Come along on an informative, whirlwind tour of urban species – from intelligent crows to backyard lichens – and discover that you are surrounded by wild nature, even in your own backyard.
When biologist Hanna Bjørgaas spots a fairy cup lichen in Antarctica, she is surprised to recognize it from her own backyard in Oslo. When she returns home, she embarks on a journey into urban nature, visiting city parks, cemeteries, and concrete rooftops to investigate the species that live in urban spaces. Along the way, she meets corvids, songbirds, ants, pigeons, bats, sparrows, fungi, and linden trees – and the experts who study their surprising abilities to survive, and thrive, in the city.
As Bjørgaas discovers, urban nature – and its unique mixture of species that have never lived together before in Earth's history – is valuable. More than half of the world's human population lives in densely populated areas – and plants and animals have followed us into cities. Secret Life of the City invites us to pay more attention to the sounds, sights, and smells of urban nature right outside our door.
A treasure trove of fascinating flora and fauna, this wonderful book offers a plea to save our city plants, animals, and fungi before we lose them, too.
Originally published in Norwegian in 2021 as Byens Himmelige Liv: Historier fra den Urbane Villmarka by Cappelen Damm
Hanna Bjørgaas is a biologist who has worked as a guide in the Arctic and Antarctic, led field courses in Norway, and worked with architects and artists to help communicate the joy of nature to others. She has written articles on popular science and contributed to conferences on ecology and farming. Bjørgaas admits to feeling a bit naked without a pair of binoculars and a magnifying glass hanging around her neck.
"A gem of a book."
– Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, author of Extraordinary Insects
"Biologist Bjørgaas debuts with an enchanting paean to the overlooked marvels of metropolitan wildlife [...] offer[s] a nuanced understanding of urban flora and fauna and push back against common assumptions about where nature ends and the human world begins. City dwellers will see their environs in a new light."
– Publishers Weekly
"This book is a delight to read. Like an urban Alice in Wonderland, bubbling biologist Hanna Bjørgaas takes us on a rollercoaster of interconnected adventures with the animals and other creatures that she shares her daily life with. We climb with her through the undergrowth, confront cheeky city birds, and poke around in layers of moss and lichen. Her enthusiasm for all life around her and the dedicated scientists who study it is infectious. Plus, we pick up a lot of good science without even noticing it, that's how good a tour guide she is."
– Menno Schilthuizen, author of Darwin Comes to Town
"A wonderfully intimate account of the secret rhythms of the city. Hanna Bjørgaas's exploration of the city reveals its natural life in memorable detail, delving deep into the microorganisms within the soil and soaring high above the city with peregrine falcons. Her book is a moving call to understand our urban environments better and appreciate their mysterious ecosystems."
– Ben Wilson, author of Urban Jungle: The History and Future of Nature in the City
"I once saw a sign that said "Love is a Decision", and Hanna Bjørgaas's book made me realize that wonder is a decision, too. I loved her decision, at the outset of the book, to wonder about nature in Oslo – sparrows and dirt and lichen and bats – and I loved how her questions lead to revelatory answers, about the city's noise affecting bird sopranos and bird contraltos differently; how as we are afraid of the dark, bats are afraid of the light; that putting your head in soil cheers you up, and that if you want to cheer up the soil you just leave it alone. This book, full of dazzling information, begins with wonder and ends with affection for "the near and the dear": the subjects have become the friends."
– Amy Leach, author of Things That Are and The Everybody Ensemble