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Essential Reading List

Great books to read, keep on your shelf, or pass on to a friend.  Not in any particular order.  I’ll be adding to this page periodically. Not necessarily in any order.

1.  Rewilding the World.  Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution by Caroline Fraser.  Picador Press 2009. This is a fantastic book on the the movement worldwide to save over  1/3 of the animals and plants from disappearing forever from our planet.  Fraser visits Peace Parks, wildlife corridors, and Conservancies around the world, describing successes and failures and the hard work and hopes of wildlife restorations.

2.  Botany in a Day.  Their Patterns Method of Plant Identification. by Thomas J. Elpel.  Hops Press 2008.  Not exactly a day, but this book gives you a basic understanding of patterns in the basic plant families for quicker identification.

3. Mammal Tracks & Sign.  A Guide to North American Species by Mark Elbroch. Stackpole Books 2003.  I find this thick book one of the best tracking references around. Color pictures.  Not just tracks, but also scat, urine, beds, feeding and other signs.

4.  Animal Skulls A guide to North American Species by Mark Elbroch.  Another definitive book by Elbroch.  We have this one in our reference shelf with just a very few others in the BBHC laboratory.

5. Heads, Hides & Horns  The Compleat Buffalo Book by Larry Barsness.  TCU Press 1985.  This book really turned my head around as to the extent of the herds of Bison in North America.  A fantastic book tracing their history, impact, Native American uses, and finale demise.

6.  Plenty-Coups  Chief of the Crows. by Frank B. Linderman.  Bison Books reprint 2002, originally published in 1930.  Wow, I love this book.  Frank Linderman was a friend of the Crows who took the time to interview Plenty-Coups (the chief spoke in Crow and sign language through a translator to Linderman) as well as a medicine woman named Pretty Shield, another book.  Plenty Coups was born in the 1840’s and was their last chief.  He grew up in the traditional ways and lead his people onto the reservation.  His is a fascinating story and a glimpse of the old ways.  Starting at page 31, when Plenty Coups was 9 years old, he describes his vision quest which blew my socks off because it was a prediction of all that was to come throughout his entire lifetime.  A must read.

7. Wolfer.  A Memoir by Carter Niemeyer.  Bottlefly Press 2010.  Get the real scoop on wolves, Wildlife Services, and wolf reintroduction from someone who spent his life working for Animal Damage Control and then helping with the wolf reintroduction from the beginning.  I couldn’t put this book down from cover to cover.  Carter went from just being a trapper of wolves to being their best advocate.

8. Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains by George C. Frison.  Academic Press 1991.  This is the definitive work by the premier plains archaeologist.  Its an academic read taking you back over 10,000 years in the Wyoming and Montana area, highlighting the most fruitful digs.  It will give you a good feeling for the long history of indigenous peoples in this area.

9. Hiking with Grizzlies  Lessons Learned by Tim Rubbert.  Riverbend Publishing. If you read only one book about hiking in grizzly backcountry, this is it.  Rubbert describes dozens of actual personal grizzly encounters and how he handled each situation.  Rubbert is a grizzly aficionado and lives near Glacier National Park, where he travels into country to observe grizzlies.

10. Sacred Cows at the Public Trough by Nancy Ferguson.  Maverick Publishing 1983.  Although some of the data is old, this book will give you a vivid picture of why we need cattle off our public lands.  Public grazing history, overgrazing, subsidies, stream pollution, predator control–all angles are covered in this book.

11. Movies  A few movies I enjoy.  Dersu Uzala; Skinwalkers; Little Big Man; American Mystery! Coyote Waits; A Thief of Time; The Only Good Indian; Walkabout; Thunderheart; The Bear and Two Brothers by Jean-Jacques Annaud; Lassie: Flight of the Cougar; Explore the Wildlife Kingdom-Cougar

12. The Abstract Wild by Jack Turner. University of Arizona 1996. An essential read; a passionate cry for the preservation of real wildness.

13. Advanced Bird Language.  Reading the Concentric Rings of Nature by Jon Young.  Eight Audio CD set available at http://www.WildernessAwareness.org.  I also recommend the beginning basic 8 audio set ‘Seeing Through Native Eyes’.  Advanced Bird Language has nothing to do with knowing your birds but everything to do with actually listening and understanding their language for tracking purposes.  Jon explains that birds, like all animals, have a ‘baseline’ where they are not threatened.  If you know that baseline that is common for all perching birds, then you can tell when they are in heightened states of sensitivity, ranging from moderate to downright fearful, like when a hawk or cat or weasel is in the neighborhood. This tape series implies practice, not just a listen through.  Jon is a fabulous tracking teacher combining not just scats and tracks, but how to interpret animal movements and interaction through sign in the landscape.

14. The Light in High Places by Joe Hutto. Skyhorse Publishing 2009.  Hutto is a great writer.  His prose is elegant, flush with feeling and a love for Wyoming and the Wind River Mountains.  Hutto is a biologist who works with John Mionczynski (a Wyoming legend) studying the Whiskey Mountain Big Horn Sheep of the Wind Rivers.  He has spent several summers living in a tent on Middle Mountain (around 12,000’+), alone, painstakingly measuring the pH of rainfall, getting to know the ewes and rams by sight, watching sickly lambs not make it through the summer.  Why are the sheep having such a hard time?  You’ll be very surprised at his answers.  An incredible and beautiful read, I hated for the book to end.

15. Restoring a Presence.  American Indians and Yellowstone National Park by Peter Nabokov and Lawrence Loendorf.  U of Oklahoma Press. 2004.  Ancient Visions. Petroglyphs and Pictographs of the Wind River and Bighorn Country, Wyoming and Montana by Julie E. Francis and Lawrence L. Loendorf. U of Utah Press. 2002.  Mountain Spirit.  The Sheep Eater Indians of Yellowstone by Lawrence L. Loendorf & Nancy Medaris Stone.  U of Utah Press 2006.  These three books, each co-authored by Larry Loendorf, will provide an excellent overview of the original inhabitants of the Yellowstone area and surrounds.  I refer to them often.

16.  NEW!  Behavior of North American Mammals by Mark Elbroch and Kurt Rinehart. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2011.  You can’t go wrong with any of Elbroch’s books.  This new one, in hardcover only, goes beyond tracks and signs to give you the latest info and insight into our mammals on this continent.

17. Yellowstone Bears in the Wild by James C. Halfpenny. Riverbend Publishing. 2007.  Halfpenny is a premier tracker, world famous, who resides in Gardiner, MT.  This book has not only beautiful photos, but is very informative relative to Bear biology, plus some great sidebar stories.  Highly recommended if you want to really dig into bears!

18. Buffalo for the Broken Heart.  Restoring life to a Black Hills Ranch by Dan O’Brien.  Random House. 2002. Well-written, compelling story of how O’Brien went into deep debt to pursue his passions–restoring bison to the prairie.  Ten years later his ranch now sells unadulterated bison worldwide via the internet at http://www.wildideabuffalo.com.  A wonderful and true story for all those who would restore the prairie and love wild bison.

19. Shadow Mountain.  A Memoir of Wolves, a Woman and the Wild by Renee Askins. Anchor Books. 2002. Askins was one of the driving forces behind the wolf reintroduction.  Founder of The Wolf Fund, Askins autobiography traces how her passions began as a promise to a captive wolf she raised from a pup.  Her story is personal, engaging and very finely written.  You’ll love it from beginning to end.

20. People of the Nightland and many other People books by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear. A Tom Doherty Assoc. Book. Various dates.  Gear and his wife Kathleen are both archaeologists who now run a buffalo ranch near the Owl Creek Mountains.  They are prolific writers, cranking out several books a year, each one 400 pages plus.  Their writing is decent (not great), sometimes plodding and the novels would all be better to be half their size, yet they are all interesting for what they intend to do: make history, Indian history, come alive.  The Gears write fiction centered around historical archaeology dating back 10,000 years to the coming of de Soto.  These novels help to fill out imaginatively the rich and largely ignored history of North America, including from great civilizations such as the Mound builders, to the Indians of the high Plains that struggled during the thousands of years of the Archaic era drought.  Well worth reading them all.

21. Eating Stone:  Imagination and the Loss of the Wild by Ellen Meloy.  Vintage Books 2006.  Naturalist and scientist Ellen Meloy follows a Bighorn Sheep herd for a year outside her home of Bluff.  Her writings and sensibility place her amongst some of the top nature writers of our time.  Poetic prose with science thrown in–really about our loss of connection to wild places and wild things.  Meloy died too early in her sleep not long after finishing this book.

22. The Grizzly Bear:  The Narrative of a Hunter-Naturalist by William Wright. University of Nebraska Press 1977.  Brought back into print by Frank Craighead from its original 1909 edition, Craighead said this is the best book ever written on the great bear.  I agree.  What more can I say.

23. Track of the Grizzly by Frank C. Craighead Jr.  Sierra Club Books 1979.  If you read one book on Grizzly bears, by all means don’t have it be one about attacks!  THIS is the one book to read.  You will learn more about bears by reading this thrilling story of how the Craighead brothers were the first scientists to intensely study grizzly bears.  The Craigheads pioneered radio collars and did the pioneer studies on these bears in Yellowstone.  They helped be responsible for the Park policy of getting rid of feeding the bears and locking garbage up.  The book is an easy read for us laypersons and a true story of how the Craighead’s research helped save the Great Bear.

24. Dawn Land by Joseph Bruchac.  Fulcrum Publishing 1995.  Bruchac is a native american writer who has published profusely.  This wonderful novel draws on the oral traditions of the Western Abenaki, the Haudenosaunee, and other native nations of the northeastern woodlands. It takes place sometime after the last glaciation in North America. 

25. Carcajou by Rutherford G. Montgomery.  Rutherford Montgomery published this novel about a wolverine in 1936, but it’s still a real gem. Most of Montgomery’s book are for young adults, but I still love them. Montgomery spent his life studying wildlife and these books are chock full of his insightful observations.

26. Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness  by Doug Peacock.  Henry Holt & Co.  1990.  Peacock served as a medic in Vietnam, then healed himself through spending summers mostly alone in the 1970s and 1980s in the wilderness of the West observing grizzlies.  He became an expert on grizzly bears.  This book chronicles much of that time spent in Yellowstone and Glacier.  A classic.

27.  Lily Pond: Four Years with a Family of Beavers  by Hope Ryden.  William Morrow and Co. 1989.  Along with Ryden’s other well-known book God’s Dog, these books are a real gem.  Ryden is a writer/naturalist whose body of work involves spending years observing an animal family unit.  In Lily Pond Ryden finds a beaver family who she studies almost every day.  The beavers come to accept her presence an she is able to observe them going about their natural business.  In God’s Dog, because coyotes are so maligned Ryden needed to find a family group that wasn’t subject to traps and guns.  She headed off to the National Elk Refuge outside of Jackson, drove a lonely dirt road until she encountered a den site.  Then she observed these coyotes for several years.  Both of these books are written in an informal, non-scientific language–relying more on her own observations and the questions that produces.  Ryden goes back to the literature to verify and find support for her observations, so she does reference the science.  But these books are the wonderful work of a serious and very patient lover of the natural world.  Really, Ryden is doing the solid work of old school field work.  Highly recommend both books.

28. A Story Like the Wind and A Far-Off Place Place by Laurens van der Post. These two novels read as one long story about a white boy and his dog Hinza growing up in the area that is now Botswana. Laurens van derPost grew up in South Africa and led a most amazing life as a WWII hero, a high official in the British government, a 30 year close friendship with Carl Jung, and prolific story-teller. His BBC 3-part series on the Bushmen of Africa was one of the top viewed TV shows of all time on BBC.  These two books are a jewel. Although they are about Africa, they are really about aboriginal life and what life should be like if one honors and respects the earth and all its inhabitants.  Heavily fused with mysticism and the spirituality that is inherent in native peoples, as well as the influence of Jung. A must-read and a classic for all ages.

29. Kazan, The Wolf Dog by James Oliver Curwood 1914. I’ve just discovered Curwood, a prolific writer, conservationist and naturalist in the early 1900s. He wrote dozens of novels and was wildly popular. Kazan is a wonderful book in the style of Jack London. Kazan, a wolf-dog, mates with a wolf in Alaska. The book chronicles their adventures. His books inspired many movies, including his 1916 novel The Grizzly King, which Jean-Jacques Annaud used to make his 1988 movie The Bear.

30. The Voice of the Coyote by J. Frank Dobie. This is the first book of Dobie’s I’ve read, published in 1947. But don’t be fooled by the ancient date. Dobie was an astute naturalist, writer, and student of folklore who lived in Texas. He is known for his many books depicting the wide open range of Texas and Northern Mexico. This book weaves tales and stories of coyotes from many sources, dating back to the 19th century, many personally reported to Dobie. I loved hearing stories that began ‘From the last century…’ The tales give the reader a vivid picture of what America (and the Mexican northern desert) were like before rampant development. Dobie decries the white man’s habit of killing everything, including coyotes, that moves. His descriptions of all the wonderful ‘smarts’ of coyotes bring this animal to life. What became obvious was how people who lived their lives in the outdoors, and spent time observing wildlife instead of killing them, understood their nature and complexity. Some of the knowledge reported here wasn’t even confirmed by scientists until the later part of the 20th century. This is one book you’ll want to keep in your permanent library!

31. The Ghost Walker by R.D Lawrence. 1983. Lawrence had a full and amazing life as a naturalist living in Canada. Originally from England (he was born on a ship returning from South Africa to England in 1921), he had numerous war adventures fighting in the Spanish Civil and World War II, injured several times, till he immigrated to Ontario, Canada. He studied wolves, journeyed with sled dogs to British Columbia for 14 months, as well as raised wolf pups, and ran a wildlife rehabilitation center. Lawrence was a prolific writer about his adventures. In The Ghost Walker  Lawrence sets out to ‘know’ pumas. He journeys into the B.C. Selkirks wilderness for three seasons-fall through Spring. He canoes all his supplies, builds a small cabin, and sets out on his adventures. Easy and fascinating real life read from just 50 years ago.

7 Responses

  1. You put me to shame, all I am reading is a bunch of mystery/crime novels, and rereading Chuck’s book on Red-tailed hawks.


    • Chuck has a book? I want to read that too. These are so far the best of what I’ve read non-fiction that have helped me gain some insight and knowledge. This is my ‘A’ list so to speak.


  2. If you want to borrow my Golden Eagle and Red-tailed hawk books that Chuck wrote, let me know….I know that you will treat them with the greatest respect, and, well Koda, won’t have them for a snack…..I especially love the Golden Eagle book, which is hardbound with little personal memoirs that Chuck has added at the beginning of each chapter.

    My review of the book on amazon:

    Golden Eagle: Sovereign of the Skies is more than a non-fiction information book on golden eagles; it is also a work of art. From the first sentence of the book’s prologue, Dr. Preston’s descriptive way of writing captivated my interest. Describing a co-worker as having an “elfish grin”, or the sky behind him as taking on the “glow akin to a distant, raging wildfire,” added a special touch that painted images and sounds in my mind. Dr. Preston begins each chapter with an experience from his past, allowing the reader a small glimpse into who he is, and why he became the person he is today. These create a more personal feeling to the book that one does not usually receive when reading this type of nonfiction book. This is a wonderful, entertaining way to setup the background for the subject to be covered in each chapter. Along with information about the bird’s origin, hunting methods, prey, reproduction, and winter habits, the last two chapters also cover two other interesting, and important aspects of the subject. These last chapters discuss the cultural influences the golden eagle has had on humanity, and the dangers our ever-expanding society has on the survival of the eagle. Gary Leppart’s beautiful photographs further enhance the book. I highly recommend this book to any bird lover, even if you have some knowledge about golden eagles.


  3. This is so cool. I didn’t know you had a site!


  4. Hi, I see no “contact” link on this website so I’ll try here. Leslie, all sounds very interesting. Any plans to do a book talk/signing/ in San Diego? 🙂
    Thanks, Rick


    • Hi Rick, I’d love to do one there. My book is just out and slowly the author events will be set up. If you have suggestions for where in San Diego, email me directly through my ecoscapes.net website. Thanks


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