What Kirkus reviewers said about the season's best books:

 The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think by Jennifer Ackerman (Penguin Press, May 5): “Ackerman demonstrates bird science as an evolving discipline that is consistently fascinating, and she offers brilliant discussions of the use of smell, long overlooked but indeed deployed for navigation; courtship signals; predator avoidance; and, not surprisingly, locating food.”

On Lighthouses by Jazmina Barrera (Two Lines Press, May 12): “A writer muses on what lighthouses mean to her….Each story includes a wide array of topics in lighthouse culture, including literature, history, science, art, music, and the daily, brutal lives of the isolated keepers and their families.”

Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road by Matthew B. Crawford (Morrow/HarperCollins, June 9): “A philosopher stakes his claim to freedom and the open road….As in his previous books, Shop Class as Soulcraft and The World Beyond Your Head, the author brings an easy and wide-ranging erudition to his subject—in this case, our relationships to our vehicles.”

Fathoms: The World in a Whale by Rebecca Giggs (Simon and Schuster, July 28): “Giggs presents the bounty of [her] scholarship in crisp, creatively written chapters addressing the many layers of the whale population’s unique physiology and evolutionary history, sociality, above-water balletic athleticism, and enigmatic ‘biophony’ of their vocalizations.”

The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America's Forgotten Capital of Vice by David Hill (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, July 7): “For most Americans, Hot Springs, Arkansas, doesn’t raise an eyebrow, but folks who lived in the state from the 1930s to the ’60s knew the place as ‘the most sinful little city in the world.’ In his first book, Hill, a Brooklyn-based journalist from Hot Springs, tells a juicy tale of how such a place was born and stayed in business for so long as the ‘sin city of the Bible Belt.’ ”

Splash!: 10,000 Years of Swimming by Howard Means (Da Capo, June 2): “A nimble social history of humans at play in water….Devoted swimmers will want to splash about in this entertaining narrative.”

Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!: Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls, the Most Beloved Bad Book and Movie of All Time by Stephen Rebello (Penguin, June 2): “Rebello delivers a meticulously detailed paean to both incarnations of Valley of the Dolls, which, despite scathing reviews, were runaway commercial successes….Memorable reading for die-hard devotees and those seeking to relive all the breathless histrionics.”

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake (Random House, May 12): “A deep-running mycological inquiry from fungal biologist Sheldrake….From bread to booze to the very fiber of life, the world turns on fungi, and Sheldrake provides a top-notch portrait.”

The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature by Sue Stuart-Smith (Scribner, July 7): “An analysis of and tribute to the beneficial effects of gardening on the heart and mind….The author [a psychiatrist and psychotherapist] delivers a thoroughly researched text based on her deep and wide reading about the history of gardening, her visits to many of the therapeutic garden sites she mentions, and her interviews with many people, professionals and patients alike.”

The Language of Butterflies: How Thieves, Hoarders, Scientists, and Other Obsessives Unlocked the Secrets of the World's Favorite Insect by Wendy Williams (Simon and Schuster, June 2): “In her hybrid history/science/travel text, science journalist Williams…leads readers through the body of human butterfly knowledge….Expect this book to awaken the dormant butterfly enthusiast within.”

Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor.