The Overstory, by Richard Powers
An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers—each summoned in different ways by trees—are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest.
Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver (also climate change)
A breathtaking parable of catastrophe and denial that explores how the complexities we inevitably encounter in life lead us to believe in our particular chosen truths. Kingsolver’s riveting story concerns a young wife and mother on a failing farm in rural Tennessee who experiences something she cannot explain, and how her discovery energizes various competing factions—religious leaders, climate scientists, environmentalists, politicians—trapping her in the center of the conflict and ultimately opening up her world.
The Highest Tide, by Jim Lynch (also marine biology)
One moonlit night, thirteen-year-old Miles O’Malley, a speed-reading, Rachel Carson-obsessed insomniac out looking for tidal specimens in Puget Sound, discovers a giant squid stranded on the beach. As the first person to see a giant squid alive, he finds himself hailed as a prophet. But Miles is really just a kid on the verge of growing up, infatuated with the girl next door, worried that his bickering parents will divorce, and fearful that everything, even the bay he loves, is shifting away from him. As the sea continues to offer up discoveries from its mysterious depths, Miles struggles to deal with the difficulties that attend the equally mysterious process of growing up.
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett (also ecology, pharmacology)
Infusing the narrative with the same ingenuity and emotional urgency that pervaded her acclaimed previous novels, Patchett delivers an enthrallingly innovative tale of aspiration, exploration, and attachment in State of Wonder—a gripping adventure story and a profound look at the difficult choices we make in the name of discovery and love.
The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert (also botany, evolution)
Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker—born in the Age of Enlightenment but living well into the Industrial Revolution, she bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas.
The Honest Look, by Jennifer Rohn (also cell biology)
In becoming a scientist, Claire Cyrus hopes to escape the fate of her dead father, a brilliant but critically unsuccessful poet whose poverty and bitterness derailed her own strong talent for verse. Soon after moving from England to take up her first job in a start-up biotech company in the Netherlands, she finds herself an outcast in her strange new environment, shunned by her jealous colleagues and moving only on the fringes of the expatriate community. But when she makes an accidental discovery in the lab, her life will never be the same again.
The Bird Skinner, by Alice Greenway (also ornithology)
Slowing down from a hard-lived life and a recent leg amputation, Jim Kennoway retreats to an island in Maine to drink, smoke, and to be left alone. There, he thinks back to his youth, working for Naval Intelligence during World War II in the Solomon Islands. While spying on Japanese shipping from behind enemy lines, Jim befriended Tosca, a young islander who worked with him as a scout. Now, thirty years later, Tosca has sent his daughter Cadillac to stay with Jim in the weeks before she begins premedical studies at Yale. She arrives to Jim’s consternation, yet she will capture his heart and the hearts of everyone she meets, irrevocably changing their lives.
The Hungry Tide, by Amitov Ghosh (also cultural anthropology, ecology, and political science)
Off the easternmost coast of India, in the Bay of Bengal, lies the immense labyrinth of tiny islands known as the Sundarbans. For settlers here, life is extremely precarious. Attacks by deadly tigers are common. Unrest and eviction are constant threats. Without warning, at any time, tidal floods rise and surge over the land, leaving devastation in their wake. In this place of vengeful beauty, the lives of three people from different worlds collide.
Accidentals, by Susan M. Gaines Accidentals is an intimate family story with an astonishingly epic scope. Alive with history, politics, science, romance, and birds, it is as entertaining as it is intelligent, as beautiful as it is wise. Gabe’s evolution from a passive observer to the passionate creator of his own destiny is a life-changing experience not only for him, but for readers as well.