Given the state of the natural world right now, it’s hard to get through a book of nature writing without getting depressed. It’s not about documenting these trees, this stream, that coastline. It’s these disappearing trees, this dying stream, that polluted coastline. The most optimistic nature writing in the last several years was Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, which assured humans that once we are wiped out by the plague or manage to kill off one another, the world will restore its balance. The damage is not permanent, as long as we disappear one way or another.

This state of the world is reflected in the title of Jonathan Rosen’s The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature. Rosen writes, “Birds bring news of this [man-diminished world] like nothing else — they are like… More…