Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books




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 . . . learn more about Ecology»

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

Recommended Books on Ecology

Anthill: A NovelAnthill: A Novel
Edward O. Wilson

Prof. Wilson channels Huck Finn in his creative coming-of-age debut novel. Split into three parallel worlds—ants, humans, and the biosphere—the story follows young Raff Cody, who escapes the humid summers in Clayville, Ala., by adventuring in the remote Nokobee wilderness with his cousin, Junior. A remarkable center section meticulously details the life and death of an ant colony. Nearing 30, Raff's desire to preserve the Nokobee reserve from greedy real estate developers galvanizes an effort to protect the sacred land and a surprise violent ending brings everything full circle. Lush with organic details, Wilson's keen eye for the natural world and his acumen for environmental science is on brilliant display in this multifaceted story about human life and its connection to nature. 2010, W. W. Norton

The Balance of NatureThe Balance of Nature: Ecological Issues in the Conservation of Species and Communities
Stuart L. Pimm

Ecologists generally conduct their research on too few species, in too small an area, over too short a period of time. Theoretical ecologist Pimm argues that "balance of nature" - stability, resilience, variability, persistence, and resistance - depends on characteristics of the species studied, the structure of the food web, and the physical features of the environment. 1992, University of Chicago Press

Blessed Unrest
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Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming
Paul Hawken

Environmentalist Paul Hawken believes that we are in the midst of a world-changing rise of activist groups, all "working toward ecological sustainability and social justice." Neither ideological nor centralized, this coalescence of activism is a spontaneous and organic response to the recognition that environmental problems are social-justice problems. Hawken compares this gathering of forces to the human immune system as people are joining together to defend life on Earth. Hopeful and inspiring. 2008, Penguin


Deep Ecology for the Twenty-First CenturyDeep Ecology for the Twenty-First Century
George Sessions, editor

Deep Ecology calls for a paradigm shift - a shift in perception, values, and lifestyles - as a basis for redirecting the ecologically destructive path of modern industrial growth societies. This anthology addresses a broad range of issues by leading deep ecologists: Glendinning argues that psychological distress results from our alienation from nature; Turner profiles Gary Snyder's efforts to practice his vision of "living as part of a larger system of plant and animal communities governed by reciprocity;" McLaughlin clarifies Deep Ecology founder Naess's eight-point platform for change; and Snyder proposes specific action on several levels in the areas of population, pollution, consumption, and transformation of society. Editor Sessions discusses the roots of ecocentrism, the ecocentric philosophers, and modern writers with an ecocentric message. 1995, Shambhala

The Dream of the EarthThe Dream of the Earth
Thomas Berry

Berry explores human - Earth relations and seeks a new, non-anthropocentric approach to the natural world. He says that our immediate danger is not nuclear war but industrial plundering. He urges movement and education toward a "biocracy" that will heal the earth. "This volume quite possibly is one of the ten most important books of the 20th century." Dr. Donald B. Conroy 2006, Sierra Club Books

EaarthEaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
Bill McKibben

In this powerful book environmentalist McKibben concedes that the earth has lost the climatic stability that marked all of human civilization. In some places rainfall is dramatically heavier, while Australia and the American Southwest face a permanent drought; polar ice is vanishing, glaciers everywhere are melting, typhoons and hurricanes are fiercer, and the oceans are more acidic; food yields are dropping as temperatures rise and mosquitoes in expanding tropical zones are delivering deadly disease to millions. His prescription for coping on our new earth is to adopt maintenance as our mantra, to think locally not globally, and to learn to live lightly, carefully, gracefully. Focusing our attention on inspiring communities of "functional independence" arising around the world, he offers galvanizing possibilities for keeping our humanity intact as the world we've known breaks down. 2010, Times Books

Earth in the Balance
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Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit
Al Gore

Former Vice President Al Gore focuses on the threats that everyday choices pose to our climate, water, soil, and diversity of plant and animal life. A passionate, lifelong defender of the environment, Gore describes how human actions and decisions can endanger or safeguard the vulnerable ecosystem that sustains us. 2006, Rodale Books



Ecological LiteracyEcological Literacy: Educating our Children for a Sustainable World
Michael Stone and Zenobia Barlow, editors

Continually updated, this has been the standard advanced text in ecology for 20 years. This new edition includes new chapters on applied ecology, reflecting a rigorous, scientific approach to the ecological problems now facing mankind. Interdependence between the organisms that constitute an ecosystem is demonstrated by understanding flows of energy and matter through the ecosystem. The essential reference for a thorough understanding of ecology. 2005, Wiley

Carolyn Merchant, editor

Ecology brings together some of the foremost environmental thinkers of the 21st century who present new philosophies, theories of justice, spiritual relations, and scientific thought. The book contains chapters on globalization, natural capitalism, the ecofeminist and environmental justice movements, feminist green socialism, conservation and third world peoples, and the ecology of order and chaos. The conclusion presents the "Principles of Environmental Justice," adopted by the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. 2008, Humanity Books

Ecology: From Individuals to EcosystemsEcology: From Individuals to Ecosystems
Michael Begon,

Continually updated, this has been the standard advanced text in ecology for 20 years. This new edition includes new chapters on applied ecology, reflecting a rigorous, scientific approach to the ecological problems now facing mankind. Interdependence between the organisms that constitute an ecosystem is demonstrated by understanding flows of energy and matter through the ecosystem. The essential reference for a thorough understanding of ecology. 2006, Wiley-Blackwell; Fourth edition

Elements of EcologyElements of Ecology
Robert L. Smith, Thomas M. Smith

This newly updated standard text maintains its engaging, reader-friendly style as it explains the basic principles of ecology. Adaptation and evolution, the physical envirornment, climate, population ecology, species interactions, community dynamics, ecosystem ecology and sustainability are some of the many topics covered in depth by this excellent text. 2008, Benjamin Cummings

Environmental PhilosophyEnvironmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology
Michael E. Zimmerman

This impressive and encompassing anthology of recent essays offers readers philosophical diagnoses of the current ecological crisis. It explores environmental ethics, ecofeminism and social justice, and political ecology. The book invites readers to examine their relationship with nature and to look at environmental problems from a more systemic perspective. 2004, Prentice Hall

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 Future of LifeThe Future of Life
Edward O. Wilson

Eminent naturalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Wilson issues an impassioned call to ensure the future of life. Beginning with an imagined conversation with Thoreau at Walden Pond, Wilson combines lyrical descriptions of the natural world with dire warnings and remarkable stories of flora and fauna on the edge of extinction with hard economics. An eloquent plea for a global land ethic. 2003, Vintage

GaiaGaia: A New Look at Life on Earth
James Lovelock

In this classic work Lovelock puts forward his idea that life on earth functions as a single organism. He explores the hypothesis that the earth's living matter, air, ocean, and land surfaces forms a complex system that has the capacity to keep the earth a fit place for life. A new preface outlines the present state of scientific debate on this far-reaching and compelling hypothesis. 2000, Oxford University Press

Global Ecology in Human PerspectiveGlobal Ecology in Human Perspective
Charles H. Southwick

Professor Southwick describes how humans affect global ecosystems and how these changes impact our health, behavior, economics, and politics. He gives particular attention to ecological competition and conflict, the ecology of war, agendas for survival, sustainability, and future prospects. 1966, Oxford University Press

The Global ForestThe Global Forest
Diana Beresford-Kroeger

Canadian scientist Diana Beresford-Kroeger weaves together ecology, ethnobotany, horticulture, spirituality, science, and alternative medicine to capture the magic spell that trees cast over us, from their untapped ecological and pharmaceutical potential to the roles they have played in our cultural heritage. Trees not only breathe and communicate; they also reproduce, provide shelter, medicine, and food, and connect disparate elements of the natural world. In celebrating forests' function and beauty, Beresford-Kroeger warns what a deforested world would look like. Her revolutionary bioplan proposes how trees can be planted in urban and rural areas to promote health and counteract pollution and global warming, main¬taining biodiversity in the face of climate change. 2010, Viking Adult

An Island Called CaliforniaAn Island Called California: An Ecological Introduction to Its Natural Communities
Elna Bakker and Gordy Slack

This classic ecological science text by Prof. Bakker now includes three new chapters on Southern California which make the book more useful than ever. Striking new photographs illustrate the diversity of life, climate, and geological formations. 1985, University of California Press

Lament for an OceanLament for an Ocean
Michael Harris

The northern cod have been almost wiped out. Once the most plentiful fish on the Grand Banks off the coast of Newfoundland, the cod is now on the brink of extinction. In Lament for an Ocean, Michael Harris investigates the real causes of the most wanton destruction of a natural resource in North American history since the buffalo were wiped off the face of the prairies. The story he carefully unfolds is the sorry tale of how, despite the repeated and urgent warnings of ocean scientists, the northern cod was ruthlessly exploited. 1999, McClelland and Stewart

Let the Mountains Talk, let the Rivers RunLet the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run: A Call to Save the Earth
David Brower

As executive director of the Sierra Club through the 1950s and '60s, Brower spearheaded its landmark campaigns, essentially vaulting the ecology movement into a major international force. In this vastly entertaining volume, Brower recounts events from his life and times as prelude to his passionate and inspirational plea on behalf of the earth. "David Brower draws us to see the natural world as a nurturer, teacher, inspirer, and partner. He has been the pathbreaker . . . " Jimmy Carter 2007, Sierra Club Books

The Light-Green SocietyThe Light-Green Society: Ecology and Technological Modernity in France, 1960-2000
Michael Bess

In this penetrating new study history professor Bess argues that the accelerating interpenetration of nature and culture is the hallmark of the new "light-green" social order that has emerged in post-war France. He shows how ecological concerns have shaped France's economic and cultural life while human activities have laid an ever more potent and pervasive touch on the environment. 2003, University of Chicago Press

Minding NatureMinding Nature: Philosophers of Ecology
David Macauley, editor

Minding Nature provides a solid overview of ecological philosophy and original insights into a developing field of philosophical inquiry. Combining philosophy, ecology, and political theory this collection focuses on some of the most influential thinkers (Hobbes, Heidegger, Arendt, Marcuese, Carson and others) who have emphasized our natural relations to the Earth, our social creations, and each other. 1996, The Guilford Press

Out of EdenOut of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion
Alan Burdick

Out of Eden is a thought-provoking account of the ecology of invasions, a hot new science in which new discoveries swiftly overturn old theories. Now that our habitat is global, creatures emigrate with us at an ever-accelerating pace, carried in ship ballast (a bivalve mollusk from England to Massachusetts), imported by nostalgic birders (once native birds returning from disappearance) or crawling into airplanes on their own (the brown tree snake from Australia to Hawaii). Even NASA's space probes carry potential invaders. If these creatures make new homes for themselves, they may eat other species into extinction, infect them with new diseases, even reconfigure an entire ecosystem.
National Book Award Finalist 2005
2006, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Saving America's WildlifeSaving America's Wildlife: Ecology and the American Mind, 1850-1990
Thomas Dunlap

Between the mid-19th century, when wolves, coyotes and other predator animals were indiscriminately slaughtered, and today, when efforts to reintroduce these animals into the wild are well under way, lie years of radical change in American attitudes toward wildlife and the environment. Professor Dunlap traces this change, describing developments in ecology and the humane movement that have affected government policies. The book puts into perspective our changing ideas about nature and demonstrates how difficult and complicated are the processes of making and enforcing laws to protect the environment. 1991, Princeton University Press

Silent SpringSilent Spring
Rachel Carson

Silent Spring, first released in 1962, offered the first shattering look at widespread ecological degradation and touched off an environmental awareness that still persists. Rachael Carson focused on the use of dangerous chemicals in the environment that found their way into the food supply. Carson argued that those chemicals were more dangerous than radiation and that for the first time in history, humans were exposed to chemicals that stayed in their systems from birth to death. This landmark work was a major milestone in creating public awareness of modern ecological thinking.
National Book Award Finalist 1963
2002, Mariner Books

Sustaining LifeSustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity
Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein, editors

The massive scientific effort reported by Sustaining Life has a surprising finding: species diversity acts as a kind of insurance policy for humans, by buffering stresses to the environment. The "mosaic of ecosystems" provide "services" (food, timber, air and water purification, waste decomposition, climate regulation) necessary for life that, due to their complexity and scale, are almost impossible to substitute. Natural systems are robust but vulnerable: the vultures of southern Asia, for instance, are threatened with extinction because their natural diet-carrion-has been poisoned with medicine routinely prescribed for livestock and humans. Criticizing modern, industrial-scale marine fishing and agricultural practices, this volume holds forth organic farming as a viable alternative.
2008, Oxford University Press

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

The Theory of Island BiogeographyThe Theory of Island Biogeography
Robert H. MacArthur and Edward O. Wilson

This book is regarded by many as the most influential volume in theoretical ecology published in the latter half of the 20th century. It predicted the causes and outcomes of variations in species diversity across a wide range of habitats. Providing the underlying theory for current research in conservation biology, this work proposed the equilibrium model of species diversity. 2001, Princeton University Press

Thinking EcologicallyThinking Ecologically: The Next Generation of Environmental Policy
Marian R. Chertow and Daniel C. Esty, editors

This timely compendium offers strategies for handling the environmental problems of the next 25 years. The book gives an overview of the successes and failures of our existing fragmented and complex environmental regulations and offers new ideas for building environmental policy based on the analysis of whole systems. 1997, Yale University Press

Tracking the Vanishing FrogsTracking the Vanishing Frogs: An Ecological Mystery
Kathryn Phillips

Frogs and toads have been around for 350 million years and are an integral part of many ecosystems. Amphibians are extremely vulnerable to environmental change, so vulnerable, in fact, that they are now considered to be "bioindicators," like canaries in a coal mine. And they're disappearing from wetlands and woods around the globe. Phillips accompanies a number of herpetologists in the field as they try to identify the causes of this alarming decline. All evidence points to human activity as the culprit, specifically water and air pollution, and the corresponding rapid changes in the world's weather patterns. 1995, Penguin

The Vanishing Face of GaiaThe Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning
James Lovelock

Lovelock, the controversial originator of Gaia theory (which views Earth as a self-regulating, evolving system made of organisms, the surface rocks, the ocean and the atmosphere) proposes an even more inconvenient truth than Al Gore's. No voluntary human act can reduce our numbers fast enough even to slow climate change. Nevertheless, human civilization has a duty to survive in the few safe havens—the far north and south, islands like Great Britain and Tasmania—free from the drought that will overtake most of the Earth. This is a somber prophecy written with an authority that cannot be dismissed. 2010, Basic Books

Where the Wild Things WereWhere the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators
William Stolzenburg

Where the Wild Things Were examines predation's crucial role in the preservation of ecological diversity, painting nightmarish pictures of what happens when top carnivores are exterminated from ecosystems. Without sea otters to keep ravenous sea urchins in check, some ocean floors in the North Pacific have been stripped of kelp. In Yellowstone National Park, the eradication of wolves has resulted in a glut of elk that have trampled river banks and chewed down young trees. White-tailed deer have denuded the undergrowth in the forests of the eastern United States, because wolves and cougar have disappeared. Without large meat eaters, mid-size predators—raccoons, blue jays, crows, squirrels, opossums—have proliferated, to the detriment of songbird populations. In compellilng descriptions, Stolzenburg demonstrates how and why the delicate balance between predator and prey is so essential. 2009, Bloomsbury USA

The World According to PimmThe World According To Pimm: A Scientist Audits the Earth
Stuart Pimm

Calling himself "the investment banker of the global biological accounts," conservation biologist Pimm balances the raw numbers of what the earth produces against what humans take away annually, and, as an accountant might, quietly but insistently draws our attention to long-range projections. The numbers, he finds, do not quite add up. Pimm makes a strong case for ecology on a global scale. 2001, McGraw-Hill

The World Without Us

Nature and Environmental Book Review

The World Without Us
Alan Weisman

Teasing out the consequences of a simple thought experiment - what would happen if the human species were suddenly extinguished? - Weisman has written a sort of pop-science ghost story, in which the whole earth is the haunted house. New York City subways would fill with water, forests would retake the buckled streets, and land freed from mankind's environmentally poisonous footprint would quickly reconstitute itself. After thousands of years, the earth might revert to Eden. Thought-provoking.
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 2007
2007, Thomas Dunne Books


The Year of the Flood

Nature and Environmental Book Review

The Year of the Flood
Margaret Atwood

In her 2002 speculative novel, Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood depicted a dystopic planet tumbling toward apocalypse. The world she envisaged was in the throes of catastrophic climate change, its wealthy inhabitants dwelling in sterile secure compounds, its poor ones in the dangerous pleeblands of decaying inner cities. Mass extinctions had taken place, while genetic experiments had populated the planet with strange new breeds of animal: liobams, Mo'Hairs, rakunks. In her profoundly imagined new book, The Year of the Flood, she revisits that same world, depicting an edgy no-man's land inhabited by criminals, sex workers, dropouts and the few individuals who are trying to resist the grip of the corporations. A fundamentalist sect, the God's Gardeners, are using enlightened environmental principles to survive, creating organic gardens atop abandoned buildings. This richly imaginative work plays out one scenario of the consequences of global warming. 2010 Anchor; Reprint edition

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