There is nothing more promising than the sight of a gift-wrapped book-shaped package under the Christmas tree (when your name is on the label). Publishers have proved this year that beauty, controversy, surprise, challenge and charm are not limited to the winding plots of non-fiction. Here are 10 superb literary gift ideas plucked from the best of the best.

The Lost Words by Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane. Magical compendium of illustrated spells that brings the rich lexicon of nature back from the brink of extinction. Gossip, bicker, yap and snicker. All profits from sales go to Action for Conservation which works to inspire and enlist disadvantaged children to get involved in the protection of nature.

Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals by Mandy Barker. The strange items netted off Ireland's shores and displayed in a book reminiscent of a 19th-century naturalist's journal aren't animals at all (spoiler alert) but fragments of plastic. An extraordinary, thought-provoking photo collection that is beautiful, disturbing and quirky.

Inheritors of the Earth, How Nature Is Thriving in An Age of Extinction by Chris Thomas. The idea that the depletion of weaker species is a good thing may be regarded as a revelation or twaddle, but either way, it gathers the gathers the essential facts under a spotlight and prompts animated debate - which is what the festive season is all about.

Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life by E.O. Wilson. The Pulitzer-winning author is a prolific bellwether of pressing environmental problems, but here - just in time, let's hope - he presents a solution. Collaborative action is required, so read, pass it on and back the cause.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warning by Paul Hawken. Actually, the environmentalist Hawken enlists leading experts from around the world to interrogate the most oft-touted and trusted potential climate solutions and rank them. It's a fascinating, wide-ranging piece of work that covers everything from education and composting to smart cities and silvopasture, and this amounts to a comprehensive roadmap.

Microsculpture: Portraits of Insects by Levon Bliss. The British photographer focuses his lens on the entomology collection of The Oxford Museum of Natural History to show the beauty of small things. Marvel over the complexity and iridescence of these little creatures magnified and rendered into art.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari. Possibly more illuminating than the tea leaves: a prognosis of what comes next by the bestselling author of Sapiens. Give the gift of future vision.

Henry David Thoreau: A Life by Laura Dassow Walls. Throughout history, there have been thoughtful writers who make a conscious effort to free themselves from the yoke of contemporary societies in order to commune with nature and see what insights arise from the experience, and it's a temptation that's gaining traction now. But Thoreau made the best job of it. Born in 1817, he was much more than a dabbler in the simple life: an abolitionist, a naturalist, a philosopher and a firm believer in intelligent civil disobedience as this great read explains.

Gaia by Pío Cabanillas with text by Walt Whitman, Alexander von Humboldt. Travel the world and enjoy the full gamut of the most spectacular natural landscapes all from the comfort of your fireside."Great landscapes make you feel tiny and at the same time, part of something immense” says the globetrotting Spanish photographer whose works fill this coffee table book.

The Hidden Life of Animals: Love, Grief, Compassion by Peter Wohlleben. The bestselling author of The Hidden Life of Trees brings us the second in his trilogy challenging man's perception of the natural world, packed with creative insights into the thinking of domesticated and otherwise fellow mammals. Grieving deer, deceptive roosters, ashamed horses and selfless squirrels? Oh yes. Be generous and pair it with his tree opus. Hidden in plain sight, trees talk to each other via the wood-wide web, have distinct personalities (wooden? unmoving? inscrutable?) and learn stuff. What the German forester lacks in hard scientific references he makes up for in wondrous speculation. You'll never feel lonely on a walk in a wood again.