Reference Shelf

“Et docere et rerum exquirere causas”

I’m an unrepentant amateur natural philosopher and thus am a big fan of reference books. I love online research, too, but I have a special place in my heart for well-thumbed field guides and other back-pack-sized treasures. I created this page to post a list of the books on our reference shelf, as well as a few that I intend to obtain sooner or later. Some of these aren’t necessarily reference books per se, but could perhaps be considered proto-field guides: books that prompt one to go outside and start nosing around.

It should go without saying, but this is a list-in-progress.

  • The Nature of Light and Color in the Open Air, by Marcel Minnaert. Everything you wanted to know about visual phenomena involving the sun, shadows, atmosphere, and everything else. Learn why water reflects a certain way, the origins of sundogs, moon rings, mirages, fata morgana and more. You can get the Dover edition for cheap, but it was also just reissued by Springer-Verlag with color plates and such. Considered by many to be the classic treatment on the subject. Very approachable, and written for curious laymen. It has a thumbs up from Edward Tufte, and that ought to be enough for anyone.
  • The Sea Beach at Ebb Tide, by Augusta Arnold. A field guide to, well, everything you’re likely to find on the beach at low tide: seaweeds, shells, marine invertebrates, and so on. Published in 1906, so it’s chock full of those beautiful line-drawing illustrations of the time. We’ve used it to identify shells and whatnot. I bought it in at the Camden Aquarium years ago.
  • A Field Guide to Eastern Trees (Peterson). I’d like something a little more specific to our area, but this will do for now.
  • Field Guide to Eastern Birds (Peterson). This actually resides in the cupboard with the coffee cups and such, since it’s closest to the window that looks out onto the feeders.
  • The Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Don’t let the size fool you – I think I got this in the bargain shelf of the local mall bookstore for a pretty steep discount.
  • The Handy Weather Answer Book. Indespensible for households with children. Hurricane? Typhoon? Cyclone? Willy-willy? The answers are here.
  • The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History and Culture of Clouds by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.
  • Audubon Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. Another book I’d like to supplement with a more localized reference. This will usually get us pretty close, though, and then we have recourse to various and sundry online guides.
  • A Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals (Peterson). We bought this for the kids when they were into rock tumbling, but it’s pretty technical. One of the Golden Guides would have probably been more suitable.
  • Handbook of Nature Studies, by Anna B. Comstock. A bit biased towards the northeastern US, but a fantastic resource for nature walks and the like.
  • The Outermost House, by Henry Beston. He intended to spend a few weeks in a tiny house on the outer edge of Cape Cod, but stayed for a year and recorded everything he saw in the wind, waves, birds, and sand. Beautiful writing here, and some very interesting descriptions of the early US Coast Guard. I bought this after seeing a framed quotation from this book in our old vet’s office.
  • All About Weeds, by Edwin Spencer. Exactly what is that thing in the yard, on the roadside or in that ditch? Find out here. Mr. Spencer also editorializes heavily in his descriptions, but that’s half the fun.
  • Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places, by John Stilgoe. Examine your surroundings – the little nooks and crannies of your immediate neighborhood – and you can read the entire history of a region. Stilgoe, a Harvard professor of landscape, will show you how.
  • Morphology of Plants and Fungi, by Harold Bold, et al. I have no idea how I acquired this textbook, but I think I got it from one of my brothers. I never had any botany classes.
  • Simon & Schuster’s Guide to Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Fish, and oldie-but-goodie that I’ve had for years and dusted off for use with our aquarium adventures. I used to have a copy of Dr. Axelrod’s Atlas of Freshwater Aquarium Fishes, but loaned it out years ago and never got it back.

Books I have on my to-buy list:

I would also like localized guides to wildflowers, trees, insects, reptiles/amphibians, fish and minerals. Also something on mushrooms and fungi.

And. And. And.

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