On a map, Taiwan does not seem very remarkable as a small island off the coast of China. But despite being smaller than the Netherlands and neighboring countries, Taiwan features Northeast Asia’s highest mountains and a rich biodiversity. In Two Trees Make A Forest: In Search of My Family’s Past Among Taiwan’s Mountains and Coasts, Jessica J Lee explores this natural landscape, while tracing her family heritage and history. 

 Saving Sun Bears: One Man’s Quest to Save a Species, Sarah Pye (Signal8Press, June 2020)
Saving Sun Bears: One Man’s Quest to Save a Species, Sarah Pye (Signal8Press, June 2020)

In Asia, adult sun bears are poached for body parts which are thought to have medicinal properties. Many orphaned cubs, with their small size and endearing features, are kept illegally as pets. Malaysian ecologist Dr Wong Siew Te, or “papa bear”, has dedicated his life to saving the world’s smallest bear from extinction.

Most urban populations in the world are far removed from the unfolding and the consequences of global warming. Therefore, their reflections on global warming tend to revolve around corporate greed, economic policies and the nature of expectations people have from development. In her book, Caring for Glaciers: Land, Animals, and Humanity in the Himalayas, Karine Gagné turns to the community of elderly farmers and herders in Ladakh to understand how they make sense of the melting of the glaciers, a phenomenon directly visible to the people living there. She finds that their responses to questions about the melting of the glaciers invariably involve the words “One day the Pakistanis came …”.

Geography used to be considered destiny, but this once-popular notion that terrain and climate drove history has gone out of fashion. Now a new generation of environmental historians are bringing hard, physical materiality back into mainstream history with a more nuanced approach, looking at the historically situated interaction between people and their physical environments.