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The Essential Naturalist

Timeless Readings in Natural History

Like nearly every area of scholarly inquiry today, the biological sciences are broken into increasingly narrow fields and subfields, its practitioners divided into ecologists, evolutionary biologists, taxonomists, paleontologists, and much more. But all these splintered pieces have their origins in the larger field of natural history—and in this era where climate change and relentless population growth are irrevocably altering the world around us, perhaps it’s time to step back and take a new, fresh look at the larger picture.

The Essential Naturalist offers exactly that: a wide-ranging, eclectic collection of writings from more than eight centuries of observations of the natural world, from Leeuwenhoek to E. O. Wilson, from von Humboldt to Rachel Carson. Featuring commentaries by practicing scientists that offer personal accounts of the importance of the long tradition of natural history writing to their current research, the volume serves simultaneously as an overview of the field’s long history and as an inspirational starting point for new explorations, for trained scientists and amateur enthusiasts alike.

552 pages | 4 halftones, 18 line drawings, 39 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Biological Sciences: Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Natural History

History of Science


“This book includes eight centuries of observations in essays, such as the history of bees, birds, tigers, the Galapagos Islands, and a fascinating section on the relationship between ants and acacia trees. This is a book for a winter’s evening when the snow is high and you need reassurance that warmth exists somewhere. Or take it on a trip to exotic locales. Some of the articles are personal accounts by scientists. Other papers include overviews of the natural history field. The variety of contributors to this volume is stunning, including papers by Rachel Carson, Edward O. Wilson and Prince Albert of Monaco, among others.”

Adele Kleine | Current Books on Gardening & Botany

“[P]rovides an essential insight into the way keen observation helped to develop people’s vast knowledge of the living world. Highly recommended.”

D. Bardack | Choice

Table of Contents

From the Editors

A Foundation Built by Giants~~~Michael H. Graham

Inspiration~~~Robert T. Paine
The Great Horned Owl (1927)—Edward H. Forbush
Just Tigers (1944)—Jim Corbett
Looking Back (1944)—Jim Corbett
Forward to The salamanders of the Family Plethodontidae (1926)—Emmett R. Dunn
The Wisdom of Instinct (1918)—Jean Henri Fabre
The Wolf Spiders (1954)—John Crompton [pseudonym of John Battersby Crompton Lamburn]
Contour Diving (1934)—William Beebe
The Winter Journey (1930)—Apsley Cherry-Garrard
Wombats (1963)—Peter J. Nicholson
Journey to the Sea (1941)—Rachel L. Carson
Notes on the Natural History of Some Marine Animals (1938)—George E. MacGinitie

Exploration~~~Gage H. Dayton, Paul K. Dayton, and Harry W. Greene
Inaccessible Island and Nightingale Island (1879)—Henry N. Moseley
The Islands Galapagos (1697)—William Dampier
The Sea Otter and the Sea Cow (1741-1742)—Georg W. Steller
Chapters from the Life-Histories of Texas Reptiles and Amphibians (1926)—John Kern Strecker
Account of the Electrical Eels, and the Method of catching them in South America by means of Wild Horses (1820)—Alexander Von Humboldt
Comments on the Cephalopods Found in the Stomach of a Sperm Whale (1913/1914)—Prince Albert I of Monaco
On collecting at Cape Royds (1910)—James Murray
A Submarine Gully in Wembury Bay, South Devon (1934)—John A. Kitching, T. T. Macan, and H. Cary Gilson
A Briefe and True Report of the Newfoundland of Virginia (1588)—Thomas Hariot

Initiation~~~Nancy Knowlton
Home range and mobility of brush rabbits in California chaparral (1954)—Joseph H. Connell
Food recognition and predation on opistobranchs by Navanax inermis (1963)—Robert T. Paine
Variation and adaptation in the imported fire ant (1951)—Edward O. Wilson
Storm mortality in a Winter Starling roost (1939)—Eugene P. Odum and Frank A. Pitelka
The dispersal of insects to Spitsbergen (1925)—Charles S. Elton
A tenderfoot explorer in New Guinea (1932)—Ernst Mayr
On the occurrence of Trichocorixa kirkaldy (Corixidae, Hemiptera-Heteroptera) in salt water and its zoo-geo-graphical significance (1931)—G. Evelyn Hutchinson
Ecological compatibility of bird species on islands (1966)—Peter R. Grant
Bivalves: spatial and size-frequency distributions of two intertidal species (1968)—Jeremy B. C. Jackson

Intuition~~~Shahid Naeem
The Structure and Habits of Birds (1244-1250)—Frederick II of Hohenstaufen
Of the Spider (1800)—Antony van Leeuwenhoek
Observations Relating to the History of Bees (1758)—Jan Swammerdam
History of a mussel bed: Observations on a phase of faunal disequilibrium (1935)—Edouard Fischer-Piette
On a provisional hypothesis of saltatory evolution (1877)—William H. Dall
On the Natural History of the Aru Islands (1857)—Alfred Russel Wallace
Evolutionary criteria in Thallophytes: A radical alternative (1968)—Lynn Margulis
Observations and Experiments upon the Freshwater Polypus (1742)—Abraham Trembley
On the causes of zoning of brown seaweeds on the seashore (1909)—Sarah M. Baker
On the causes of zoning of brown seaweeds on the seashore. II. The effect of periodic exposure on the expulsion of gametes and on the germination of the oospore (1910)—Sarah M. Baker
The chalk grasslands of Hampshire-Sussex border: The effects of rabbits (1925)—Alfred G. Tansley and Robert S. Adamson
The biosphere and the noösphere (1945)—Vladimir J. Vernadsky

Unification~~~Peter R. Grant
The Natural History of Selborne (1813)—Gilbert White
Maupertuis, Pioneer of Genetics and Evolution (1959)—Bentley Glass
On the Various Contrivances by which Orchids are Fertilized by Insects (1862)—Charles Darwin
Lepidoptera: Heliconidae (1861)—Henry W. Bates
Vertebrata: Aves: Drepanidae (1903)—Robert C. L. Perkins
Geography and evolution in the pocket gopher (1927)—Joseph Grinnell
Coevolution of mutualism between ants and acacias in Central America (1966)—Daniel H. Janzen

List of Contributors

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