Serengeti: The Eternal Beginning (by Boyd Norton, $35, Fulcrum, 2011): Serengeti is not a book of landscape photography so much as an homage to a famous ecosystem: the Serengeti. Boyd spent 26 years photographing its wildlife, and he compiles his work here, pairing them with essays about the need to protect the Serengeti from change. The ecosystem is fragile, he says, and its majestic species are in danger of disappearing forever. As a platform for conservation, Serengeti is a huge success. As a book of photography, it falls somewhat flat, though a few of its images are stunning. Paired with Norton's memories of Africa and the surreal experiences he's had there, the book makes for a unique mixture of activism and art.
Planet Ice (photographs by James Martin; text by various authors, $40, Braided River, 2009): You've heard it before: Polar ice caps are melting, glaciers are getting smaller, the world is slowly warming. But unless you've been to Alaska or Antarctica or another icy wilderness, you may not be able to visualize what exactly we're losing. Planet Ice presents impressive ice landscapes, wildlife photography, and scientific diagrams, interspersed with educational and personal essays about ice and our relationship to it. The most impressive thing about the book is its variety: It depicts ice in incredibly disparate ways, proving that a climate we think of as static, frigid, and distant actually teems with life. An excellent book for a science classroom.