May Theilgaard Watts Reading The Landscape Of America — Botanical observation and nature writing combined in a stylish book with charming illustrations, perhaps the best of its kind. A legend in Chicago and long associated with the Morton Arboretum, May Watts was a Julia Child of botany. Sometime in the sixties when my mother took her classes, she managed to drag me along, probably—to be honest—because she couldn’t find a babysitter that day. I was maybe 11 or 12—extremely turned off and reluctant to be there. So I was stunned when this large, imposing, handsome, almost bear-like older woman began speaking in a soft, gentle voice. She stilled the room with simple, almost magical stories about walking through the woods and meadows, taking everyone along with her. She studied with Jens Jensen, a god-like figure in landscape architecture, and possessed a strong sense of mission. Incredible lady. This book is easily available only in paper, but libraries have older hardbacks. She wrote a follow-up “Reading The Landscape of Europe”, which I’ve not read, but heard is also go
David Attenborough Life On Earth — Most of you probably own this, but if not, find it in an early edition. I bought it when it came out in the early 80′s, due to Attenborough’s TV charisma. A beautiful “legacy” book. He covers, literally, everything on the subject.
Gary Paul Nabhan Songbirds, Truffles And Wolves — One of the best books I’ve ever read on any subject, one of my favorite writers. He traces the walks of St. Francis through Italy, and much more. If you like Thoreau, you’ll love this.
Wade Davis Shadows In The Sun — Travel, philosophy and the sharp observations that have made him justly famous in one very lyrical book. My favorite of his. One River — Remarkable epic narrative of plant exploration up and down the Amazon. Also a moving reflection on the life of the river and the jungle. A big book, best read in hardcover.
Redcliffe Salaman The History And Social Influence Of The Potato — Definitive, detailed and very well written, this classic is the grandfather of the “nouvelle vague” horticulture books (Corn, Botany Of Desire, etc.). A British scientist from the 40s and 50s, Salaman writes so well, he makes you wonder why you bother with ordinary books. (Many scientists have this gift—Erwin Chargaff (‘Heraclitean Fire’) is a fine example; Richard Feyman and Brian Greene also come to mind.) You will never look at a potato the same way again.
Art and History Related:
William Weaver A Legacy Of Excellence: The Story Of The Villa I Tatti — The exquisitely written story of the renaissance scholar Bernard Berenson’s gem of an estate in Tuscany. Impeccably researched and beautifully illustrated. Great garden too.