Capsule Eco Book Reviews: The Best Nature, Ecology and Environmental Writing
Tuesday, 22 January 2013 00:00  |  Written by EcoHearth

Reading photo by Will OckendenThere are more books published every day. Fortunately, many are focused on understanding and caring for the planet. Since none of us can read them all, it's helpful to know which are the most worth our time. EcoHearth to the rescue! Our writers and readers recommend the following titles having to do with nature, ecology and the environment—and our place in it. And we've included capsule reviews of the same. Please add your book recommendations and mini reviews in the comments section at the bottom of the page. If we agree with your evaluation, we may add your book suggestion to our recommendations along with your brief review.

  • Change Comes To Dinner by Katherine Gustafson (2012) - Gustafson takes the reader on a trip across the country to farms, food markets, nonprofits, businesses and other institutions all striving to create an America that feeds its people through a system of sustainable agriculture. An educational, enjoyable and inspiring journey. Buy it
  • The Fragile Edge by Julie Whitty (2008) - Whitty, a longtime scuba diver and nature documentary filmmaker, provides an amazing portrait of our oceans in crisis. We’ve spent a lot of time lately dwelling on what is happening on the continents, but the devastation underwater is just as profound, maybe more so. Whitty weaves all of this information into an exciting tale of underwater adventuring—personal, spiritual and deeply moving. Buy it
  • Political Ecosystems by J. P. Harpignies (2004) - Longtime activist and political pragmatist Harpignies urges his left-leaning bretheren to come to a more nuanced psychological, sociological, historical and cultural view of environmental change. Only in this way does he believe they can formulate a winning strategy. Thoughtful, fascinating, and probably right. Buy it
  • A Sand Country Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1949) - Leopold, a forester, ecologist and environmentalist, wrote this collection of essays about the wilderness around his Wisconsin home. The book promotes the idea of ethical treatment of land and is firmly established as "a landmark in the American conservation movement." Buy it
  • The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram (1997) - This book is a tough one. There’s a lot of philosophy and a lot of ecology and a lot of psychology, but his thesis is sound and his ideas revolutionary—and it’s worth slogging through the occasional dense passage to get there. This book is a sort of primer to the new field of eco-psychology, which is the study of the impact that nature has on the human brain and human consciousness. Most people will find the truth more than a little shocking. On top of all that, perhaps more importantly, this is a book about what we’ve lost on this road to modernity and how to get it back. Buy it
  • Against the Grain by Richard Manning (2005) - This 250-page argument against agriculture is essentially a plea for a return to the hunter-gatherer state. That may sound like a lot to swallow. Turns out it’s not. The essay it was based on (“The Oil We Eat”) appeared in Harper’s Magazine a few years back. It was perhaps the best piece of scientific essay writing ever, and then the book came out and beat it hands down. Truly, an amazing read. Buy it
  • Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (2005) - One of several recent masterpieces on food—and it remains at the top of this class both for the sheer number of facts per page and the beauty of the sentences containing those facts. If any book can make you question your carnivorous ways, this one will. Buy it
  • Song of the Dodo by David Quammen (1997) - Technically, this is a book about the study of islands, or nature surrounded by boundaries that wildlife won’t cross—like, say, big interstate freeways. In fact, as Quammen eloquently points out, since there are very few contiguous wildlands left, these days it’s all islands. And this has consequences. This is a book not only about those consequences, but about how we learned of them, meaning Quammen starts all the way back with Darwin and Wallace, and works forward from there. A masterpiece of "new journalism." Buy it
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (2005) - Pollan explores every aspect of diet and the issues that relate to it (including the political, environmental and health ones) starting with the premise that "[t]he way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world." An easy read, yet packed full of valuable information and intriquing ideas. Highly recommended. Buy it
  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962) - This is one of the most influential environmental books ever written. President John F. Kennedy, after reading it, called for the testing of DDT and other chemicals condemned in the book. Eventually, many of these were banned in the US. Her work also led to a heightened environmental consciousness among the public that pressured the federal government to establish the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. The author has rightfully been called “the mother of the modern environmental movement.” Buy it
  • Real Food by Nina Planck (2007) - The New York Times says the book "poses a convincing alternative to the prevailing dietary guidelines, even those treated as gospel." She argues convincingly for eschewing processed foods and a return to eating natural ones. Buy it
  • The Control of Nature by John McPhee (1990) - It's about the Army Corps of Engineers trying to tame the Mississippi River—and how and why humans repeatedly do way more damage than good when they try to mess with eco-systems. It’s the book that always and uncomfortably comes to mind when people start talking about space mirrors and ocean seeding as solutions to global warming. Buy it
  • The Ninemile Wolves by Rick Bass (2005) - Technically it’s the story of the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. Emotionally it’s the story of America’s tortured relationship with wildlife. Either way it’s a must read—and a book you may find yourself thumbing through years after first reading it. Buy it
  • The Dominant Animal by Paul Ehrlich (2008) - Ehrlich is one of the best population biologists around. To really understand the current crisis, one has to understand the impact that mankind’s exploding population is having on our world. This is the book that paints the whole scary picture. Buy it
  • The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler (2005) - Most scientists agree that oil—the fuel that props up our lavish lifestyles—is running out. Kunstler looks at the coming post-oil society from a sociologist's perspective and the predictions he makes are not pleasant. Buy it
  • Humoring the Horror of the Converging Emergencies by the ApocaDocs (2010) - If you need a crash course on why our civilization is in deep doo-doo, the ApocaDocs are here to help with this quick-read, no-nonsense but whacky guide to the key dilemmas ailing our planet. Buy it
  • Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert (2006) - Kolbert takes a comprehensive (and refreshingly apolitical) look at global warming and what we can do to stop it. Buy it
  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854) - A classic of nature writing and American literature in general, it describes the 26 months when Thoreau lived alone in a shack at Walden Pond outside of Boston, Massachusetts. During this time he did not shun society, but merely asserted his independence from it. At a cost of only $28.12, he was able to build his home and grow enough food to live. This proto-environmental work provides powerful inspiration for simple living, environmental consciousness and reverence for nature. Buy it
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2004) - If you want to truly appreciate the mystery of the natural world, it helps to understand how that world works—that is, how do all the pieces fit together moving across scales and orders of magnitude and such. Bryson’s book may be literally the best science book ever written, and it’s certainly the best macroscopic look at how our world works. Plus, no one is as fun to read as Bryson. Buy it

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Additional resources:
Green Films: The Best Environmental Documentaries
Green Movies: The Best Environmental Fictional Feature Films

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