Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Environmentalism and the Environmental Movement

Ecology Flag ImageIn the late 1960s, this flag* first appeared – flying at gatherings in People’s Park in Berkeley and on patches sewn onto the sleeves of army-surplus coats . . . learn more about Environmentalism and the Environmental Movement»

These are dangerous, exciting and challenging times as we race to address the global environmental issues that place at risk life on Earth. The books recommended below offer cogent perspectives on the history, the heroes, the development and current status of the environmental movement in America.

Recommended Books on Environmentalism and the Environmental Movement

Blessed Unrest
short list

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


Break Through
short list

Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility
Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus

The authors argue that the politics that dealt with acid rain and smog can't deal with global warming. In short, "environmentalism" must die so that something new can be born. Break Through articulates a new politics for a new century, one focused on aspirations, not complaints; human possibility, not limits. What the new ecological crises demand is that we unleash a new kind of economic development. We cannot tear down the old energy economy before building the new one. The invention of the internet and microchips, the creation of the space program, the birth of the European Union - those break throughs were only made possible by big and bold investments in the future. The era of small thinking is over, the authors claim. We must go beyond small-bore environmentalism and interest-group liberalism to create a politics focused as much on uncommon greatness as the common good. 2007, Houghton Mifflin

The Columbia Guide to American Environmental HistoryThe Columbia Guide to American Environmental History
Carolyn Merchant

This exciting compendium of American environmental history provides a thorough treatment of the topic beginning with Native-European encounters from 1000 to 1875 A.D. Subsequent chapters examine the transformation of New England from wilderness to farms; the development of the tobacco and cotton plantation economy in the South; the Western frontier, settlement of California and the Great Plains; the beginnings of conservation and preservation; the rise of ecology; and the modern "Era of Environmentalism." Extensive resource guide, bibliography and an environmental history timeline. 2005, Columbia University Press

Confessions of an Eco-WarriorConfessions of an Eco-Warrior
Dave Foreman

Foreman, founder of the controversial environmental group EarthFirst! here reflects on his involvement with EarthFirst! and why he left the group. He also discusses his environmental philosophy and outlines a plan to change the National Wilderness Preservation System. While believing passionately in the idea that the Earth, not humanity, is the most important reason for conservation, he offers reassessments of some of the group's more notorious methods. This is environmental philosophy at its finest. 1993, Three Rivers Press

Conserving WordsConserving Words: How American Nature Writers Shaped the Environmental Movement
Daniel J. Philippon

How did American nature writers shape the environmental movement? To answer this difficult question, Daniel Philippon looks at five authors of seminal works of nature writing who also founded or revitalized important environmental organizations: Theodore Roosevelt and the Boone and Crockett Club, Mabel Osgood Wright and the National Audubon Society, John Muir and the Sierra Club, Aldo Leopold and the Wilderness Society, and Edward Abbey and Earth First! Integrating literature, history, biography, and philosophy, this ambitious study explores how "conserving" words enabled narratives to convey environmental values as they explained how human beings should interact with the nonhuman world. 2005, University of Georgia Press

Counterculture GreenCounterculture Green: The Whole Earth Catalog and American Environmentalism
Andrew G. Kirk

Andrew Kirk recounts the story of The Whole Earth Catalog which promoted a philosophy of pragmatic environmentalism that celebrated technological achievement, human ingenuity, and sustainable living. This book takes a fresh look at the many individuals and groups who helped construct this pragmatic philosophy showing that The Whole Earth Catalog was more than a mere counterculture fad: it became a critical forum for environmental alternatives and a model for how complicated ecological ideas could be presented in a hopeful and even humorous way. 2007, University Press of Kansas

Earthrise: How Man First Saw the EarthEarthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth
Robert Poole

In Earthrise historian Poole reveals the behind-the-scenes story of the first photographs taken of Earth from space, and how those amazing images forever changed our view of the Earth. Snapped on the fly during the tightly scheduled 1968 Apollo 8 mission, the iconic photo dubbed "Earthrise"--the image of a cloudy blue Earth rising over a starkly monochromatic lunar surface--stunned everyone. Astronaut Frank Borman called it "the most beautiful, heart-catching sight of my life." Paradoxically, rather than turning people's eyes on a future in space, the photo refocused them on Earth, and was a powerful stimulus to the environmental movement. 2010, Yale University Press

Ecological Resistance MovementsEcological Resistance Movements: The Global Emergence of Radical and Popular Environmentalism
Bron Raymond Taylor, editor

Ecological resistance movements are proliferating around the world. Some are explicitly radical in their ideas and militant in their tactics while others have emerged from a variety of social movements that, in response to environmental deterioration, have taken up ecological sustainability as a central objective. This book brings together a team of international scholars to examine contemporary movements of ecological resistance. 1995, State University of New York Press

EcopopulismEcopopulism: Toxic Waste and the Movement for Environmental Justice
Andrew Szasz

Author Szasz traces the history of environmental populism growing out of serious hazardous waste crises such as the Love Canal crisis which highlighted the failure of routine governmental regulatory approaches. "Toxic Waste" as a new mass issue was born. Szasz elaborates the broader political implications of environmental populism and the reconstitution of progressive politics. 1994, University of Minnesota Press

Eco-WarriorsEco-warriors: Understanding the Radical Environmental Movement
Rik Scarce

Political causes have always had radical fringe elements. It may be hard for many to understand those who are willing to risk their lives in defense of the planet, but this book is excellent in explaining who they are and what motivates them. Scarce gives the historical background of the radical environmental movement, reviews several groups with examples of their activities, and discusses the future of the movement. Although the intensity and extremist tactics of the "eco-warriors" may be off-putting, Scarce suggests that in the end we may owe thanks for our very survival to these people. 2005, Left Coast Press

Encounters with the ArchdruidEncounters with the Archdruid
John McPhee

Born in 1915, the mountaineer and outdoorsman David Brower has arguably been the single most influential American environmentalist in the last half of the 20th century; even his erstwhile foes at the Department of the Interior grudgingly credit him with having nearly single-handedly halted the construction of a dam in the heart of the Grand Canyon. McPhee offers up an engaging portrait of Brower, a man unafraid of a good fight in the service of the Earth, making Encounters an important contribution to the history of the modern environmental movement.
National Book Award Finalist 1972
1977, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

First Along the RiverFirst Along the River: A Brief History of the U.S. Environmental Movement
Benjamin Kline

This concise overview of the environmental movement from the colonial era to the present recounts the movement's history as it parallels major social and political events in our nation's history. An ideal introduction for the interested general reader. 2007, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

The Gentle SubversiveThe Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement
Mark Hamilton Lytle

Biologist Rachel Carson (1907-1964) wrote the National Book Award winning The Sea Around Us (1951) but is best known for her ground breaking book, Silent Spring (1962), a scathing expose of the effects of DDT and other pesticides. This spirited biography shows the female scientist overcoming gender prejudice in a male dominated field, the stresses of caring for her ailing mother and Carson's battles with recurring breast cancer. This remarkable scientist's commitment was to "protect the living things she loved so dearly." 2007, Oxford University Press

Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern EnvironmentalismGifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism
Char Miller

Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), a pioneering environmentalist and progressive politician, was the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service. He believed that conservation should "produce the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the longest run," and was prescient in his concern about polution and the need for affordable and sustainable energy sources. Miller's animated biography presents Pinchot in all his ferver and environmentalism in all its complexity. 2004, Island Press

Green Planet BluesGreen Planet Blues: Environmental Politics from Stockholm to Johannesburg
Ken Conca and Geoffrey D. Dabelko, editors

Revised and updated throughout, this unique anthology examines global environmental politics from a range of perspectives: contemporary and classic, activist and scholarly, and reflecting voices of the powerless and powerful. Paradigms of sustainability, environmental security, and ecological justice illustrate the many ways environmental problems and their solutions are framed in contemporary international debates about climate, water, forests, toxics, energy, food, biodiversity, and other environmental challenges of the twenty-first century. 2010, Westview Press

The Humbolt CurrentThe Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism
Aaron Sachs

During the 19th century in America, there was great interest in natural history, spurred by reports of explorers from the field. Arguably the Einstein of his day in terms of fame, accomplishment and influence, explorer and author Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) had a huge impact on American environmentalism. Sachs divides the book into the four points of the compass, addressing East (Europe's influence), South (excursions to Antarctica), West (exploring the frontier) and North (failed attempts to conquer the North Pole). The author chooses four explorer-naturalists—J.N. Reynolds, Clarence King, George Wallace Melville and John Muir—to represent the various tributaries of Humboldt's considerable influence. 2007, Penguin

John MuirJohn Muir: Nature's Visionary
Gretel Ehrlich

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread," wrote Muir who walked away from the hubub of humanity and immersed himself in the wild until an "evangelistic urge" induced him to come down from his beloved Sierras and share his belief in the sanctity of wilderness. By focusing on Muir's unquenchable appetite for life and learning and quoting with great discernment from his works, including unpublished journals, nature writer Ehrlich beautifully captures Muir's essence and clearly defines the ongoing significance of his accomplishments. 2000, National Geographic

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

Living Through the End of NatureLiving Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism
Paul Wapner

Environmentalists have always worked to protect the wildness of nature but now must find a new direction. We have so tamed, colonized, and contaminated the natural world that safeguarding it from humans is no longer an option. In Living Through the End of Nature, Paul Wapner probes the meaning of environmentalism in a postnature age. He argues that the end of nature represents not environmentalism's death knell but an opportunity to build a more effective political movement. Acknowledging that we can neither go back to a preindustrial Elysium nor forward to a technological utopia, he proposes a third way that takes seriously the breached boundary between humans and nature. Living Through the End of Nature charts a co-evolutionary path in which environmentalists exploit the tension between naturalism and mastery to build a more sustainable, ecologically vibrant, and socially just world. 2010, MIT 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

Nature's EconomyNature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas
Donald Worster

Nature's Economy is a wide-ranging investigation of ecology's past. It traces the origins of the concept, discusses the thinkers who have shaped it, and shows how it in turn has shaped the modern perception of our place in nature. The book includes portraits of Linnaeus, Gilbert White, Darwin, Thoreau, and such key 20th century ecologists as Rachel Carson, Frederic Clements, Aldo Leopold, James Lovelock, and Eugene Odum. An absorbing contribution to the history of ideas. 1994, Cambridge University Press

Nature's KeepersNature's Keepers: The Remarkable Story of How the Nature Conservancy Became the Largest Environmental Group in the World
Bill Birchard

This generally admiring portrait of The Nature Conservancy, the organization that preserves uniquely functioning ecosystems, focuses on nine personalities who made a difference. It is a matchless tale of a half century of organizational growth and renewal leading up to the Nature Conservancy's recently announced goal of preserving ten percent of every ecosystem on earth. 2005, Jossey-Bass

Preserving the NationPreserving the Nation: The Conservation and Environmental Movements, 1870-2000
Thomas Raymond Wellock

Professor Wellock explores the international, rural, and industrial roots of modern environmentalism that emerged in the last half of the nineteenth century - three related movements in response to a rapidly expanding economy and population that depleted the nation's resources, damaged land in rural areas, and blighted cities. Accessible and insightful, Preserving the Nation is a thought-provoking history of environmental politics. 2007, Harlan

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 Davidson

The Wealth of NatureThe Wealth of Nature: Environmental History and the Ecological Imagination
Donald Worster

This collection of 16 essays from Bancroft Prize winning historian Worster concerns the impact on nature of Judeo-Christian beflief, Adam Smith's economic theories and humankind generally and also offers a historical perspective on the growth of environmental history. The ecological crisis, he stresses, is "the crisis of modern culture." 1994, Oxford University Press

Whole Earth DisciplineWhole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary
Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand, co-author of the seminal 1969 Whole Earth Catalog, reflects on lessons learned from more than 40 years as an environmentalist in Whole Earth Discipline, a compelling attempt to inspire practicable solutions to climate change. He exhorts environmentalists to become fearless about following science; his iconoclastic proposals include transitioning to nuclear energy and ecosystem engineering. Brand's fresh perspective, approachable writing style and manifest wisdom ultimately convince the reader that the future is not an abyss to be feared but an opportunity for innovative problem solvers to embrace enthusiastically. 2010, Penguin

Return to top of page