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20 of the best wildlife books and nature writing 2020 © Getty Images

20 of the best wildlife books and nature writing 2020

From books about zoology and our relationships with animals, to big and beautiful coffee table photography collections, these titles are perfect for the wildlife lover.

Whether you’re a birder or a budding zoologist, a dog-lover or deep-sea diver, we all share the same passion for the animal kingdom.

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Being in nature isn’t just an opportunity to spot wildlife, though. It’s actually good for our mental health, while one study showed that owning a dog can help improve cardiovascular outcomes, especially for heart attack and stroke survivors living alone.

We’ve put together this list of the best wildlife books and nature writing, but if you think we’ve forgotten any please do let us know over on the Science Focus book club Facebook group.

For more reading recommendations and free samples of new and popular books, sign up to our book club newsletter below.

Looking for Christmas gift ideas? Check out our list of the best science and tech gifts.

The best books about animals, wildlife and nature

30-Second Zoology

30-second-zoology

Edited by Mark Fellowes

£14.99, Ivy Press

The animal kingdom is a beautiful thing, but it is also broad and complex, so the study of zoology can be a daunting prospect for many. This beautifully illustrated book has been put together by University of Reading Professor of Ecology Mark Fellowes, and pulls out 50 of the most fundamental categories and concepts from the study of animals, explaining them in 300 words or fewer (hence ‘30-second zoology’).

As well as covering a diverse range of subjects, from how we came to understand evolution to the problems posed by habitat loss, the book also profiles some of the most important figures in the field.

A Life on Our Planet: My witness statement and a vision for the future

Book cover of A Life on Our Planet

David Attenborough

£20, Ebury

A message from Britain’s favourite naturalist and broadcaster on the Earth, climate change and our responsibilities to the environment.

A Life on Our Planet is my witness statement, and my vision for the future. It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake – and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right
Sir David Attenborough

Becoming Wild: How Animals Learn to be Animals

Cover of Becoming Wild

Carl Safina

£18.99, Oneworld

Throughout the animal kingdom, the genetic tapestry is overlain with more learned culture than humans have realised. But it’s subtle.

Becoming Wild shows that ‘natural’ doesn’t always come naturally. Many animals learn from elders almost everything; getting answers to questions of how to live where one lives; learning skills, dangers, group-identity, communication dialects, and survival traditions that define their existence.

The stories of sperm whales, macaws, and chimpanzees in Becoming Wild represent three major themes of culture: identity, the preference for beauty, and how social living creates tensions that culture must soothe. The species in these pages widen our appreciation of being alive in the world.

Bird Therapy

Cover of Bird Therapy

Joe Harkness

£9.99, Unbound

Joe Harkness reveals the research into the mental health benefits of observing nature in his book, alongside his own emotive, often witty, anecdotes.

Reading Bird Therapy is like gaining a new friend, one who trusts you with their deepest secrets and in return offers you advice and reassurance that no matter what difficulty you find yourself in, there is support and solace to be found in nature.

Entangled Life: How fungi make our worlds, change our minds, and shape our futures

Entangled Life high res

Merlin Sheldrake

£20.00, Bodley Head

The fungal kingdom is as broad and busy a category as that of animals or plants, but fungi are understudied and under-appreciated, says Merlin Sheldrake. He reveals the true extent of their impact on the history of Earth, and on human life, in a way that is easy and enjoyable to read.

With Merlin’s lyrical and poetic tone, Entangled Life has the allure of nature or travel writing, but his meticulous research into the latest in scientific understanding of fungi makes this is a must-read for popular science lovers, too.

Everything You Know About Animals Is Wrong

Cover of Everything You Know About Animals is Wrong

Matt Brown

£9.99, Batsford

‘Blind as a bat’; ‘bury your head in the sand’: some animal facts are so well-known that they’ve even made their way into our language. But ‘well-known’ is not the same as ‘true’. Bats aren’t blind at all, and ostriches don’t try to hide their enormous bodies by burying their heads.

Matt Brown takes on these misconceptions and more in Everything You Know About Animals Is Wrong, myth-busting all the common animal ‘facts’ we’ve heard so often since we were children that we just accept them to be true. Get ready to question everything you thought you knew.

Flights of Passage: An Illustrated Natural History of Bird Migration

flights-of-passage

Mike Unwin and David Tipling

£30, Yale University Press

Every year, millions of birds make incredible journeys across the planet, spanning continents and flying for months on end. We’re used to birds migrating over winter to head towards warmer climes, but we don’t often stop to think about how remarkable this really is. How does the arctic tern travel from its arctic breeding grounds to its summer home in the Antarctic? And how does the swift stay in the air for ten months at a time?

Writer Mike Unwin and wildlife photographer David Tipling explore this fascinating subject in Flight of Passage, looking into the science behind this bizarre behaviour, accompanied by photos of 67 different species.

Ocean

Cover of Ocean

Hélène Druvert and Emmanuelle Grundmann

£19.95, Thames & Hudson

Ocean explains the most fascinating facets of the sea, including waves, coral reefs and the food chain. With captivating fold-out infographics and stunning laser-cut illustrations, it’s a beautiful, interactive tome that’ll help both kids and adults appreciate our oceans.

Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life

Cover of Other Minds

Peter Godfrey-Smith

£9.99, William Collins

The octopus is essentially an alien species right here on Earth – a sentient being whose intelligence has evolved entirely independently from our own. Godfrey-Smith peers into the minds of these cephalopods, revealing what they can tell us about the nature of consciousness itself.

Remembering Wildlife series

Book covers for the Remembering Wildlife series

Wildlife Photographers United

The Remembering Wildlife series was set up by Margot Raggett after seeing a poached elephant in 2014 in Kenya. She then spent six months persuading the world’s best wildlife photographers to donate an image for a book, Remembering Elephants, to raise money to fight poaching.

Since then, books in the Remembering Wildlife series have donated £638,000 to 47 conservation projects in 23 countries. See some of their stunning wildlife photos in this article about the series.

The Animals Among Us: The New Science of Anthrozoology

Cover of The Animals Among Us

John Bradshaw

£9.99, Penguin

Why do we keep pets? Bradshaw argues that it goes beyond cuteness and companionship, and all the way back to an ancient connection in our shared past. Weaving together psychology and evolutionary science, the book will give pet owners a newfound appreciation for their furry friends.

The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy: What animals on Earth reveal about aliens and ourselves

zoologists-guide-cover

Dr Arik Kershenbaum

£18.99, Viking

Scientists are increasingly confident that there is life elsewhere in the Universe. But what would that life look like?

Taking the growing body of information about other planets, applying the laws of biology, principles of chemistry, and his knowledge of Earth’s history, Arik presents the possibilities for alien creatures with confidence.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey

Cover of Underland

Robert Macfarlane

£10.99, Penguin

Robert Macfarlane is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and a journalist writing for top news outlets on environmentalism and travel. All of his books are well worth a read, but this non-fiction book about deep time is a Sunday Times Bestseller, and truly original.

In Underland we journey beneath our feet to find out about Earth’s history. It’s both popular science, nature writing and a travel book, all rolled into one poetic, accessible package.

Vesper Flights

Cover of Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald

Helen Macdonald

£16.99, Jonathan Cape

The author of the deeply moving book H is for Hawk returns with Vesper Flights, a collection of essays about the relationship between humans and nature.

Regarded as one of this century’s greatest nature writers, Helen Macdonald takes simple moments – of nesting birds, wild boars emerging from the woods, foraging for mushrooms on an autumn day – and weaves them with history, personal reflection and political comment.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 30

Cover of The Wildlife Photographer of the Year Portfolio 30

Rosamund Kidman Cox

£25, The Natural History Museum

A gorgeous collection of images from the 2020 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Take a look at some of the incredible wildlife pictures from this year’s book.

Wonders: Spectacular Moments in Nature Photography

Cover of Wonders

Rhonda Rubinstein

£26, Chronicle Books

Wonders features the award-winning images from the BigPicture Natural World Photography competition.

Along with stunning photos, this science book explains the scientific phenomena and photography behind each shot.

The best books of all time

We reckon this is a fine selection of books about wildlife and nature, but if nothing here takes your fancy, take a look at a few more of our book recommendations:

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