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For Carl Safina, books about animals and the natural world

Carl Safina is an ecologist and author of books and other writings about the human relationship with the natural world.Patricia Paladines

Carl Safina’s “Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace” explores how sperm whales, scarlet macaws, and chimpanzees share knowledge. The author of 10 books teaches at Stony Brook University, hosted the PBS series “Saving the Ocean with Carl Safina,” and is the founding president of the nonprofit Safina Center, which is devoted to conservation. He lives on Long Island, where a pair of screech owls have hatched chicks in his backyard.

BOOKS: What are you reading?

SAFINA: Elizabeth Kolbert’s book, “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future,” and “A Most Remarkable Creature” by Jonathan Meiburg, which is about a bird called a caracara. It’s a wonderful book with a lot about the natural history of South America, evolution, and plate tectonics. I’m also looking at a book that came yesterday, “Earth’s Wild Music,” by Kathleen Dean Moore, and I just got the 600-page “The Warbler Guide,” by Tom Stephenson, because we are going birding in Cape May.

BOOKS: How would you describe your taste as a reader?


SAFINA: I’m mostly interested in ecology and animals, and am forced to be interested in conservation because we are creating enormous problems for animals and for us with the extinction crisis, the climate crisis, and the toxic crisis. Also the population crisis.

BOOKS: What were the first books about animals that you read?

SAFINA: “The Camel Who Took a Walk,” by Jack Tworkov, which I took out of the library many times, and “The Incredible Journey,” by Sheila Burnford, which is about two dogs and a cat that end up 100 miles from home and find their way back. There was a book by Sterling North called “Rascal,” which is about him raising a raccoon. I loved that. I reread it recently to see how he approached the idea of having a wild animal and really enjoyed it.


BOOKS: Do you read about subjects other than nature and animals?

SAFINA: I like to read about Native Americans, such as “Empire of the Summer Moon” by S.C. Gwynne, which is about Red Cloud and the Comanches in Texas. I’m also rereading “Black Elk Speaks,” which is a series of interviews with the Sioux medicine man that were transcribed by the poet John G. Neihardt. Black Elk lived through all the big battles between the US and Sioux.

BOOKS: Have any books been especially influential for you?

SAFINA: John McPhee’s books first made me think I’d like to do something like the work I do. Peter Matthiessen was a hero for me. I loved Edward Abbey’s writing but he’s become a hard guy to talk about. He was a flat-out racist. But he was a real spiritual leader to me when I was young. He made you want to charge out and protect the parks.

BOOKS: Do you take books on your far-flung research trips?

SAFINA: It’s not very conducive for reading but on the last trip I did for “Becoming Wild,” when I was with the chimp researchers in Uganda, I brought a couple of books about consciousness. One was by Daniel Dennett, a philosopher whose writing and ideas I didn’t like, but he’s very famous. Another was Peter Godfrey-Smith’s “Other Minds” about octopi and the evolution of cognition. That’s a great book. He’s a rare philosopher whose ideas are based on data and information instead of lines of logics.


BOOKS: How many animal guides do you own?

SAFINA: I own so many guides it’s ridiculous. I acquired a lot of them when I was a student and then, pre-Internet, if I was going anywhere I’d get the bird and mammal guides of that place. Even if I just wanted to go to a place I would buy the guides to the animals and flora there. I’ve kept all of them. These are like little talismans.

BOOKS: What’s the guide you use the most?

SAFINA: Probably the first bird field guide I bought, “The Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America.” I just recently picked it up. Something about the illustrations, especially the one of the ruby crowned kinglet, brought back an emotional charge, like a scent reminding you of the past. I got all that just from looking at one illustration.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane” and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com.