14 books inspired by nature, heritage and culture

Ideas on what you can do to protect our planet while celebrate some of its most impressive Unesco sites.

Rediscover the natural world through these titles

World Heritage Day, observed every year on April 18, celebrates Unesco-designated sites that contain cultural, historical, scientific and natural heritage considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. The theme for 2022 is Heritage and Climate.

As of this year, 1,154 World Heritage Sites (897 cultural, 218 natural and 39 mixed properties) exist across 167 countries, according to the Geneva Environment Network. The five countries with the most sites are Italy (58), China (56), Germany (51), France (49) and Spain (49).

Earth Day 2022 emphasises that “a green future is a prosperous future” and its theme, Invest in Our Planet, exhorts organisations and individuals alike to be mindful of the effects of climate change.

Everyone can play a part in preserving and protecting our health, our families and our livelihoods, says Earthday.Org, whose mission is to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide.

Nature, heritage and culture have inspired books galore, from those that lay bare what is happening around the world to titles that inspire action. Dip into the titles below for ideas on what you can do to protect our planet from pollution and other threats and make it a healthier place to live in.


George Town — World Heritage Site
By Mark Thompson and Karl Steinberg

Attracting travellers from all over the world, George Town, Penang, is an enchanting Unesco World Heritage Site with a rich history. George Town — World Heritage Site by Mark Thompson and Karl Steinberg, with photography by Adrian Cheah, walks readers through 19th-century Penang, with a detailed inspection of the architecture and traditions. Some of the iconic landmarks explored include the Kuan Yin Temple, Cheong Fatt Tze (also known as the Blue Mansion), Muntri Street, Saint Xavier’s Institution, Seven Terraces and Love Lane. Retelling the legacy and lives of key figures of the time and recounting the trials and tribulations of Penang’s heyday, this book is the perfect introduction to how Penang has grown into the incredible city it is today.


The Sustainable Travel Handbook
By Lonely Planet

As we all begin travelling again, perhaps it is best to flip through Lonely Planet’s The Sustainable Travel Handbook to ensure our adventures do not increase our carbon footprint. Eco-friendly tourism is the way of the future and this guide is filled with advice from sustainable travel experts whose tips will make it easy to be an eco-conscious traveller. Introducing an impressive range of destinations — including Guyana, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Jordan — this book teaches travellers how to respect the environment and indigenous cultures, as well as ways to reduce their carbon emissions and plastic waste.


Under a White Sky
By Elizabeth Kolbert

If you have read Elizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sixth Extinction, you would know how our pursuit of modernity has reshaped the natural world for the worse. In Under a White Sky, Kolbert meets engineers who are turning carbon emissions to stone in Iceland; Australian researchers who are developing a super coral that can survive warmer waters; and physicists who are contemplating shooting tiny diamonds into the stratosphere to cool the earth, potentially bleaching the blue from the sky (hence the book’s title). It is a gripping account of human attempts to control nature with technology, underscored with a stark irony that lies within both its use in exploitation and salvation.


The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times
By Jane Goodall + Douglas Abrams

In a world so consumed with despair and tragedy, Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams’ Book of Hope is a revitalising breath of fresh air. Goodall is not afraid of laying out the grim facts, but presents them alongside observations gleaned from her decades as a naturalist to sow seeds of hope in the amazing human intellect, the resilience of nature, the power of young people and the indomitable human spirit. Goodall’s gentleness, wisdom and sincerity guides the reader through her inspiring environmental advocacy, told through an intimate and thought-provoking dialogue with Abrams as well as pictures from her career.


Linkages: A Brief Description of the Kingdoms of the Malay Archipelago and the Kingdoms of Southeast Asia
By Devinder Raj

This book provides an overview of the Indianised kingdoms in pre-modern Southeast Asia. Pulling together multiple secondary sources, it studies the kingdoms in the Malay Archipelago, such as Langkasuka, one of the oldest kingdoms located on the crossroads between India and China. It also examines kingdoms in greater Southeast Asia, including Chola, Srivijaya, Funan, Champa, Sailendra, Majapahit, Angkor and Ayutthaya, detailing how they all had connections with the kingdoms of the Malay Archipelago. Sparked by a traveller’s curiosity, the book captures some of the ongoing efforts in uncovering the history of this period and addresses a dearth in Malaysia’s often Melaka-centric historiography.


Best of Kinabalu Park: A Photographic Journey through Kinabalu Park
By John Kong

Intrepid travellers have presented passionate cases for the preservation of nature but no one quite does it like John Kong. The adventurer, who has scaled Mount Kinabalu several times, has consolidated five years of photographing Kinabalu Park into a visual compendium that beckons readers to visit the lush forest-covered foothills and jagged granite peaks of Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site, designated by Unesco in December 2000. Each entry in this illustrated booklet highlights a unique story, with experts tips and park facility information on the side to make your journey an enriching experience.

National Geographic’s Ultimate Visual History of the World
By Jean-Pierre Isbouts

This monumental volume follows the fascinating threads of human history, illustrated with maps, archival imagery, and revealing photographs. Bringing history to life, each page is filled with stunning visuals and thought-provoking text. This comprehensive overview of humankind features tales from the Babylonian Empire to the Persian Gulf War; the Xia and Shang Dynasties of Bronze Age China to the new space race; and Egyptian hieroglyphics to the digital age. Every chapter includes notable dates, salient quotations from the time, explanatory maps, fascinating sidebar stories, photographs of artefacts and landscapes as well as artworks depicting dramatic scenes.


A Walk through Nature:  A Clover Robin Peek-Through Book
By Libby Walden

Our natural environment is transforming every day, and oftentimes, it is easy to forget to take a moment and savour it. Comprising a series of 13 poems about the different aspects of nature, from a blooming flower to a wriggling worm, this extravagantly illustrated book, with its pages filled with mesmerising colourful pictures, is one that evokes warmth and admiration for our beautiful planet and the countless breathtaking spectacles it holds. The rhyming paragraphs containing fascinating facts about the planet will make a fitting book for young readers interested in wildlife and spur in them an appreciation for the earth.


Melaka: UNESCO World Heritage Site  — A Worldly Blend of Architecture
By Yap Hanzhen

This book is not one of many words. Take a trip to one of Malaysia’s most famous tourist destinations brimming with a rich cultural heritage — Melaka. Just north of his hometown of Johor Baru, illustrator Yap Hanzhen has filled the pages of this book with 20 hand-drawn sketches of the iconic buildings the state has to offer, such as Christ Church and Kampung Kling Mosque. Covering a range of architectural styles with his detailed strokes, he successfully mirrors the diverse history of Melaka through these drawings, which would appeal to cultural and structural enthusiasts.


The Universe
By Lonely Planet

Developed with the latest data from NASA, Lonely Planet takes readers out into the far reaches of the solar system, into the neighbouring stars and planetary systems, and finally into the rest of the galaxy and the universe. Unique to these pages are wonderful comparisons of Earth with the other worlds in the solar system. In addition to planets and moons, the guide will introduce readers to the sun, asteroid belt and the Kuiper Belt. The structure of the Milky Way as well as other galactic formations of clusters and superclusters are also examined.


Bujang Valley: The Wonder That Was Ancient Kedah
By V Nadarajan

V Nadarajan, a former history teacher from Sungai Petani, Kedah, has carried out in-depth research on the archaeological museum of Bujang Valley (Lembah Bujang). The author unfolds the evolution of culture and civilisation of the international trading centre in ancient times, particularly among traders from India and China. With a foreword by late national historian Khoo Kay Kim, the 135-page book is filled with more than 100 images and maps of the historical site. The book has also been translated into Tamil and Malay.


Who Cares Wins: Reasons for Optimism in Our Changing World
By Lily Cole

Many of us are aware of the urgent need to protect our planet as global warming has reached terrifying heights of severity. We have taken small steps like restraining the use of plastic straws and plastic bags. So what’s next? In Who Cares Wins, Lily Cole provides positive and informative insights into the situation. Through her personal experiences and conversations with other fascinating people, she creates an inspiring and thought-provoking book that challenges her audience to take action and worry about this prevalent issue to ensure a secure future for the benefit of ourselves and our descendants.


Man v Nature
By Diane Cook

A refreshingly imaginative and daring debut collection of stories, Man v Nature illuminates with audacious wit the complexity of human behaviour, as seen through the lens of the natural world. Told with perfect rhythm and unyielding brutality, these stories expose unsuspecting men and women to the realities of nature, the primal instincts of man, and the dark humour and heartbreak of our struggle to not only thrive, but survive. As entertaining as it is dangerous, this accomplished collection explores the boundary between the wild and the civilised, where nature acts as a catalyst for human drama and lays bare our vulnerabilities, fears and desires.


Visions of Mulu: 60 Million Years in the Making
By Brian and Sue Clark

The Gunung Mulu National Park may be the most studied tropical karst area in the world but there is still much to be discovered. Co-authors Brian and Sue Clark of Borsarmulu Park Management plumb the depths of this biodiversity reservoir, whose greatest attractions such as wildlife and geology lie deep below the surface. While a visit to a heritage site can spark an epiphany, it may also clarify a moment in history. Case in point: A third of the book details Gunung Mulu’s elaborate formation, and how its limestone cave system is home to Sarawak Chamber, the largest natural chamber in the world.


This article first appeared on Apr 18, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.


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