Add These Bird and Environmental Books to Your Holiday Reading List

No matter what you’re in the mood for, these great reads from 2021 have you covered.  
A blurred person in the background holds an open book with a dark cover.
Photo: PeopleImages/iStock

Even the most outdoorsy of us can relish indoor time when the holidays roll around. While this year may have had its ups and downs, there was no shortage of excellent books—both fiction and non-fiction—about birds, nature, and the environment to curl up with. Here are a few of our favorites.

Book cover for A Most Remarkable Creature

I’m in the mood to be awed by birds. Becoming enthralled with another species can teach us lots about the world and ourselves. In A Most Remarkable Creature (Knopf, $30, 384 pages), indie rock musician Jonathan Meiburg’s debut book, the author’s decades-long fascination with Striated Caracaras finds him chasing the birds through remote areas of South America. The enigmatic and intelligent raptors, whose presence on the remote Falklands Islands mystified Charles Darwin in the 1830s, captivated Meiburg as a college graduate nearly two centuries later. His search to uncover the evolutionary mystery of caracaras is part traveloguepart natural history, and fully an ode to these resilient birds.  

Also try: The Hummingbirds’ Gift, by Sy Montgomery (Atria, $20, 96 pages), a true account of the author’s experience helping a friend to raise baby hummingbirds.  

Book cover for Under a White Sky

I’m in the mood to have hope for our futureReading about climate change doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. The thought-provoking premise of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Elizabeth Kolbert’s Under a White Sky (Crown, $28, 256 pages) acknowledges that humans have seriously interfered with Earth’s natural processes, but also delves into new technologies and methods of tinkering that can mitigate damage we’ve caused, whether by genetically altering destructive invasive species or shooting reflective particles into the stratosphere. The author’s in-depth reporting and curiosity about new innovations offers no prescription but is sure to get readers thinking. 

Also tryAll We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis (One World, $29, 448 pages), edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkienson, an anthology of essays, poetry, and art by women about the climate movement. 

Book cover for Bird Boy

I’m in the mood to bond with kiddos. If you’re ready to skip adult reading, try Bird Boy (Knopf, $18, 32 pages), by Matthew Burgess, which tells a familiar new-kid-at-school tale with an avian twist. Nico ignores whispering kids on the playground and spends his time watching the birds, instead. Soon, kids fondly nickname him “Bird Boy,” and Nico makes friends who are excited to discover the joy of birds, too. 

Also try: Fatima’s Great Outdoors (Kokila, $18, 40 pages), by Ambreen Tariq, a story about healing, identity, and belonging on a family camping trip; and We Are Water Protectors (Roaring Brook Press, $18, 40 pages), by Carole Lindstrom, the winner of the 2021 Caldecott Medal and a stirring call to defend precious resource. 

Book cover for Hummingbird Salamander

I’m in the mood to get lost in speculative futures. No ecological thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat like Hummingbird Salamander, the latest by sci-fi maestro Jeff VanderMeer. "Jane Smith," a security consultant living in a not-too-distant dystopian future, promises to show the reader "how the world ends." She follows a note that directs her to a taxidermied hummingbird that should be extinct, which turns out to be an invitation to action from a mysterious South American heiress (who may also be an ecoterrorist). Jane chases a trail of clues through a world shaken by ecological destruction, climate change, and a pandemic. 

Also try: Something New Under the Sun (Hogarth, $28, 368 pages), by Alexandra Kleeman, about a novelist who travels to Hollywood to save his career as drought-wracked California burns around him. 

This story originally ran in the Winter 2021 issue. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.