Books always make great holiday gifts, especially for those who have everything. Here are a few recent titles I recommend.
On heels of "Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America" (2008) and "Fur, Fortune and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America" (2011), Eric Jay Dolin has staked a claim at the intersection of natural and human history. "When America First Met China: an Exotic History of Tea, Drugs and Money in the Age of Sail" (Norton, 2012) is the story of how trade began between America and China. From silk spun by caterpillars to luxurious sea otter fur, the roots of this tale began in 1784.
• "American Canopy: Trees, Forests and the Making of a Nation" (Schribner, 2012) by Eric Rutkow is another compelling tale of how American history intertwined with nature. Most of us take trees for granted, but without them this country would not exist. Trees are the backbone of America. Both historians and nature lovers will find "American Canopy" a fascinating read.
• "Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds" (Crown, 2012) by Jim Sterba delves into the dark side of wildlife conservation successes. For hundreds of years, North America's wildlife resources were plundered by explorers, traders and settlers. Today, populations of alligators, beavers, deer and many other wildlife populations have roared back, and complaints about wildlife damage are now all too common. Sterba explains why too many of anything is rarely good.
• "Peril in the Ponds: Deformed Frogs, Politics and a Biologist's Quest" (U. Mass. Press, 2012) by Judy Helgen tells the story of mysterious deformities that began plaguing frogs and making headlines in the 1990s. As a biologist for the state of Minnesota, Helgen watched this problem emerge and helped define it for the public.
• The title of "Kaufman Field Guide to the Nature of New England" (Houghton Mifflin, 2012) by Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman is misleading. It is not strictly a regional field guide. Superbly illustrated with more than 2,000 color photographs, this guide covers everything from geology, weather and the night sky to wildflowers, trees, insects and the five groups of vertebrates. All but the coastal topics will prove useful in Western Pennsylvania.
• Finally, the "Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Pennsylvania" (Penn State U. Press, 2012), edited by Andrew Wilson, Daniel Brauning and Robert Mulvihill, updates the status of Pennsylvania's breeding birds. At 616 pages, it is a monumental achievement. More than 2,000 birders surveyed the state's 190 breeding birds from 2004 to 2009. The result is a serious reference for birders and ornithologists. Casual birdwatchers will covet this book when their interest in birds reaches beyond the backyard.
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 AM WVLY (Wheeling) and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 AM WMNY (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com and at 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.