I've 'bigged up' quite a few of these books before, but they are all worthy of your consideration, especially if you are going to have a book token or two to spend after Christmas...
The Old Boys
Regular visitors to this blog will know that HG Alexander's Seventy Years of Birdwatching has the accolade of being the most influential book in my life. I read it in 1974 and I have most probably read it 20 - no, 30 times since. He helped me form my birding template, simple as that. When I take the book off of the shelf I handle it as if it were a precious relic. I did not read F Fraser Darling's Island Years until very recently. I was given a copy by a grand lady who was in her 90s and thought that it would speak to me. It did. They are the memoirs of a man, his wife and young son as they try and forge a life on an uninhabited Scottish west coast island in the pursuit of seals and birds.
To See Every Bird on Earth by Dan Koeppel is written by a son in search of his Father, who was a very high world lister. The birding journey is just one part of this bitter-sweet read. The Big Year by Mark Obmascik was a revelation to me. I purchased it without any expectation when it was first published and it is a book that I always pick up for a comforting read. A cleverly woven true story of three men's attempts to get the biggest US year list, not only fighting each other along the way but illness, finances and plain luck. The Running Sky by Tim Dee is a beautifully written collection of 12 essays, one for each month from the authors birding experiences. If you have lost your birding mojo, get hold of a copy and be healed. Horatio Clare's A Single Swallow is many things - part travelogue, part species study, part confessional. You get so much more than the back cover précis suggests. I have given Chris Gooddie's book on seeing all of the world's pittas - The Jewel Hunter - the title of not just one of my favourite natural history books, but one of my favourite books on any subject, ever. It really is that good. It brings back many happy memories of my own pitta hunts in Malaysia. Crow Country by Mark Cocker takes you on a corvid odyssey where observations have rarely been so sensitively written.
Dave Goulson's A Sting in the Tale manages to entertain and inform in equal measure. If you know little about bees you owe it to yourself to get a copy and be amazed as the life of these disappearing insects is expained with obvious passion. The Butterfly Years by Patrick Barkham follows the authors quest to see as many species in the UK in a calendar year. His efforts cost him his girlfriend... Richard Mabey's first appearance is for Weeds, a bigging up of plants which have decided to grow where they're not supposed to. I have a great liking for them myself.
The human condition
Nature Cure (Richard Mabey), Blood Knots (Luke Jennings), Fire Season (Philip Connors) and Waterlog (Roger Deakin) are all superbly written accounts of the authors immersion into the natural world and the mental balm that comes from cosying up with nature. They deal with depression, fishing, fire wardening and swimming in surprising and rewarding ways. Read any one of them and you will change the way you think about our natural world.
In my book (no pun intended), the King of the travelling author-naturalist is Redmond O'Hanlon. His three books, Into the Heart of Borneo, In Trouble Again and Congo Journey, take the reader with him all the way - you will feel the discomfort, fear, sweat and joy of each and every journey. The latter book is a masterpiece.
Odds 'n' sods
The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane is simply one of the best books that I have had the pleasure of reading. He travels (mostly by foot) along ancient byways, seeing and experiencing far more than a view and the weather. Spiritual. George Monbiot's Feral will make you think and then think a bit more. Is he right to suggest rewilding our barren uplands? Can we have wolves, bears and lynx wandering the Brecon Beacons? His arguments are persuasive. On the surface, a book about the early palaeontologists might seem a bit dry - but not when it is Deborah Cadbury's excellent The Dinosaur Hunters. Political shenanigans, religious turmoil and obsession like you've never seen before!