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Book Review: The Nature Handbook

Book Review

Book Review

The Nature Handbook by Ernest H. Williams, Jr. (Oxford University Press, 2005)


This is one of the best nature books I've come across. It's great to have around any time you plan to spend time in nature with your kids. You'll find the book answers questions about all sorts of common things you see on the trail. It could easily be subtitled, "What that cool thing on the trail was, where it came from, and what it meant."

WIth chapters on plants, trees, various types of animals and habitats, it's broad enough to cover a wide variety of nature phenomena. And the particular phenomena Williams has chosen tend to be the ones you'd actually see. I had the book along on a recent trip, and was amazed how many times I looked to the book for explanation and found a photo of exactly what I'd seen. So if you're wondering why some trees have big bumps on them, or what the curvy lines carved into the side of a tree mean, this book has the answers.

The explanations are compact and very scientifically detailed for a consumer book. The chapter on parasitic plants, for example, shows photos of typical species and explains how parasitic plants survive without chlorophyl (by running a tap root into the root system of another plant and steeling its sugars).

The vocabulary in the book can be quite technical, but because the terms are used in context it's usually possible to understand. For example, in the parasitic plants section, "Some plants, such as Indian paintbrushes, may be faculative hemiparisites (Fit 3.10a); they are green and photosynthesize but benefit from tapping into the roots of nearby host plants."

The whole book is fascinating and an excellent introduction to the workings of the natural world.


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