the book nook

"This is nature writing at its best." —E.O. Wilson

"Eloquent treatise...Landis's book is as much call to action as paean to mesmerizing molluscs." —Nature

"Rich, accurate, and moving." —New Scientist

"A lyrical love letter to the imperiled freshwater mussel." —Science


Abbie Gascho Landis first fell for freshwater mussels while submerged in an Alabama creek, her pregnant belly squeezed into a wetsuit. After an hour of fruitless scanning, a mussel materialized from the rocks—a little spectaclecase, herself pregnant, filtering the river water through a delicate body while her gills bulged with offspring. In that moment of connection, Landis became a mussel groupie, obsessed with learning more about the creatures’ hidden lives. She isn’t the only fanatic; the shy mollusks, so vital to the health of rivers around the world, have a way of inspiring unusual devotion.

In Immersion, Landis brings readers to a hotbed of mussel diversity, the American Southeast, to seek mussels where they eat, procreate, and, too often, perish. Accompanied often by her husband, a mussel scientist, and her young children, she learned to see mussels on the creekbed, to tell a spectaclecase from a pigtoe, and to worry what vanishing mussels—70 percent of North American species are imperiled—will mean for humans and wildlife alike. In Immersion, Landis shares this journey, traveling from perilous river surveys to dry streambeds and into laboratories where endangered mussels are raised one precious life at a time.

Mussels have much to teach us about the health of our watersheds if we step into the creek and take a closer look at their lives. In the tradition of writers like Terry Tempest Williams and Sy Montgomery, Landis gracefully chronicles these untold stories with a veterinarian’s careful eye and the curiosity of a naturalist. In turns joyful and sobering, Immersion is an invitation to see rivers from a mussel’s perspective, a celebration of the wild lives visible to those who learn to search.

“Scot Duncan has delivered one of the most important books ever written about Alabama. Beautifully composed, it is a revelation about one of the most biologically diverse regions in North America and a call to Alabama’s people to treasure and protect the state’s living heritage.”
―Edward O. Wilson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Social Conquest of Earth


This book covers almost every nook of biodiversity in the state. It is well-thought-out and delivered. The organization makes it easy for both lay and experienced readers of scientific knowledge to become enthralled in the subject matter.”
―T . Wayne Barger, State Botanist, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources



"Southern Wonder is an amazing and eye-opening book, comprehensive enough to be a field guide as well as a doorway to the natural world."
―Rick Montague, in awarding the 2014 Philip D. Reed Environmental Writing Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center

"With time, I realized no single feature was responsible for Alabama’s biodiversity. Instead, three overarching natural factors have shaped the state’s biodiversity.


First, Alabama’s warm, wet climate has nurtured productive ecosystems throughout the state. Second, and more influentially, geological processes guided the state to its current latitude, created a topographically diverse terrain, and exposed a great range of rock and soil types at the surface. Alabama’s combination of a mild climate and diverse terrain supports 64 distinct terrestrial and
wetland ecological systems. The more ecological diversity there is in a geographic area, the higher the species count. This is a portable truth about biodiversity you can apply anywhere at any scale.


A third factor, biological evolution, is a product of the other two. Radical changes in Alabama’s climate and landscape have continuously forced its flora and fauna to adjust through evolutionary adaptations.
Evolution is a complex process explored later in this book, but suffice it to say that these adjustments over millions of years led many populations to become distinct species living nowhere else but in Alabama.


There is a fourth reason that Alabama has so many species, but it fits awkwardly with the others. For reasons beyond the scope of this book, Alabama’s boundaries were drawn such that within the state are
several distinct geographic regions, each with a unique suite of ecosystems. These include a corner of an ancient mountain range, an extensive swath of coastal plain, 50 miles of coastline, a piece of the largest temperate watershed in the world, and one of the most biodiverse watersheds in the temperate world."
--Chapter One, Number One in the East