Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books


Ecological Footprint - The Human Impact on the Earth

Before the advent of agriculture some eleven thousand years ago, all humans lived by hunting animals and sea creatures and gathering wild grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables . . . learn more about Ecological Footprint and the Human Impact on the Earth»

The books recommended in this section show, in words and pictures, the impact of people upon the landscape. The field of ecological history details changes in the landscape from hunting, agriculture and industry while historical overviews relate environmental degradation to the collapse of major societies (Anasazi in the American Southwest, the Vikings in Greenland, modern Rwanda). Stunning satellite photography brings home to the reader the enormity of the changes we have wrought. Ecopsychological works examine the effects upon people of ecological impoverishment.

Recommended Books on Ecological Footprint: The Human Impact on the Earth

Changes in the LandChanges in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England
William Cronon

Much historical writing is far more concerned with the players than the stage, and typically include nature only as a convenient prop to provide the occasional splash of color. In Changes in the Land Cronon treats the land of New England with the same sensitivity and attention to detail as the lives of the American natives and the colonists. He depicts the effects of changing land-use patterns on the texture of the New England landscape, and gives voice to the changing communities of trees, rock walls, and rivers. 2003, Hill and Wang

CollapseCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Jared Diamond

Pulitizer Prize-winning Diamond examines the geographic and environmental reasons why some societies, including the ancient Anasazi of the American Southwest and the early Viking colonies of Greenland as well as modern Rwanda, have fallen apart. An eco-meltdown is often the main catalyst, he argues, particularly when combined with society's response to (or disregard for) the coming disaster. Editor's Choice: Best Books of 2005
2011, Penguin; Revised edition

Earth from AboveEarth from Above
Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Ecology aims to give its practitioners an approach to understanding how whole natural systems - for example, watersheds, deserts, and estuaries - work. This remarkable collection of photographs affords its viewers a window into the world's workings, documenting the large-scale impact of human activities upon the earth. We see aerial views of large-scale logging, fans of algae spreading into the Mediterranean Sea, farmers working their fields in Northern India, destroyed Iraqi tanks littering the deserts of Kuwait. A bracing and beautiful book. 2005, Harry N. Abrams

Earth from SpaceEarth From Space: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Andrew K. Johnston

The revolution in satellite reconnaisance reveals stunning perspectives of the earth in remarkably sharp detail. The photographs in this volume emphasize how humans have altered the earth's surface and atmosphere while revealing the beauty of river deltas, typhoons, erupting volcanoes, and even Vermont's fall colors. 2004, Firefly Books

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Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind
Allen D. Kanner

This pathfinding collection shows how the health of the planet is inextricably linked to the psychological health of humanity, individually and collectively. Ecopsychology is both a new beginning for environmentalism and a revolution in modern psychology. 1995, Sierra Club Books



The Eternal Frontier

Nature and Environmental Book Review

The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples
Tim Flannery

In a fascinating chronicle of our continent's evolution, Flannery shows that the only constant is change. The tale begins with the asteroid collision that destroyed the dinosaurs, ends with the almost equally cataclysmic arrival of humankind and fills the middle with an engaging survey of invaders from other lands, wild speciation and an ever-changing climate, all of which have kept the ecology of North America in a constant state of flux. 2002, Grove Press



The Final ForestThe Final Forest: The Battle for the Last Great Trees of the Pacific Northwest
William Dietrich

Author Dietrich, the Pulitizer Prize-winning chief science correspondent for the Seattle Times here examines the many sides of the ongoing debate over the logging of America's last remaining ancient forest on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. The author contends that the US government's short-sighted policies have not only led to loss of dignity and self-respect for the loggers, but also to the unecessary destruction of thousands of acres of old-growth trees. 1993, Penguin

Forest Dwellers, Forest ProtectorsForest Dwellers, Forest Protectors: Indigenous Models for International Development
Richard Reed

Focusing on a key issue affecting indigenous and ethnic groups worldwide, this book discusses the Guarani of Parguay and their role in ecosystem protection and global trade. 2008, Allyn & Bacon

Forests in TimeForests in Time: The Environmental Consequences of 1,000 Years of Change in New England
David R. Foster

This seminal book, based on innovative research at Harvard Forest, describes the dramatic natural and human-induced changes in the land and environment of New England over the past 1000 years. It addresses challenges to the environment as diverse as invasive exotic pests and pathogens, nitrogen dynamics, and climate change. 2006, Yale University Press

The Future Eaters
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The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australian Lands and People
Tim F. Flannery

Coevolution is the key to survival of all species, maintains Flannery as he uses the isolated lands of Australia and Caledonia as a "lab" to demonstrate what he means. When the landmass of Australia separated itself some 36 million years ago, it began to develop its unique flora and fauna. When the indigenous peoples colonized Australia 50,000 years ago they quickly hunted most large animals to extinction, consuming without replacing resources they would need in the future; later-arriving Europeans destroyed even more. With this domination approach, each new territory that was colonized presented opportunities for wealth, population growth, leisure; but the cost is invariably great - populations soar, then drop as food sources become extinct or soil is exhausted. 2002, Grove Press

The HoloceneThe Holocene: An Environmental History
Neil Roberts

The Holocene provides a coherent scientific account of the great transformation of nature that has taken place during the the last 10,000 years. This period has included major shifts in climate and human culture, and in the natural environment at every level. Completely revised and updated to take full account of the most recent advances, this new edition includes substantial material on scientific progress in the understanding of climate change and abrupt climatic events, of disturbance effects on the landscape, and of ice core records. 1998, Wiley-Blackwell

Home GroundHome Ground: Language for an American Landscape
Barry Lopez and Debra Swartney, editors

National Book Award-winner Lopez and co-editor Gwartney assemble 45 writers, known for their intimate connection to particular places, and challenge them to draw on the polyglot richness of American English to collectively create a unique dictionary. This marvelous book, treating such words as arroyo, muskeg, kiss tank, vly, graded shoreline, and revetment, enlivens readers to the rich diversity of language that captures our complex relationship to the land. 2010, Trinity University Press

Human Impact on Ancient EnvironmentsHuman Impact on Ancient Environments
Charles L. Redman

Redman dismisses the myth that all native people before European contact lived in pristine eco-edens in balance with nature. While many lived sustainably, many more were horribly destructive. "Humans have had a role in transforming virtually every environment and locale on the earth - no matter which continent they inhabited." Redman pleads that we must look to lessons from the past and learn to live sustainably. 1999, University of Arizona Press

Land MosaicsLand Mosaics: The Ecology of Landscapes and Regions
Richard T. T. Forman

Animals, water, wind, and people flow at different rates according to spatial patterns common to almost all landscapes and regions. This compelling synthesis explores the ecology of heterogeneous land areas, where natural processes and human activities interact to produce an ever-changing mosaic. Forman's approach shows how the ecological view can be put into practice as we learn how significantly we impact the environment. 1995, Cambridge University Press

Land-Use and Land-Cover ChangeLand-Use and Land-Cover Change: Local Processes and Global Impacts
Eric Lambin and Helmut Geist, editors

This comprehensive book presents the most recent estimates of the rates in changes of major land classes such as forest, cropland and pasture. Aggregated globally, multiple impacts of local land changes are shown to significantly affect central aspects of Earth System functioning. The authors describe how human modification of land cover has become a major driving force of Earth System changes over the past 300 years, a period of the most rapid transformations, and explain the implications for current landscape configurations. 2006, Springer

Landscape Ecology in Theory and PracticeLandscape Ecology in Theory and Practice: Pattern and Process
Monica Turner, R. H. Gardner, and R. V. O'Neill

Landscape ecology has emerged during the past two decades as a new and exciting level of ecological study. Problems such as global climate change, land use change, habitat fragmentation and loss of biodiversity have required ecologists to expand their traditional spatial and temporal scales; the widespread availability of remote imagery, geographic information systems and desktop computing has permitted the development of spatially explicit analyses. This is the first fully integrated treatment of landscape ecology, and merges theoretical developments, modeling approaches and results, and empirical data to show how this new body of knowledge can best be applied. 2001, Springer

Last Child in the WoodsLast Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
Richard Louv

Today's kids are increasingly disconnected from the natural world. A 2002 British study reported that 8-year-olds can identify Pokemon characters far more easily than they could name "otter, beetle and oak tree." The author of this stimulating book argues for a return to an awareness of and appreciation for the natural world. Not only can nature teach kids science and nurture their creativity, he says, nature needs its children: where else will its future stewards come from? 2008, Algonquin Books; Updated and Expanded edition

OrbitOrbit: NASA Astronauts Photograph the Earth
Jay Apt, Michael Helfert and Justin Wilkinson

This awe-inspiring collection of photograhs gives those of us stuck on Earth a glimpse of what our home planet looks like from the window of a spacecraft. All the continents are shown, as well as weather events, the aurora borealis, and the visible effects of anthropogenic environmental change - deforestation and desertification chief among them. Take a sobering look at our lovely planet and realize how small and fragile it really is. 2003, National Geographic

Our Ecological FootprintOur Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth
Williams E. Rees and Marthis Wackernagel

This book presents an internationally-acclaimed tool for measuring and visualizing the resources required to sustain our households, communities, regions and nations, converting the seemingly complex concepts of carrying capacity, resource use, waste-disposal and the like into a graphic form that everyone can grasp and use: the "footprint." The ecological footprints of people in developed countries are much wider and deeper than those of people in developing countries - and Americans have huge ecological footprints compared to most. We are using up the resources of the planet at an astounding rate: our present lifestyle is unsupportable. 1995, New Society Publishers

A Plague of SheepA Plague of Sheep: Environmental Consequences of the Conquest of Mexico
Elinor G. K. Melville

A Plague of Sheep shows how the introduction of Old World species into New Spain aided European expansion, but led to an overall decline in agricultural productivity. The book takes as a case study the sixteenth century history of the Valle del Mezquital north of Mexico City. Melville shows how the conquering Spaniards used depopulated Indian lands for sheep raising, leading to overgrazing, degradation and vegetation change. Formerly fertile lands were colonized by mesquite scrub, making the region largely unproductive until irrigation in the 20th century. This well-documented study details the untoward effects of land exploitation by the colonizers, which irrevocably altered the landscape. 1997, Cambridge University Press

Edward Burtynsky

Celebrated photographer Burtynsky here documents the world's major quarries - in Canada, Italy, China, Spain, Portugal, India and America. Quarries are a crucial source for material that goes into the buildings we construct as well as tangible evidence of our ongoing dependence on the Earth's resources. Somewhere a building is being created while landscape is being destroyed. Burtynsky's images of these plundered landscapes are simultaneously beautiful and disquieting. 2007, Steidl

Sharing Nature's InterestSharing Nature's Interest: Ecological Footprints as an Indicator of Sustainability
Nicky Chambers, Craig Simmons and Mathis Wackernagel

Ecological footprinting is rapidly being adopted as the most effective and practical way to measure our impact on the environment. This book provides a simple and straightforward introduction to ecological footprint analysis, showing how it can be done, and how to measure the footprints of activities, lifestyles, organizations and regions. Case studies clearly illustrate its effectiveness at national, organizational, individual and product levels. 2001, Earthscan Publications

Something New Under the Sun
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Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World
J. R. McNeill, John Robert McNeill and Paul Kennedy

In the last century, the authors write, the industrialized and developing nations of the world have wrought damage to nearly every part of the globe. Soil degradation now affects one-third of Earth's land surface, though intensive fertilizer use and genetic engineering of crops have masked the ill effects. From Mexico City to Calcutta, from China to Africa, megacities choke on air pollution as economic development takes priority over other concerns. Acid rain has decimated lake and river life, crops and forests across Europe and North America. Something New documents the pollution of oceans and seas; worldwide deforestation; the unchecked "harvesting" of fish and whales; disruptive invasions by new species; and the massive impact on ecosystems resulting from urbanization, population growth, wars, oil spills,and nuclear power accidents. 2001, W. W. Norton

Tending the WildTending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources
M. Kat Anderson

Marvelously detailed and beautifully written, Tending the Wild is an unparalleled examination of Native American knowledge and uses of California's natural resources. The book reshapes our understanding of native cultures and shows how we might begin to use their knowledge in our own conservation efforts.
M. Kat Anderson presents a wealth of information on native land management practices gleaned in part from interviews and correspondence with Native Americans who recall what their grandparents told them about how and when areas were burned, which plants were eaten and which were used for basketry, and how plants were tended. We come to see California's indigenous people as active agents of environmental change and stewardship. Tending the Wild persuasively argues that this traditional ecological knowledge is essential if we are to successfully meet the challenge of living sustainably. 2006, University of California Press

Voices of the LandVoices of the Land
Jamie Purinton, editor

A visual and written tribute, Voices of the Land brings together a diverse community who speaks out for greater stewardship of our landscape. The authors share of their own unique relationships to the land. Together with evocative photographs that detail the intricacies of nature, the book encourages homeowners to be responsibve to the existing character and ecology of their land as it becomes a home. A Realtor wonders about the value of a hilltop site she is about to sell. Why clear a forest's understory when it provides important habitat for birds and mammals? Why build on an exposed ridge when the house will be blown by cold winter winds? By questioning conventional approaches the authors challenge presumptions about 'developing' land. 2004, Chelsea Green Publishing

Wide AngleWide Angle: National Geographic Greatest Places
Ferdinand Protzman

Spanning the world, from Northeast Europe to Southeast Asia, these 260 photos offer a spectacular view of regions of unimaginable, often haunting beauty. This book is large: in format, in scope, in pages, and in its effect on the reader. The entire globe is the book's purview - all continents in every imaginable setting, from sunflowers on Mount Fuji to koala bears in Australia, from a herd of zebras in Kenya to women in a field in Yemen. A lovely book! 2011, National Geographic

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