Gee, that sounds pretentious. These are just some brief comments on books I've read and recommend.
The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators, by Gordon Grice (ISBN 0-385-31890-1)
"Lightning showed them crossing the asphalt in the first tentative cracklings of the rain. They hustled across, more than we could readily count, each brown-and-beige body slung low amid the multiple dark arches of the legs. Rain dappled the windshield. The droplets staggered down through dust and the lambent blood of fireflies. The view at that moment would let you believe you weren't seeing right, that rain and lightning and motion and filthy glass had cooked up an illusion. But the headlights began to show them straight ahead, middle of the road, not just on the shoulders, and the wipers left arcs of clear viewing between arcs of mud, and we knew we were seeing an exodus of tarantulas."
This is a beautiful book, lyrical beauty expertly juxtaposed with gruesome brutality. Mr. Grice is an amateur naturalist whose prose more than does justice to his subjects. The book consists of seven essays, each focusing on a particular predator: black widow and brown recluse spiders, tarantulas, mantids, rattlesnakes, pigs, and dogs. The author weaves his personal experiences together with natural history, biology, and thoughtful reflections to describe each of these creatures without squeamishness or morbidity, and the result is fascinating and eminently readable.
Divorce Among the Gulls (An Uncommon Look at Human Nature), by William Jordan (ISBN 0-86547-500-8)
Jordan takes an often-disturbing look at nature through the lens of a confirmed believer in Evolution. Not that that's bad: anyone with any decent training at all in biology (and the author has a B.A. in vertebrate zoology and a Ph.D. in entomology) believes in Evolution. But Jordan seems to breathe it, to live every moment seeing the world as the inevitable, ineluctable product of that merciless, inefficient, inexorable process. As you might expect, this makes for some interesting observations, and Jordan makes them (and makes them well): I particularly liked "Displaying the Snake." The book is a series of 14 essays, each of which turns in some way on the author's question of "What if, instead of seeing animals and their behavior in the light of human motivations, we use them to reflect on the animalistic aspects of our own species?" The result is generally very compelling, and only occasionally uneven. The book is thought-provoking in a very good way, although on occasion a bit strident in putting forth Jordan's views.