Best Environmental Non Fiction Books



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.

Happy reading!

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. Continue reading “Best Environmental Non Fiction Books”

Book Review: Fossil Treasures of the Anza-Borrego Desert

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Review of the book Fossil Treasures of the Anza-Borrego Desert, the Last Seven Million Years, edited by George T. Jefferson and Lowell Lindsay

With all the concern these days about global warming, one only needs to pick up a book of paleontology to see how radically this planet can change in climate and environment through the ages.

Continue reading “Book Review: Fossil Treasures of the Anza-Borrego Desert”

Celebrating and Protecting a Unique Landscape: Baja California Sur

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One of the most beautiful and fragile landscapes in our hemisphere is Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. Around 50% of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur is designated as a biosphere reserve or as national parks.

It is a land full of rare, endemic species and home to dozens of migratory birds, and of course, it is an important mating territory for the grey whale.

Today I have the pleasure to present a review of a book called Oasis of Stone: Visions of Baja California Sur. Oasis of Stone is a book of photography and fascinating essays about the natural history and landscapes of the southern Baja California peninsula of Mexico. It is also a call to action to protect this fragile land.

The essays are by Bruce Berger whose work has appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Orion, and Sierra. The photographs are by Miguel Angel de la Cueva, an award-winning photographer and founder of Planeta Peninsula, an organization that works to promote and protect the rich natural and cultural treasures of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur.

Oasis of Stone is co-published by Sunbelt Publications and Planeta Península.

The book is arranged in four chapters, “Rock that Flows,” “A Stroll through the Thorns,” “Creatures of Mirage,” and “The Newcomer.” The order of the book is very important. This is a journey through a unique land, from its geological formation to the present. During this journey we get a sense of the impermanence of landscapes, and of their fragility.

Continue reading “Celebrating and Protecting a Unique Landscape: Baja California Sur”

Building Green: A Complete How-To Guide to Alternative Building Methods

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Here at the Practical Environmentalist, we talk a lot about green building as a way that you as an individual can have a big impact on improving the environment. Turning your home or apartment into a more eco-friendly dwelling can affect various aspects of the environment. For example, effective landscaping can cool your home in the summer, reducing cooling costs. By using alternative eco-friendly and renewable building materials, we can also reduce stress on our forests. Building Green: A Complete How-To Guide to Alternative Building Methods Earth Plaster * Straw Bale * Cordwood * Cob * Living Roofs is a book by Clarke Snell and Tim Callahan. It is a great resource for those interesting green building. It is full of illustrations (in full color!) and info on how you can use alternative building materials in your home, office, etc. The book is appropriate for the homeowner, architect, and professional builder.


The Weather Makers: The History & Future Impact of Climate Change

Regardless of where you stand on the global warming debate, you can’t deny that the idea of a warming planet is inspiring a lot of discussion and innovation these days. Although I’m not sure about going to the extreme of scaring the crap out of people through apocalyptic hype (see our post about “The Revenge of Gaia”), I don’t see anything wrong with exploring the possibilities of what could happen if global warming is as real and as severe as some experts (and not so experts) claim. Especially when this discussion inspires practical ways that we as humans can reduce our impact on the environment.

That’s why I’d like to recommend that you check out The Weather Makers: The History & Future Impact of Climate Change, a new book by Tim Flannery. I just heard an interview with this author from Australia on NPR and liked what I heard. Comparisons with Jared Diamond and Stephen Jay Gould abound in this review of the Weather Makers from the Sydney Morning Herald:

His skills as a writer and ability to stir up public debate are widely recognised and, here, keenly deployed. Like Jared Diamond and Stephen Jay Gould, he has the ability, rare in Australia, to take complex ideas and – seemingly effortlessly – make them accessible. This is his most powerfully engaged book and contains some of his finest prose. Employing a broad vision of geological time, Flannery explains the mechanisms that have driven the planet’s climate. He brings to life the world that laid down our store of fossil fuels just as effectively as he popularises the theories of Milankovitch, a relatively obscure but brilliant theorist of the Earth’s ice ages.

I’m glad that writers like Tim Flannery are advancing the dialog on climate change. In the interview that I heard today, he suggested some basic things to lessen our impact. Walk more, drive less, and put a few solar panels on your house. Basic stuff, and not too hard to do, either.


Natural Garden Remedies. Do They Work?

There are dozens of natural garden remedies that have been handed down from generation to generation and from family to family. In “The Truth About Garden Remedies,” things like putting a cup of beer out to trap slugs and snails and playing music to get your houseplant to grow are put under the microscope and analyzed by a professor from the University of Minnesota. Those gardeners who like to pick things apart with science will love this book. Those of a more “faith-based” persuasion may be better off avoiding it. Read a review of the book in the Seattle Times here. Buy the book here.


Eco Book Swapping!

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Swapping books with your friends is a great way to always have something to read without spending the money on buying a new book. Additionally, like going to the library and checking out a book, you save paper when you read a used book. The internet, a constant source of innovation and amazement, has gotten in on the act, and for the price of mailing a package, you can constantly be supplied with new reading material without ever having to purchase a new book. Of course, there is still the energy involved in transportation, shipping, etc., but in general, this is a very eco-friendly way to read. Find out more here. And make sure to check the PaperBackSwap.

Water Wise Books

Folks who live in Denver, Colorado have a great resource in Denver Water, their municipal water company. Denver has been known as a center for water conservation ever since Nancy Leavitt, an environmental planner for the City, penned the term “Xeriscape” in 1982. Since then, the City of Denver has been working hard to conserve water. You can take advantage of their work but checking out the list of books that they now offer on their website. These books deal mostly with Xeriscape gardening and water conservation.

Jared Diamond, a Cure to Environmental Pessimism?

Boy, I’ve been bummed out recently reading the interviews with leading academics like James Lovelock (the guy who came up with the Gaia theory) about how we’re doomed and how the Earth is gonna start dying and fall into a coma for 100,000 years and how the human race is doomed (except for those few “breeding pairs” that can have their little Adam and Eve style love romp up on the North Pole.)

Anyway, I’ve found a cure for my malaise in Jared Diamond, bestselling author of books like Guns, Germs and Steel, and more recently, Collapse. In this interview, Jared talks about such simple things as rainwater harvesting as ways to deal with global water shortages, and how we’ve got access to an amazing amount of information on how we can help the environment these days. This was not the case with other civilizations that collapsed, such as the Anasazi of the Southwestern U.S. and the Maya of Mexico and Central America. We at least know of the problems with the environment and have the technology to change things. The question is: do we have the will to change?

James Lovelock: Head North (or South) Younglings!

James Lovelock’s new book: Head North (or South) Younglings and Start Breeding! Ok, just kidding. Let’s get serious. His new book is actually called “Revenge of Gaia.” Sound spooky? It is! If you’re in your late teens or twenties, you may consider making plans to move to the North or South Poles so that you can help save the human race. This is what James Lovelock, the guy who penned the Gaia theory seems to be recommending these days. According to Lovelock, who is also an avid supporter of nuclear energy, the Earth is soon to catch a “morbid fever” that will leave all areas of the planet, save the arctic, inhospitable for 100,000 years. “Billions of us will die,” he says, “except for a few breeding pairs.” He says that there is still time to start a controlled abandonment of our modern destructive lifestyles, but he’s pretty pessimistic about the U.S. and China doing that anytime soon. Thoughts? Comments?

Natural by Design Landscaping

Judy Phillips, a gardener and writer from New Mexico, takes landscape design to a new level with her book Natural by Design (available from Amazon.com Books. Her books look at plants and humans as forming an important partnership in the garden. When the gardener is educated about the natural environment, the resulting gardens are easy to maintain, and very beautiful. Phillips’ garden designs are appropriate for a variety of climates in the southwestern United States. She focuses on using natural plants in ecologically-sound combinations.

Super Lady Writes Cool Eco-Coloring Books

Pigweed Press is the creative project of Barbara Eaton, B.S., B.A. , M.Ed., who has created a unique educational tool for kids that will help them gain an awareness of the environment while polishing up their artistic skills. Barbara has won numerous awards as an artist and illustrator. She has also worked in elementary schools, so she cut her teeth with the little rascals she designed these books for. She is also a celebrated writer on a number of subjects, including healthy interior design, and indoor air quality. Damn! Does this woman do everything? Is she some kind of Greek goddess with super powers? We?re impressed!

Rootfriends Picture Book for Kids

Looking for a way to educate your kids about plants, trees, gardening, and the environment? The Rootfriends Picture Book is a delightful childrens book with full color illustrations that detail the lives of the trees around us through such colorful characters as the Root Doctor, Willow Snapper, Maple Sprout and Rooty. For 20 bucks your kids will be immersed in this fantastical world, and will be learning in the process!




Reading (About) the Kyoto Protocol

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Etienne Vermeersch is an emeritus professor in ethics from the University of Ghent in Belgium. This year, he helped pen Reading the Kyoto Protocol: Ethical Aspects of the Convention on Climatic Change, which is a critical and very thorough analysis of the Kyoto Protocol for those looking to wade through the hype and find out what this important international law is all about.

In addition to Etienne’s thoughts on the matter, you can read the insights of philosophers, top-notch international researchers, and environmentalists. Available from Powell?s Books.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbooks

These pocket-sized books from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden are just the thing for a stocking stuffer or for the gardener who likes to have a gardening guide handy while they’re actually gardening! These are ultra-compact books that don’t skimp on useful information. The authors are top-notch and the illustrations are gorgeous! Topics include propagation, gardening techniques, pest control, container gardening, gardening indoors, and more!

Smaller is Better, The Not So Big House



Sarah’s New Book

Sarah Susanka is the author of an important book on home design titled The Not So Big House (Taunton Press, 1998) which was found on the list of the top five best sellers on Amazon.com’s Home and Garden books for two years. Since then, she’s authored numerous books expanding on her philosophy that “bigger homes are not better homes.”

Her latest book, Home By Design was published in 2004 to much critical praise. I discovered her books just this year and really appreciate her pioneering work to “build better, not bigger.”

In the United States, big houses, big cars, and big food are often considered our life’s goals. However, Sarah convincingly writes that comfort and happiness, not to mention energy conservation, can be found in small, well-designed homes.

Since her debut in 1998, Sarah has gotten a lot of attention from the press, with appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show and Charlie Rose. Articles about her work have also appeared in USA Today and the Boston Globe Magazine.

To find out more about her work, check out her website.