If you want to know more about the natural world and all the ins and outs of the debates surrounding it, pick up a book. There’s a lot out there, so we’ve compiled a list of the best. By no means exclusive, this list is meant to be a broad sampling of interesting, diverse green titles.
- Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)
The mother of muckraking environmental books about the effects of pollution. Carson’s book received endless criticism from chemical manufacturers and policymakers, before everything she proposed about the danger of pesticides was proven true and their use was finally curtailed or, in the case of DDT, banned.
- An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It by Al Gore (2006)
Al Gore’s examination of the effects of global climate change, which sparked national debate and contributed to a current wave of environmental consciousness. It was released as a companion to the now-famous movie of the same title.
- A Sand-County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1949)
One of the foremost classics of environmental writing. This collection of writing includes memoir and argument, as well as classic vistas of the natural world that Leopold explored and loved.
- Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt (1932)
In this classic, Sioux medicine man Black Elk recounts to poet John Neihardt his childhood in the Black Hills and the lives of the native people who lived there and were dispossessed by white settlement. The book recounts their resistance and Black Elk’s vision of his people restored.
- My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir (1911)
This book comes from John Muir’s journal he kept while tending a flock of sheep in the Sierra Nevadas — his first brush with the country he would work to preserve for most of his life. It documents the lucid, awakening consciousness of a legendary conservationist.
- Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and a Durable Future by Bill McKibben (2007)
McKibben works from the premise that unlimited, unending economic growth is impossible, something that is nonetheless the presumed goal of economies worldwide. He seeks to reorient us towards what real wealth is, and it’s something we’re rapidly losing: a healthy and functioning natural world.
- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver (2007)
Kingsolver’s account of growing her family’s food and preserving the harvest through pickling and canning. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, she addresses the troubling nature of our broken national food system in a practical, attractive manner and finds it hard, but ultimately rewarding, work.
- Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep us Safe, by Maria Rodale and Eric Scholsser (2010)
Rodale argues for the expansion of organic farming, documenting the harmful effects that pesticides and industrial farming have had on the environment. No longer a fad, organic farming, Rodale argues, is necessary for our health and the health of the world we live in.
- Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, by John de Graaf, David Waan and Thomas H. Naylor (2001)
A look at contemporary American society and its attendant overconsumption. The authors use the metaphor of a social condition to explore why enough is never enough and the effects that this has on our world.
- Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto by Stewart Brand (2009)
Brand, who co-authored the groundbreaking Whole Earth Catalogue, offers his advice on practical advice for saving the planet, which includes embracing nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels, among other compromises he deems necessary.
- Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming by Paul Hawken (2007)
Paul Hawken’s optimistic history of the environmental movement and his projections of where it will go.
- The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods, by Julia Butterfly Hill (2000)
Unlikely tree-sitter and environmental hero Julia Butterfly Hill writes about her time as a forest defender in northern California’s majestic redwoods.
- A Language Older Than Words by Derrick Jensen (2000)
In this wide-ranging memoir, radical environmentalist Derrick Jensen recounts his traumatic childhood and the encounters with nature that were his salvation. He also explores the communication possible between humans and non-human life and lays out the foundation of his later social critique.
- All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life by Winona LaDuke (1999)
Native American author and activist Winona LaDuke documents examples of indigenous American resistance to spiritual and environmental conquest.
- American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau, by various authors (2008)
This extensive anthology from the Library of Congress features writing from Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and contemporaries, such as Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, as well as a foreword by Al Gore.
- Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey (1968)
Abbey is best known for his novel The Monkey-Wrench Gang, about a motley crew of eco-saboteurs that spawned a radical enviromental movement worldwide. But his nonfiction is equally compelling. In Desert Solitaire, Abbey writes from the Moab Desert of Utah, where he expounds on our dwindling wilderness and man’s inability to live within the confines of nature.
So there you have it: our favorite nonfiction environmental books.
Which ones would you add to the list? Please tell us your favorites in the comments section below.