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Nature: best books for Christmas

The mint-humbug face of a badger; the inscrutable restraint of a cat; the wild, musical call of a herring gull; and a dog that balances on things.

There are some wonderful books on nature and animals to choose from this year.

Among the best is Badgerlands (Granta, £18.99) and, with the cull in England ending in failure and ignominy for the UK Government, Patrick Barkham's book is the perfect way to understand what happened. We have ended up killing badgers again, he says, because, as well as the badger lovers, there have always been the haters too. Barkham is one of the lovers, of course, and proves it with some beautiful descriptions of the animals (the dark, bouncy, grey fur; the curious, dainty tail that is an amusing anti-climax to their bodies), their lives (the persecution and the love) and their luxurious, sprawling and mysterious homes.

There is some wonderful writing in Cat Sense (Allen Lane £20) too, although John Bradshaw is serious about offering some help and guidance to cat owners who may be struggling to understand their pets. He delights in little details (for example, cats get stuck up trees because their claws all face forward) but he also wants us to think much more about what we can do to help cats live better with us. They are not like dogs, he says; they still have three out of four paws in the wild and we can do more to understand, tolerate and celebrate that fact.

This year, there was also a splendid new book from Esther Woolfson, who changed our minds about rooks and crows when her memoir Corvus was published in 2009, and now, with Field Notes From A Hidden City (Granta, £16.99), wants to change our minds about urban animals that some see as pests. Particularly interesting is the section on the inner life of gulls, and there are many facts you might not know: they are monogamous, for example, and are capable of recognising each other and of respecting their neighbours. They also return to the same nests every year, with mated pairs who have spent the winter apart reuniting for breeding and recognising their partner from a distance on his or her return. They are remarkable and beautiful and clever, and it is humans who have reduced them to scavengers of kebab remains on Friday nights.

A bit battier, but perfect for anyone who loves the joie de vivre, inhibition and loyalty of dogs is Maddie On Things (Chronicle, £10.99), a picture book that follows the road trip the photographer Theron Humphrey made across America with his rescue dog Maddie.

It was not until he set out that he realised Maddie had the extraordinary skill to balance on anything and everything, and he took many photographs to prove it. Silly and charming.

Also charming, and eccentric, is Hollywood Dogs (ACC Editions, £25), a large-format book that is a tribute to some of the dogs that have become stars, such as Rin Tin Tin, but also a wonderful wallow in the glory days of Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s using pictures of its stars with dogs. It's impossible not to like.

Finally, don't forget Bob, the ginger tom who famously befriended homeless drug addict James Bowen and sat by him on the pavement as he sold The Big Issue. The first book, A Street Cat Named Bob, was breezy and charming, and although the sequel The World According To Bob (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99) is not immune from the law of diminishing returns, Bowen's love for, and commitment to, Bob is engaging. There is an abridged version of the story, too, that is ideal for children: Bob: No Ordinary Cat (£6.99).

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Pets

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