Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Global Warming and Climate Change

The average air temperature near the Earth’s surface rose approximately 1.33 degrees Fahrenheit during the last 100 years . . . learn more about Global Warming and Climate Change»

The recommended books listed below offer scientific and historical descriptions of the phenomena of global warming and climate change and point the way to effective and multi-layered responses to this challenge.

Recommended Books on Global Warming and Climate Change

The Atlas of Climate ChangeThe Atlas of Climate Change: Mapping the World's Greatest Challenge
Kirstin Dow and Thomas E. Downing

This atlas examines the causes of climate change and considers its possible impact on subsistence, water resources, ecosystems, biodiversity, health, coastal megacities, and cultural treasures. With more than fifty full-color maps and graphics, this is an essential resource for policy makers, environmentalists, students, and everyone concerned with this pressing subject. 2007, University of California Press

Boiling PointBoiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists, and Activists Have Fueled a Climate Crisis--And What We Can Do to Avert Disaster
Ross Gelbspan

Denouncing the oil and coal industries as "criminals against humanity," Gelbspan communicates his sincere belief that human civilization is in mortal peril from global warming. Yet he recognizes that the American public is not as alarmed as he is, so the first half of his work dissects the forces he alleges are keeping Americans in ignorant thrall. They are the fossil fuel lobby, the George W. Bush administration, and journalism. Gelbspan denounces American journalism for inadequate coverage of global warming, and when covering it, for giving equal weight to the arguments of skeptical scientists. 2005, Basic Books

Censoring ScienceCensoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming
Mark Bowen

This portrait of NASA climate scientist James Hansen and his decades-long struggle to alert the public about global warming's perils and potential solutions ranges from deeply disturbing and frightening to inspiring. Bowen gives convincing evidence that the G.W. Bush administration did its best to control NASA scientists' communication with the public in order to undermine belief in global warming and belittle its consequences. Bowen's portrayal of Hansen is inspiring, as the reader sees a mature scientist carefully describing the empirical evidence without regard to how he feels about it. Hansen's conviction that tools exist right now to mitigate the worst effecta of global warming — if only we will use them — is surprisingly hopeful. 2007, Dutton

Climate Change 2007 - The Physical Science BasisClimate Change 2007 - The Physical Science Basis: Working Group I Contribution to the fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Climate Change 2007)
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The IPCC, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2007 for its work, provides the most comprehensive and balanced assessment of climate change available. This volume brings us completely up-to-date on the full range of scientific aspects of climate change. 2007, Cambridge University Press

Climate Change 2007 - Impacts, Adaptation and VulnerabilityClimate Change 2007 - Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability: Working Group II contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Climate Change 2007)
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

This IPCC volume provides a complete description of the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change. 2007, Cambridge University Press

Climate Change 2007 - Mitigation of Climate ChangeClimate Change 2007 - Mitigation of Climate Change: Working Group III contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Climate Change 2007)
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

"This well-edited of three volumes will surely be the standard reference for nearly all arguments related with global warming and climate change." Meteorologische Zeitschrift This volume is the state-of-the art assessment of the scientific, technical, environmental, economic, and social aspects of the mitigation of climate change. 2007, Cambridge University Press

Climate Change in PrehistoryClimate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Reign of Chaos
William James Burroughs

By setting our genetic history in the context of climate change during prehistory, the origin of many features of our modern world are identified and presented in this illuminating book, which weaves together studies of the climate with anthropological, archaeological, and historical studies. 2005, Cambridge University Press

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. 2011, Penguin

The Discovery of global WarmingThe Discovery of Global Warming: Revised and Expanded Edition
Spencer R. Weart

In an engaging book that reads like a detective story, physicist Weart reports the history of global warming theory, including the internal conflicts plaguing the research community and the role government has had in promoting climate studies. With just enough scientific detail and plenty of biographical narrative, Weart conveys the difficulties of studying vast, chaotic weather systems. Blending parallel stories, he implies that although geophysicists took a long time to understand the various elements of global warming, they were all working toward a common goal. Without resorting to fear-mongering, the book gives an informed history and offers readers solutions to consider. 2008, Harvard University Press

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: The SequelEarth: The Sequel: The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming
Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn

Environmental Defense Fund president Krupp and journalist Horn proffer a business-centric prescription for alleviating climate change, coupling the market force of capitalism with technological innovation and entrepreneurial inventiveness. The authors argue in favor of strict federal carbon caps, which would induce innovators to explore new ways to control carbon dioxide emissions. New technologies would benefit from such a logical, elegant, market-based approach. This optimistic book brims with ideas, balancing jargon-heavy science with engaging profiles of individuals who are blending business and science in an attempt to save the planet. 2009, W.W. Norton

Earth's ClimateEarth's Climate: Past and Future
William F. Ruddiman

Paleoclimatologist Ruddiman describes the general climatic history of the earth and the dynamic processes that govern it. Hypotheses, problems, and events are introduced with a captivating detective-like style, and a telescopic time-perspective from longer geotectonic time-scales all the way down to decadal patterns and phenomena is just what's needed to bring home the full picture of how earth's climate has evolved. 2000, W. H. Freeman

The Economics of Climate ChangeThe Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review
Nicholas Stern

The Stern Review is an independent, rigorous and comprehensive analysis of the economic aspects of climate change. "Sir Nicholas Stern spells out a bleak vision of a future gripped by violent storms, rising sea-levels, crippling droughts and economic chaos unless urgent action is taken to tackle global warming." The Daily Telegraph  2007, Cambridge University Press

The End of NatureThe End of Nature: Tenth Anniversary Edition
Bill McKibben

This seminal offering was first published over a decade ago when the phenomenon of global warming was a hotly argued and angrily debated issue. The publication of this new 10th Anniversay Edition arrives in the world in which the author's basic thesis has been validated by over a decade of data regarding climate change. 2006, Random House Trade Paperbacks

Everything's CoolEverything's Cool (DVD)
Daniel B. Gold, director

Everything's Cool is a toxic comedy about the most dangerous chasm ever to emerge between scientific understanding and political action - Global Warming. While industry-funded naysayers sing their swan song of scientific doubt and deception, a group of self-appointed global warming messengers are on a life-or-death quest to help the public go from understanding the urgency of the problem to creating the political will necessary to push for a new energy economy. 2007, City Lights Media

Field Notes from a Catastrophe
Short List

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change
Elizabeth Kolbert

Kolbert's calmly persuasive reporting stands out for its sobering clarity. She lets facts rather than polemics tell the story. In essence it's that earth is now nearly as warm as it has been at any time in the last 420,000 years and is on the precipice of an unprecedented "climate regime, one with which modern humans have had no prior experience." 2006, Bloomsbury USA


Fight Global Warming NowFight Global Warming Now: The Handbook for Taking Action in Your Community
Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben warns that it's no longer time to debate global warming, it's time to fight it. Drawing on the experience of Step It Up, a national day of rallies held on April 14, McKibben and the Step It Up team of organizers provide the facts of what must change to save the climate and show how to build the fight in your community, church, or college. They describe how to launch online grassroots campaigns, generate persuasive political pressure, plan high-profile events that will draw media attention, and other effective actions. This essential book offers the blueprint for a mighty new movement against the most urgent challenge facing us today. 2007, Holt

Floods, Famines, and EmperorsFloods, Famines, and Emperors: El Nino and the Fate of Civilizations
Brian M. Fagan

In 1997, one of the most powerful El Ninos in recorded history caused bitter freezes in Europe, brutal snow storms and floods in western North America, and deadly droughts throughout the South Pacific. Fagan examines the social effects of El Nino and other powerful weather phenomena and shows how climatic alterations have changed the course of history. 2009, Basic Books; Revised edition

Fragile EarthFragile Earth: Views of a Changing World
Collins UK Staff

Using unique before-and-after satellite imagery, this book documents the impact on the planet of natural disasters, climate change, resource exploitation, and human development. A fascinating, insightful approach that gives the reader the big picture on global warming. 2006, Collins

Frozen EarthFrozen Earth: The Once and Future Story of Ice Ages
Douglas Macdougall

People commonly think the earth's climate is warming, but on a geological time-scale, the earth has been cooling for the past 35 million years and is in the midst of a 3-million-year ice age - the Pleistocene Ice Age. By grounding the reader in the science of ice ages and by underscoring climate's propensity for abrupt gyrations, Macdougall's account promotes a welcome, reasoning attitude toward ice-age research and its relevance to global warming. 2006, University of California Press

God's Last OfferGod's Last Offer: Negotiating for a Sustainable Future
Ed Ayres

"The window of opportunity is cloing fast," cautions World Watch editor Ayres, who urges us to reverse the global trends that threaten ecological catastrophe and societal collapse. He identifies four revolutionary changes that endanger planetary survival: global warming, loss of biodiversity, a surge of unsustainable resource-depleting consumption, and exploding population growth. 2000, Four Walls Eight Windows

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

Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth

Nature and Environmental Book Review

Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth
Mark Hertsgaard

A new father, Hertsgaard was growing increasingly anxious and despondent about climate change and the world his daughter would inherit. Hot is his investigation into the techniques that could allow his daughter and her generation to survive the challenges ahead. This readable, passionate book is surprisingly optimistic: Seattle, Chicago, and New York are making long-term, comprehensive plans for flooding and drought. Impoverished farmers in the already drought-stricken African Sahel have discovered how to substantially improve yields and decrease malnutrition by growing trees among their crops; Bangladeshis, some of the poorest and most flood-vulnerable yet resilient people on earth, are developing imaginative innovations such as weaving floating gardens from water hyacinth that lift with rising water. Contrasting the Netherland's 200-year flood plans to the New Orleans Katrina disaster, Hertsgaard points out that social structures, even more than technology, will determine success, and persuasively argues that human survival depends on bottom-up, citizen-driven government action. 2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hot, Flat, and CrowdedHot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America
Thomas L. Friedman

NY Times columnist Friedman takes a fresh look at two of the biggest challenges we face today: America’s surprising loss of focus and national purpose since 9/11; and the global environmental crisis, which is affecting everything from food to fuel to forests. He explains how global warming, rapidly growing populations, and the astonishing expansion of the world’s middle class through globalization have produced a planet that is “hot, flat, and crowded.” In this provocative new book, he shows how the United States can step up now and take the lead in a worldwide effort to replace our wasteful, inefficient energy practices with a strategy for clean energy, energy efficiency, and conservation that Friedman calls Code Green. 2008, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

An Inconvenient Truth
Short List

An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It
Al Gore

Former Vice President Al Gore calls our climate crisis a true planetary emergency and says that it represents both danger and opportunity. He calls for raising fuel ecomony in vehicles, launching a serious renewable energy program, and calls upon Americans to take the lead in taking action to address the issues of global warming. 2006, Rodale Books

An Inconvenient TruthAn Inconvenient Truth
DVD Starring: Al Gore
Davis Guggenheim, director

With the fate of our planet arguable hanging in the balance, this film may prove to be one of the most important and prescient documentaries of all time. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2006. 2006, Paramount

Kicking the Carbon HabitKicking the Carbon Habit: Global Warming And the Case for Renewable And Nuclear Energy
William Sweet

Science journalist Sweet says the villan of catastrophic climate change is coal, whose sooty carbon emissions make it the single worst energy source. Citing the generally safe record of nuclear energy, he proposes that wind generation and nuclear plants be the chosen methods for powering America's future. 2006, Columbia University Press

The Last Hours of Ancient SunlightThe Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: Revised and Updated: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It's Too Late
Thom Hartmann

This comprehensive book with a focus on political activism and its affect on corporate behavior, details what is happening to our planet, the reasons for our culture's blind behavior, and how we can fix the problem. 2004, Three Rivers Press

The Little Ice AgeThe Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
Brian M. Fagan

The role of climatic change in human history remains open to question, due in large part to scant data. Archaeology professor Fagan draws discerning connections between an amazing array of disparate sources: ice cores, tree rings, archaeological digs, tithing records that show dates of wine harvests, cloud types depicted in land scapes over time. He details human adaptation to meteorologic events of the period 1300 - 1850. 2001, Basic Books

The Long EmergencyThe Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century
James Howard Kunstler

Kunstler sees declining oil production leading to massive economic and social dislocations, the progressive dilapidation of suburbs, the depopulation of the American Southwest, wars and conflicts over rapidly diminishing resources. "A dazed and crippled America," he says, will regroup around walkable, human-scale towns; organic local economies of small farmers and tradesmen will replace an alienating corporate globalism; strong bonds of social solidarity will be reforged; and our heedless culture of consumerism will be forced to grow up. Strong stuff. 2006, Grove Press

The Long SummerThe Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization
Brian M. Fagan

Professor Fagan traces the effect of climatic change on civilizations over the past 15,000 years - a period of prolonged global warming that has only accelerated over the past 150 years. In particular, he is interested in how civilizations have responded to, or been radically altered by, changes in environment. He uses compelling examples to illustrate his story. 2004, Basic Books

The Middle PathThe Middle Path: Avoiding Environmental Catastrophe
Eric Lambin

In The Middle Path, noted geographer Eric Lambin provides a concise, readable summary of the present state of the environment and considers what must be done if environmental catastrophe is to be avoided. Finding merit in the arguments of both optimists and pessimists, Lambin argues that it is not too late to exploit the inherent tendency toward equilibrium of large-scale systems such as the earth’s environment. By relying upon a combination of remedies as global as international cap-and-trade emission treaties and as local as municipal programs promoting the use of bicycles rather than cars, it may yet be possible to rescue humanity from a potentially fatal crisis of its own making. 2007, University of Chicago Press

Our ChoiceOur Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis
Al Gore

Nobel laureate Gore is dedicated to educating humankind about the causes and consequences of global warming and offering solutions to the looming crisis. In Our Choice, Gore matches clear and ringing explanations and commentary with superb supporting diagrams and illustrations and striking photographs from around the world, documenting the dramatic impacts of human industry and climate change. He turns away from blame and despair and toward answers and encouragement. The result is a veritable catalog for a better world and a practical guide to solar, wind, and geothermal power and smart “super grids,” endeavors China is already pursuing. 2009, Rodale Books

PaleoclimatologyPaleoclimatology: Reconstructing Climates of the Quaternary (International Geophysics)
Raymond S. Bradley

Paleoclimatology is the study of climate prior to the period of instrumental measurements. Drawing upon such evidence as ice-core, coral, sediment, pollen, and tree-ring studies. The book offers detailed information on dating, methodologies and the history and evolution of quaternary environments. 1999, Academic Press

Plows, Plagues, and PetroleumPlows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate
William F. Ruddiman

Ruddiman believes that global warming began about 8,000 years ago resulting from the beginning of human agricultural endeavors and deforestation. He summarizes and places in context the age-old influence of humans on atmospheric composition, climate and global warming. 2007, Princeton University Press

The Revenge of GaiaThe Revenge of Gaia: Earth's Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity
James Lovelock

Geophysicist Lovelock introduced the Gaia theory in the early 1970s, envisioning the biosphere as "an active, adaptive control system able to maintain the earth in homeostasis." He now describes Gaia as fighting for its very existence as a rapidly increasing human population threatens to upset the precise balance of forces that make the earth conducive to life. 2007, Perseus Books Group

Six DegreesSix Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet
Mark Lynas

Possibly the most graphic treatment of global warming that has yet been published, Six Degrees uses accessible journalistic prose to distill what environmental scientists predict about the consequences of human pollution for the next hundred years. Mark Lynas outlines what to expect from a warming world, degree by degree. At 1 degree Celsius, most coral reefs and many mountain glaciers will be lost. A 3-degree rise would spell the collapse of the Amazon rainforest, disappearance of Greenland's ice sheet, and the creation of deserts across the Midwestern United States and southern Africa. A 6-degree increase would eliminate most life on Earth, including much of humanity. Based on authoritative scientific articles, the latest computer models, and information about past warm events in Earth history, Six Degrees promises is an eye-opening warning that humanity will ignore at its peril. 2008, National Geographic

The Two-Mile Time MachineThe Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future
Richard B. Alley

Geoscientist Alley describes his study of ice cores from Greenland stretching two miles deep. From his studies, he notes that climatic stability is the exception rather than the rule, and he contends that the unusually warm, stable climate we have experienced for the past 10,000 years is an anomaly. He illustrates that climate can be stable, but when pushed to change by either human or natural forces such change can occur more dramatically and at a faster rate than our industrial society has ever witnessed. 2002, Princeton University Press

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

The Weather MakersThe Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth
Tim Flannery

 The heart of the book is Flannery's impassioned look at the earth's colossal carbon dioxide pollution problem and his argument for how we can shift from our current global reliance on fossil fuels. He elucidates complex concepts in climatology, paleontology, and economics. 2006, Atlantic Monthly Press

When Life Nearly DiedWhen Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time
M.J. Benton

The Permian extinction event which occurred 250 million years ago was the earth's most severe, with 96% of all marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species becoming extinct. The recovery of life on earth took significantly longer than after other extinction events. This book tells this fascinating story and draws parallels to the global crises of our time. 2005, Thames & Hudson

The Winds of ChangeThe Winds of Change: Climate, Weather, and the Destruction of Civilizations
Eugene Linden

It is difficult for the public to face up to the climate change that is upon us because "it has been our good fortune to prosper . . . during one of the most benign climate periods" - but one that, if past world-wide weather cycles portend the future, is fast coming to an end, with severe cultural and political consequences. This book gives many historical examples of the powerful impact of severe weather and climate change. 2007, Simon & Schuster

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

Return to top of page