to seriously question “human exceptionalism” and what it means for our species and our planet. To do that, Gregg sets out to answer the question “What good is human intelligence?”

Justin Gregg, author of ‘If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal,’ extols the virtues of stupid animals.

The author begins with a chapter about humans as “why specialists.” Anyone who has been in the presence of a toddler will recognize the “Why?” stage of development. While we may automatically assume that this ability to ask—and discover answers to—every question under the sun is uniformly positive, Gregg asks us to look at this human characteristic through a different lens: “I propose we consider a provocative premise: does asking why give us a biological advantage?” Gregg then takes readers on a time-travel expedition, from 240,000 years ago until today, to demonstrate why certain qualities associated with human intelligence have not, evolutionarily speaking, benefited either our species or the Earth. When humanity’s answers to “why questions” are wrong, Gregg explains, they lead to some truly terrible outcomes, including white supremacy and genocide.

Gregg takes readers on a wide-ranging, entertaining journey of discovery in If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal, challenging them to reexamine their assumptions about animals and humans. Along the way, he explores aspects of human experience (such as language use, morality, awareness of death and our capacity to wonder about virtually everything in the universe) and reveals ways in which nonhuman animals experience consciousness themselves. All together, If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal is a timely, thought-provoking and often sobering book that will make you look at humans, animals and the future of our planet with new eyes.

According to cognitive scientist Justin Gregg, we might be entirely wrong in our assumption that human intelligence is a good thing.

Readers may be most familiar with Ed Yong from his Pulitzer Prize-winning science writing for The Atlantic. His first book, the New York Times bestselling I Contain Multitudes, explored the world of microbes. In his new work of nonfiction, An Immense World, Yong tackles the realm of animal senses, taking readers on a fascinating journey backed up by impressive research.

Yong’s scope is far-reaching, and the issues and scientific concepts involved are sometimes complex. But much like a skilled mountain guide, he takes the time to prepare readers for what lies ahead. In the introduction, Yong not only identifies basic terms (such as stimuli, sense organs and sensory systems) but also provides guideposts for the journey ahead, challenging readers to use their imaginations in order to overcome the blind spots humans inevitably have when trying to understand sensory systems immensely different from our own. As Yong writes, “Our intuitions will be our biggest liabilities, and our imaginations will be our greatest assets.”

Subsequent chapters do indeed engage the imagination. Yong’s book is organized by different senses, some which are familiar—such as smell, taste and sound—and others much less familiar. In a chapter titled “The Rippling Ground: Surface Vibrations,” we learn about scientist Karen Warkentin’s groundbreaking discovery that embryonic tadpoles can hatch early if they sense a snake attack. Other such fascinating anecdotes abound throughout this book, and it’s safe to say readers will have a hard time not sharing newfound knowledge in daily conversation. For example, did you know that Philippine tarsiers emit sounds with frequencies above the ultrasonic boundary, or that 250 species of fish can produce their own electricity?

Yong brings to this project a supreme mastery of science writing for the general reader, so don’t be intimidated by the nearly 50-page bibliography. An Immense World is an accessible, illuminating and endlessly exciting reading experience. Yes, nonfiction about science can be page-turning!

While this title is perfect for adult nature lovers, the accessibility of Yong’s approach also makes this a wonderful gift for high school or college students interested in science. For at its heart, this treasure of a book is a sober reminder of what’s at stake in the 21st century—and today’s students will be tomorrow’s researchers and citizen scientists. “A better understanding of the senses can show us how we’re defiling the natural world,” Yong writes in his closing chapter. “It can also point to ways of saving it.”

An Immense World is an accessible, illuminating and exciting reading experience. Yes, nonfiction about the science of animal senses can be page-turning!
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★ Edible Plants

In Edible Plants, Jimmy W. Fike takes native North American plant specimens—such as dandelion, rocket, sassafras, spicebush and pawpaw—out of their natural surroundings and meticulously digitally photographs them against black backdrops. In each image, the stark contrast makes visible the magical potency and potential of these common living things, many of which are often dismissed as weeds. Fike colorizes the edible portions of each plant, while the inedible parts are kept a delicate, even eerie gray. These striking photographs seek to inform, similar to the horticultural photography and illustrations of eras past, perhaps making foragers of us all. But what’s more, they are painstakingly beautiful. This book would make an impressive gift for the naturalist in your life.

Cats & Books

How can we not give a shoutout to Cats & Books, a slim-and-trim, adorable celebration of felines sprawled amid TBR piles and perched on bookshelves? This is a hashtag-to-print project: The photos are crowdsourced from Instagram users worldwide who tagged their photos #CatsandBooks. Now compiled in print, short captions give glimpses of these kitties’ personalities. For example, George from Germany “is a gentle soul and the best office buddy one could ask for.” (Sweet George is shown with a paw flung possessively over a copy of Sally Rooney’s Normal People.) Any person who loves cats and also loves books obviously needs to own this small treasure.

Things You Can Do

Last night at dinner, my daughter complained about the absence of meat in her tacos, which led to a discussion of sustainable eating. She didn’t grasp the connection between a carnivorous diet and climate change, so I brought to the table Things You Can Do and read from Chapter 3, “A Climate-Friendly Diet.” I daresay I got through to her, and I imagine New York Times journalist Eduardo Garcia’s compact, well-sourced guide to fighting climate change and reducing waste will continue to help us play our small but mighty part. Grounded in science, this approachable book offers a 360-degree view of the causes and effects of a warming planet, from reliance on coal to the excesses of modern life, including the overuse of air conditioning, increased meat consumption, car culture and much more. I for one am glad to have this resource, rounded out by beautiful watercolor and gouache illustrations by Sara Boccaccini Meadows, at my fingertips for family meals and beyond.

The natural world and all of its delicate delights take center stage in this month’s roundup of the best and most beautiful lifestyles books.

You don’t need to know anything about the titular subject of Courtney Maum’s The Year of the Horses to appreciate this candid and engaging memoir of how rediscovering a long-abandoned passion helped lift her out of a crisis.

Four years after the birth of her daughter, Nina, novelist Maum found herself drowning in a whirlpool of insomnia-fueled depression, creative stasis and dissatisfaction in her marriage to Leo, a French filmmaker. “I am a blob,” she writes, “struggling through the hours with eyes that will not close.” In search of the relief that even medication and a wise-beyond-his-young-years therapist couldn’t provide, Maum turned to one of her childhood pursuits: horseback riding.

It had been 29 years since Maum abandoned riding lessons at age 9, but she never lost her love for these majestic creatures. Her first lesson as an adult—when “the heat of that beast underneath me, the breadth of his body and the pump of his great heart, had touched something primitive inside”—instantly rekindled her affection. That encounter eventually led her into the “weird sport” of polo, where she learned that putting aside the futile quest for mastery in favor of simply having fun was the path to finding joy.

Through flashbacks to her privileged childhood in Greenwich, Connecticut, Maum also explores some of the roots of her adult angst. Her parents divorced when she was 9, and her younger brother, Brendan, developed some rare and serious medical problems that added to the family’s stress. She traces how some of her more troublesome personality traits from that period—notably a perfectionism that eventually expressed itself as anorexia—continued to manifest in adulthood.

Maum emerged from finding her footing in the world of horses “clearer and braver regarding what I needed in my marriage,” simultaneously discovering a focus and patience that allowed her “to reconnect with the daughter I’d lost track of.” While Maum’s prescription isn’t for everyone, her story reveals how “what pulls us out of darkness can be surprising.” The Year of the Horses shows how the willingness to put aside fear and take on a new challenge in adulthood can unlock a happier life.

You don’t need to know anything about horses to appreciate Courtney Maum’s engaging memoir of rediscovering this long-abandoned passion at a moment of crisis.
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Gliding on prose as majestic as his subject, Pulitzer Prize-winning environmental historian Jack E. Davis conveys the breathtaking splendor of the most famous American bird in The Bald Eagle. This bird’s fierce magnificence elevated it to the status of a national symbol that has dominated American iconography from the founding of the Republic to the present.

As Davis points out in his rich cultural and natural history, no other avian species—indeed, no other animal—has “to the same extreme been the simultaneous object of reverence and recrimination.” Before Europeans colonized North America, somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 bald eagles flew and nested in the wild. In spite of the bald eagle’s appearance on the national seal in 1782, not every national leader embraced the eagle; Benjamin Franklin famously called the eagle “a bird of bad moral character who does not get his living honestly.” The bald eagle’s rapacious ways did not sit well with the ranchers and hunters who decimated the species’ population either. “With ornithologists and popular culture portraying eagles as inveterate kidnappers, the myth became a green light for ranchers and farmers to shoot and poison bald eagles in the name of predator control and economic security,” Davis writes. In the 1960s and 70s, the bald eagle population declined even further because of the widespread use of the chemical pesticide DDT.

However, Davis’ spellbinding story doesn’t end there. In the second half of the book, he points to individuals and organizations that have worked tirelessly to pull the bald eagle back from the brink of extinction and restore its numbers, which are now estimated to be as high as they were before European contact with America. Davis concludes with a stirring paean to the bald eagle’s resilience: “Living for itself rather than for humankind, it pursued the evolutionary will for self-preservation and set an example of what can be.”

The Bald Eagle swoops and soars in a dazzling display of writing, evoking the bald eagle’s majesty as it explores the eagle’s place in American history and legend, as well as its role in cultivating a robust environmental movement.

In this rich cultural and natural history, Jack E. Davis’ dazzling writing evokes the bald eagle’s majesty as he explores its place in American history.

Thumbing through a beautifully designed coffee-table book is a sure way to provoke a love of photography. Just in time for the holidays, here are three gorgeous photo books that are sure to please the art or nature lover on your list—and perhaps you can keep one for yourself, too.

Shop Cats of China

Cats have charmed and fascinated humans for millennia. From ancient Egypt to modern times, cats have been depicted in art, mummified in tombs and even immortalized by the popular social media account @bodegacatsofinstagram. In Shop Cats of China, Marcel Heijnen takes readers on a photographic tour of China’s many retail shops, the people who run them—and the furry loiterers who clearly know they’re the stars of the show.

Equal parts street photography, cat portraiture and whimsical poetry, Shop Cats of China is much more than cute pictures of cats. The street scenes in this book, sometimes languid and colorful, sometimes kinetic and full of city life, are lovingly punctuated with haiku and cat stories (written by Ian Row) that add a layer of sweetness and humor to each image. A man pours tea into cups while a relaxed white cat looks directly at the camera and wonders if he’s invited. Red seafood bins surround an orange cat who, ironically, doesn’t like seafood. A spotted cat sits atop a bicycle and waits for a friend. These scenes and others will delight and entertain anyone who is fascinated by the relationship between humans and their cats, while the surrounding textures and colors offer a slice of Chinese shop culture and street life.

Birds

Tim Flach is a world-class nature photographer with the heart of a painter. His new book, Birds, offers a unique and up-close view of his avant-garde wildlife photography. The glossy pages full of shockingly sharp images show many elegant and rare birds, from songbirds and parrots at rest, to raptors and birds of paradise in flight. Feathers look like landscapes, beaks glisten like gold and onyx, and the birds’ elegant postures make them all look like royalty. The bright colors are so beautiful that they seem almost unnatural, while the details look real enough that you could reach out and touch them. Full of personality and exquisite artistry, Birds will mesmerize nature lovers with its compassion and profound beauty.

Night on Earth

Though it’s normally hidden under the cover of darkness, the world can look magical at night, as photographer Art Wolfe reveals in his remarkable new book. One of the first images in Night on Earth is a stunning, almost overwhelming photograph of Mount Etna in Sicily, erupting purple ash. A perfectly round moon peeks out from behind the plumes of dangerous-looking dark smoke as pink, red and blue clouds dance around in the background of the night sky. It’s a compelling shot to start this dazzling collection, which is filled with impressive images.

To capture these cinematic nightscapes, Wolfe traveled to all seven continents and photographed starry skies, animals, humans, natural scenery and cities. The result is an assemblage of unusual sights that occur while most people are asleep—including black rhinoceroses rambling through Etosha National Park in Namibia, fishermen on stilts in Myanmar, late-night commuters in Tokyo, penguins ambling on the shores of an island in the Atlantic Ocean and an offering floating on the Ganges River in Varanasi, India. Organized into helpful chapters, such as “Stars and Shadows” and “The Creatures of the Night,” these 250 pages of vibrant color photographs will wow anyone who’s curious about the mysteries that unfold from dusk until dawn.

Find more 2021 gift recommendations from BookPage.

Thumbing through these beautifully designed coffee-table books is a sure way to inspire a love of photography.

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Carter Sickels’ The Prettiest Star imagines a difficult prodigal son homecoming. It’s 1986, and Brian Jackson has returned to his small southern Ohio hometown. Six years before, Brian left home for New York City, where he found friends, a measure of acceptance and love with his partner, Shawn. Now Brian is 24 and ill with late-stage AIDS. He’s also alone; Shawn has already died, isolated in a hospital ward. 

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