What to Read Next: Fresh Perspectives (Science & Nature Edition)
Issue #312, featuring Ed Yong, Susan Casey, and John Vaillant
Happy Friday, readers!
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, one of the great delights of reading is when it expands our horizons and makes us see the world with a totally fresh perspective. These three, all with a scientific bent, did just that. They’re all approachable, endlessly interesting, and often downright mind-blowing. The first two made my “Best of 2023” list and the third was the first book I finished here in ‘24.
Let’s get right to it.
An Immense World by Ed Yong
Published: 2022 | Pages: 355
Though they are rare, every once in a while I come across a non-fiction book containing such mind-blowing information that the way I see the world will never be the same. Sapiens comes to mind right away, as does The Sixth Extinction. Ed Yong’s An Immense World is a book to add to that list. After reading about how animals sense and perceive the world, I won’t ever look at our planet the same. Period.
With one jaw-dropping and awe-inducing anecdote after another, Yong tells readers about the various senses animals have and how they perceive the world around them. Let me tell ya, it goes way beyond the “big five” senses we know and love — chapters on echolocation, electroreception, and magnetoreception are utterly fascinating. And when it comes to the senses we do share with animals, they tend to look pretty different in other species.
I really appreciated that Yong didn’t have any ulterior motive besides sharing the wonder of the animal kingdom. Plenty of books in this vein are in the memoir category and seek to pass on life lessons. That’s not the case here — An Immense World is truly just about opening your eyes and expanding your worldview.
This was one of the easiest books to include in my 2023 favorites list; go grab your copy today and give it a read. Anyone and everyone will enjoy the delights found in An Immense World.
Fire Weather by John Vaillant
Published: 2023 | Pages: 359
I’ve mentioned Fire Weather in short snippets a couple of times in the last six months, but it’s so good and so impactful that it warrants a (slightly) fuller review.
Using the devastating 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire as the backdrop, Vaillant explores how our world has changed in the last few decades, such that uncontrollable and deadly conflagrations are happening more and more regularly. In short: our chaotic, changing climate means bigger and more intense fires than we’ve ever experienced or even imagined.
The depth and care that Vaillant gives the science and the story reminded me of Robert Macfarlane’s incredible Underland. There’s geological backstory, there’s in-depth but readable climate and environmental science, and there’s a gripping and emotional narrative — Fire Weather has everything I’m looking for in my non-fiction reads.
I’ve read a lot of fire-related books — something of an imperative when living in the western U.S. — and this is by far the best of the bunch. And although it wasn’t the focus of the book, I’ve never read a clearer explanation of carbon pollution. Fire Weather was another title that was incredibly easy to include in my 2023 favorites list. As with An Immense World, it gets my highest recommendation.
The Underworld by Susan Casey
Published: 2023 | Pages: 290
Space exploration gets plenty of attention these days, mainly because of the billionaire tech bros, but our planet’s underwater landscape is even more of an unknown than the heavens above. In The Underworld, author Susan Casey makes the case for exploring and getting to know our oceans — that massive blue backyard — instead.
She takes us on a whirlwind deep sea adventure through otherworldly landscapes, truly mystifying alien creatures, and her own obsession with the oceans — which turns into some amateur submersible diving as well.
With no narrative throughline, there are bits of history, climate science, marine biology, geology, exploration, and cartography. Each chapter felt like something new and fresh, which made for a good audio experience; it almost felt like a podcast series.
Though there isn’t anything in particular that stands out from The Underworld, it certainly gave me a greater appreciation for the mystery and majesty of our oceans. If you’re a fan of science-y, outdoorsy reads, it’s worth your time.
That’s all from me for this week. Thanks for reading — I deeply appreciate the time and inbox space.
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