In each issue of Audubon, the editors review a mix of narrative nonfiction titles, as well as art books and children’s books about nature. For ease, we’ve compiled the fantastic works we reviewed in 2012 in one place, and we’ve added a few additional books we covered online.
By Thomas R. Dunlap
Oxford University Press, 256 pages, $34.95 (Buy it)
Thomas Dunlap traces the history of field guides from the days when the best birding technology was opera glasses to modern times. He makes clear in his new book that field guides and birding developed together, determining how each evolved over time. “In text and pictures [the guides] said what was important, told how to practice the craft, even what to call the birds,” Dunlap writes. “In the field they served, as much as binoculars, as a member’s badge and an introduction.”—Frank Graham Jr.
By Tim Birkhead
Walker & Company, 288 pages, $25 (Buy it)
Tim Birkhead’s new book is endlessly interesting. Nearly every page provides insights into how birds experience the world—from how they navigate to what they see to their long-unappreciated sense of smell—and reveals how much more we have to discover about these incredible creatures. A must-read for anyone who has ever wondered what it's like to be a bird.—Alisa Opar
By Derek Lovitch
Princeton University Press, 208 pages, $19.95 (Buy it)
By paying attention to, among other things, radar maps, enthusiasts can take what Lovitch calls the “whole bird and more” approach: looking beyond the individual animals, focusing instead on their surroundings. The former avian researcher assumes readers have a basic knowledge of birding terminology and at least minimal skill. His language is easy to digest, making confusing groups like sparrows seem manageable to ID. Becoming a better birder requires practice, but Lovitch provides the tools for those willing to put in the work to be the best they can be.—Michele Berger
By Thor Hanson
Basic Books, 352 pages, $15.99 (Buy it)
Beginning with the evolution of birds, Hanson, a biologist, explains competing theories with ease, and unfolds the human fascination with feathers in terms of science, commerce, tools, folklore, art, and aerodynamics with panache. Anecdotes infuse the fascinating survey.—Amber Williams
By Boria Sax