Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Ecology: Understanding the Biosphere

by David Yarian, Ph.D.

Ecology is a buzzword that first captured our attention in the late sixties, with the development of the “ecology movement” – really a resurgence of the American environmental movement.

But “ecology” was a scientific term first coined by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel in 1866. He defined it as the “comprehensive science of the relationship of the organism to its environment.”

He was ahead of his time: not until the 1928 publication of von Bertalanffy’s Modern Theories of Development: An Introduction to Theoretical Biology was there a full theoretical presentation of what has come to be called General Systems Theory, which provides the theoretical underpinnings for systemic approaches to scientific study.

Systems thinking, as opposed to scientific reductionism, focuses on the linkages and interactions between the elements that comprise the entirety of a system. The “new” science of ecology thus is concerned with understanding the interactions among and between organisms and environment, within the ecosystem as a whole.

Axiomatic in systems thinking is the notion of interdependence: when one element of a system changes, there are system-wide effects. We are still in the learning stage of how this applies to the complex ecosystem called Earth. With rapid growth in population and technological power, it is no longer possible to assume that human interventions have minimal effect. The earth and sea and sky which have seemed so limitless, turn out to be finite indeed.

The arena in which the drama of life on Earth plays out is the biosphere: all that which is living, and the environment that supports life. Relative to the size of the planet the biosphere is that thin band surrounding the globe extending from 11,000 meters below sea level to 15,000 meters above sea level.

The books recommended in the section on Ecology represent cutting-edge thinking in the field, as well as several updated classics that have stood the test of time.