Southern Wonder: Alabama’s Surprising Biodiversity (2013) interweaves the disciplines of ecology, evolution, and geology into an explanation of why Alabama is so diverse. Written for the layperson, this book covers many subjects, and describes how the state is home to more species than any other state east of the Mississippi River. Now in its second printing, the book was published by the University of Alabama Press, and the foreword was written by Alabama native and distinguished scientist, Dr. Edward O. Wilson. Southern Wonder won the Southern Environmental Law Center’s 2014 Phil Reed Environmental Writing Award, and the Southeastern Library Association’s 2013 Overall Excellence: Hard Cover Award.
Press resources can be found at the bottom of this page.
The story of Southern Wonder
When I came to Alabama in 2002 to take a job as a professor at Birmingham-Southern College, I was profoundly unaware about the state’s incredible beauty and fascinating flora and fauna. That same year, a report published by Bruce Stein of NatureServe listed Alabama in fifth place among US states for biodiversity. What’s more, the state ranked number one in total species among the eastern states. Inspired by this, I began to design a course for non-majors that explores this fact as a way of introducing foundational concepts in ecology, conservation biology, and several other disciplines. As I was creating this course, I reached an impasse: I needed to explain to the students exactly why the state had so many species. Not fully understanding this myself, I turned to the literature and the many scientists working across the state. During this process, I often lamented that there was no single source that explained why the state was such a marvel of biodiversity. By 2008, I decided to use my first sabbatical to write a book for the general public that would both celebrate and explore the state’s biodiversity. Three-and-a-half years later, I finished the draft, and after another eighteen months (in November 2013) the book was published by the University of Alabama Press.
I wasn’t sure what people would think about the book, since this was my first attempt to write for a non-science audience, but I have been both relieved and thrilled that the book has been well-received. To my delight it has won several awards including the Southern Environmental Law Center’s 2014 Phil Reed Environmental Writing Award, and the Southeastern Library Association’s 2013 Overall Excellence: Hard Cover Award.
But most importantly, the book is getting into the hands of people that live in and visit the state, empowering them through knowledge to be better stewards and advocates for the state’s incredible biodiversity. That brings me the most satisfaction, as that is why I wrote the book.
I have many people to thank for help along the way. My family, and especially my wife, were extremely patient and supportive. The Nature Conservancy of Alabama partnered with the UA Press to finance the publication, and my dear friends Ann and Dan Forster chipped in the rest of what was needed. A grant from the World Wildlife Fund for Nature sponsored some of my expeditions within the state. Over thirty photographers donated the images that have drawn so many readers to the book. And finally, the staff at the UA Press transformed 97,600 words into the beautiful book that it became. I offer my eternal thanks to you all.