Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Indigenous People - Cultural Survival

Globalization, population growth and the triumph of capitalism are threatening almost every indigenous, non-industrial culture with extinction. Of the six to seven thousand languages spoken on the Earth today, almost half are spoken by fewer than three thousand native speakers. Some tongues are known by only one or two living persons . . . learn more about Indigenous People - Cultural Survival»

The books listed below are passionate and articulate descriptions of the crisis facing indigenous peoples today, and describe particular examples of cultures struggling for survival. They tell of kinship systems, worldviews, art and craft and custom, languages and writing systems that add to the amazing diversity of human culture.

Recommended Books on Indigenous People - Cultural Survival

In the Absence of the SacredIn the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations
Jerry Mander

Mander's book is an angry protest against the uncritical adoption of technology, the expansion of capitalism, and the centralization of political power. He warns that these trends will lead to the devastation of the earth's natural environment and native cultures. To avoid imminent environmental catastrophe, he contends that we must adopt the values of Native American cultures that regard the earth as sacred. 1992, Sierra Club Books

Ancient FuturesAncient Futures: Learning from Ladakh
Helena Norberg-Hodge

Author Norberg-Hodge first went to Ladakh in 1975 and found that these people of Northern India were genuinely and joyfully happy using their sustainable traditional economy based on trade and cooperation - not money. Then the world beat a path to their door and everything changed in less than two decades. Now there is poverty, unemployment, stress-related disease, women are devalued and people are ashamed of their "backward culture." This book is a must-read for every person concerned about the preservation of our planet and our species. 2009, Sierra Club/Counterpoint

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


The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and GatherersThe Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers
Richard B. Lee

Hunting and gathering peoples, including Kalahari Bushmen, Australian Aborigines, Eskimos, and Pygmies are extensively covered in this essential reference volume that is both accessible to the non-specialist and written by leading scholars. The book includes case studies of over fifty of the world's hunter-gathers, including their archaeological background, religion and world view, music and art, gender issues, health and nutrition, and contemporary rights. 2004, Cambridge University Press

Caribou RisingCaribou Rising: Defending the Porcupine Herd, Gwich-'in Culture, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Rick Bass

This bittersweet account conveys Bass' profound appreciation for the immense, unblemished majesty of one of the few almost untouched landscapes on earth; an eye-opening understanding of the intimate spiritual and physical connection, stretching back 10,000 years between the scattered tribes and the migrant caribou; and an unexpected respect for how tribal elders and a young generation of activists in Arctic Village (pop. 150) have developed a media-savvy offense against predatory Alaskan politicians desperate to drill for a few month's worth of petroleum. 2004, Sierra Club Books

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; Revised edition

Conservation Through Cultural SurvivalConservation Through Cultural Survival: Indigenous Peoples And Protected Areas
Stanley Stevens

For more than a century the establishment of natural parks and protected areas was a major threat to the survival of indigenous people. Today such tragic conflicts are being superceded by new alliances for conservation. This book assesses cutting-edge efforts to establish new kinds of protected areas which are based on partnerships with indigenous peoples. 1997, Island Press

Cultural EcologyCultural Ecology
Robert M. Netting

Anthropologist Netting, in this short, versatle book clearly and concisely illustrates the central concepts of cultural ecology. He presents illustrative ethnographic case studies of hunter-gather, pastoralist, and agricultural societies. Included is rich information on human-environment intervention, as illustrated by east African pastoralism and peasant cultivation in Switzerland. 1986, Waveland Press

Darkness in El DoradoDarkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon
Patrick Tierney

Darkness in El Dorado details the tragic encounter between an archaic Amazon people, the Yanomami, and a culturally toxic conglomeration of ruthless social scientists, rapacious financial interests, amoral governments and pop-culture journalists. Tierney argues for an end to the arrogant exploitation of peoples outside of the classical Eurasian traditions. Tierney explains how the Yanomami's desire for steel implements in their Paleolithic world of hunting, gathering, fishing and rudimentary farming led to exploitation by the observers, who wielded the promise of tools and modern gadgetry to manipulate the native population. Tierney's indictment exposes the worst depredations of modern cultural imperialism.
National Book Award Finalist 2000
2002, W. W. Norton

Education for ExtinctionEducation for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience 1875-1928
David Wallace Adams

The last "Indian War" was fought against Native American children in the dormitories and classrooms of government boarding schools, designed to root out native cultures. Education for Extinction offers the first comprehensive account of this dispiriting effort. The book vividly details the day-to-day experiences of Indian youth living in a "total institution" designed to reconstruct them both psychologically and culturally. Especially poignant is Adams's description of the ways in which students resisted or accommodated themselves to forced assimilation. Many converted to varying degrees, but others plotted escapes, committed arson, and devised ingenious strategies of passive resistance. 1997, University Press of Kansas

Empires of the WordEmpires of the Word: A Language History of the World
Nicholas Ostler

This ambitious and accessible book is concerned with the growth, development and collapse of language communities and their cultures. Professor Ostler stresses the role of culture, commerce, and conquest in the rise and fall of languages. The rise of English to global status, Ostler argues, owes much to the economic prestige of the industrial revolution, but its future as a lingua franca may falter on demographic trends, such as booming birth rates in China. This stimulating book is a history of the world as seen through the spread and demise of languages. 2006, Harper Perennial

Enduring SeedsEnduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation
Gary Paul Nabhan

This unusual book presents the history of and the principles behind Native American farming methods. Those generally forgotten methods, still observable in scattered locations, are fading as the people and cultures that have maintained them through the centuries dwindle. With their demise we are losing the plants themselves: cultivated plants adapted to local conditions, together with their wild relatives (allowed to grow in and near the fields) with which they occasionally cross and gain genetic diversity. Nabhan's readable account explains how and why we have arrived at this point. 2002, University of Arizona Press

EthnologueEthnologue: Languages of the World, 16th Edition
Raymond G. Gordon, editor

Since its first edition in 1951, the editors of Ethnologue have been recording the existence, locales, users, growth and demise of languages around the globe. Part II consists of more than 200 pages of subtly colored maps showing language distribution and locations within countries.In our ever-flattening and connected world this fascinating and authoritative work provides an important overview of the challenges of cultural survival, with estimated numbers of surviving speakers of indigenous languages noted. 2009, SIL International

First PeoplesFirst Peoples: Indigenous Cultures and Their Futures
Jeffrey Sissons

Professor Sissons analyses first peoples from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Brazil. He addresses the painful colonial process of assimilation, which was from the indigenous perspective a violent separation of people from their culture and children from their families. He describes the ongoing challenge for urban indigenous people to maintain and strengthen ties with the older, rural communities from whence they came. He maintains that indigenous cultures worldwide are in the process of recovering what was lost in the process of colonization - their children, land, and sovereignty. 2005, Reaktion Books

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

The Forest PeopleThe Forest People
Colin Turnbull

This anthropology classic describes the life of the Embuti Pygmies of Africa's Ituri Forest with color, exuberance, detail and humor. It is a refreshing look at a threatened people who have suffered from exploitation, and views life and the world through the eyes of individual tribal members. 1987, Touchstone

A Global History of Indigenous Peoples
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A Global History of Indigenous Peoples: Struggle and Survival
Ken S. Coates

This book spans the period from the pivotal migrations which saw the peopling of the world to the present, and examines the processes by which tribal peoples established themselves as separate from surplus-based and more material societies. It considers the impact of the policies of domination and colonization which brought dramatic change to indigenous cultures. 2004, Palgrave Macmillan



Handbook of Language & Ethnic IdentityHandbook of Language & Ethnic Identity
Joshua A. Fishman

This comprehensive introduction explores the connection between language and ethnicity, and is a useful contribution toward understanding the diverse ways in which these issues interact. For scholarly reference as well as a resource for the lay reader. 2001, Oxford University Press

The Harmless PeopleThe Harmless People
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

This account of the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, nomadic hunter-gathers whose way of life had remained unchanged for thousands of years, is a ground-breaking work of anthropology, remarkable not only for its scholarship but for its novelistic grasp of character. In this updated edition we are shown what happened to the Bushmen as the tide of industrial civilization - with its flotsam of property rights, wage labor, and alchol - swept over them. A powerful, elegiac look at an endangered culture as well as provocative criitique of our own. 1989, Vintage

House of RainHouse of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest
Craig Childs

The Anasazi, who flourished in the region now known as New Mexico, vanished without a trace. Now, eight centuries after their thriving, 2,000-year-old civilization disappeared as though it had never existed, naturalist and adventurer Childs undertakes to find out where the Anasazi went and why. His investigation relies heavily on scholarly literature, oral tradition, and lots of reading between the lines of history. There are no definitive answers here, but Childs asks plenty of tantalizing questions as he takes the reader along on a fascinating tramp through the arid and beautiful Southwest. 2008, Back Bay Books

Hunter-GatherersHunter-Gatherers: An Interdisciplinary Perspective
Catherine Panter-Brick

Analyses of the ecology, biology and society of past and present-day hunter-gatherers are at the core of this interdisciplinary volume. The evolution and history, demography, technology, social organization, art, and language of many diverse groups are described. 2001, Cambridge University Press

Language DeathLanguage Death
David Crystal

Half of the world's estimated 6000 languages are threatened with extinction in the next 100 years. Prof. Crystal analyzes statistics that indicate the number of dying languages, explains the physical and cultural pressures contributing to language death, and cites bi- and multilingualism as the key to maintaining linguistic diversity. He also appeals to multiculturalism, noting the unique contributions linguistic diversity makes to both the arts and the sciences. Moreover, Crystal provides six characteristics of successful language maintenance efforts, which ideally combine literacy and education with improving the economic and political standing of the minority-language community. 2002, Cambridge University Press

The Last SpeakersThe Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages
K. David Harrison

Parallel to the extinction of biological species in our world, human languages are disappearing one by one. Harrison details the work of linguists who are speeding to preserve these tongues for posterity. He travels to Siberia to meet Aunt Marta, one of the last speakers of Tofa, a Turkic tongue. Although a scientist and a rigorous analyst of language grammars and structures, Harrison is particularly intrigued by the personalities of these mostly elderly yet fully engaged people who bravely face the end of what has been a nurturing society. Harrison compellingly details reasons why the rest of the world ought to care about these vanishing languages and what can be done to ensure that they live on despite the irresistible ascendancy of today’s rapidly evolving world culture. 2010, National Geographic

Light at the Edge of the WorldLight at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures
Wade Davis

Ethnobotanist and anthropologist Davis has traveled the world for 25 years, pen and camera in hand, to study the myriad ways indigenous people live in physical and spiritual intimacy with the natural world. Driven by curiosity and a profound respect for the "ethnosphere," humanity's diverse "thoughts, beliefs, myths, and intuitions," Davis has dwelled among indigenous people, learning their modes of being, cosmologies, and botanical expertise. His quest has rendered him acutely sensitive to the connection between biodiversity and cultural diversity. With compelling language and evocative photographs he decries the rampant environmental destruction and globalization that are decimating indigenous cultures, thus depriving future generations of their knowledge, wisdom, and unique perspectives. 2007, Douglas & McIntyre

Linguistic ImperialismLinguistic Imperialism
Robert Phillipson

This book explores the contemporary phenomenon of English as an international language, and sets out to analyze how and why the language has become so dominant. It examines the historical spread of English, the role it plays in Third World countries, and the ideologies transmitted through the English language. 1992, Oxford University Press

The Old WayThe Old Way: A Story of the First People
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Anthropologist Thomas has lived among the !Kung San of Africa and sees them as noble people. Her narration is as intimate as if she were sharing with friends her intricate knowledge of the plants and animals of the Kalahari. Looking back over a lifetime of contact with this indigenous group, Thomas concludes with the disheartening truth that these people now struggle to coexist in a world rocked and ravaged by homogeneous modernity, poverty, alcoholism and AIDS. A touching and compelling book. 2007, Picador

One RiverOne River
Wade Davis

The prodigious biological and cultural riches of the vast Amazon rain forest are being lost at a horrendous rate, often without yielding their secrets to the Western world. Wade Davis tells two entwined tales here -- his own ethnobotanical explorations in South America during the '70s and those of his mentor, the great Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, beginning in the '30s. Both men have been particularly interested in the psychoactive and medicinal properties of the plants of the Amazon basin and approach their subject with a reverence for the cultural context in which the plants are used. The contrasting experiences of two explorers, a mere generation apart, starkly demonstrates how much has already been destroyed in the rain forest. 1997, Simon & Schuster

Paradigm Wars
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Paradigm Wars: Indigenous Peoples' Resistance to Globalization
Jerry Mander

This book documents the momentous collision of worldviews that pits the forces of economic globalization against the Earth's surviving indigenous peoples. Since many of the planet's dwindling resources are located on lands inhabited by native communities, they are now the direct target of giant global corporations who desperately need them to fuel their own unsustainable growth. In first-hand reports Paradigm Wars details the devastating impacts of extractive industries and bioprospecting, the degrading of cultural artifacts and languages, and even the damage done by some well-meaning conservation groups. The book highlights how indigenous communities are strongly resisting this onslaught, often with amazing success. 2006, Sierra Club Books

Resource RebelsResource Rebels
Al Gedicks

Acclaimed scholar of Native and environmental issues Al Gedicks describes how a multiracial, transnational movement is fighting back against the greed of mining and oil companies. In Mexico, the Philippines, Colombia, Ecuador, Nigeria, West Papua, Canada, and the United States, indigenous peoples are working with environmentalists and anti-racists to stop corporate and state takeovers of their traditional lands and waters. Al Gedicks looks at these and other regions and documents how mining and oil companies subvert local opposition and rely on military forces to carry out their exploitation. 2001, South End Press

Shadows in the SunShadows in the Sun: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire
Wade Davis

Renowned anthropologist Wade Davis shows us how preserving the diversity of the world's cultures and spiritual beliefs is just as important as preserving our endangered plants, insects, and animals. In this collection of personal essays, Davis tells of dramatic personal adventures during which he visits and often lives with indigenous communities in the remote regions of the world. He offers reports of toad-smoking shamanistic journeys in the Amazon forests, tracking an elusive cloud leopard in the mountains of Tibet, and a soulful lament for the lost American buffalo. 1999, Wade Davis

Singing the Turtles to SeaSinging the Turtles to Sea: The Comcáac (Seri) Art and Science of Reptiles
Gary Paul Nabhan

Singing the Turtles to Sea vividly describes the desert of Sonora, Mexico, its phantasmagoric landforms, and its equally fantastic animals. This book contains important new information on the origins, biogeography, and conservation status of marine and desert reptiles in this region. Nabhan also discusses the significance of reptiles in Seri folklore, natural history, language, medicine, and art. This book is a magnificent ethnobiology that also succeeds in linking the importance of preserving ecological diversity with issues such as endangered languages and human rights. Singing the Turtles to Sea ultimately points the way toward a more hopeful future for the native cultures and animals of the Sonoran desert and for the preservation of indigenous cultures and species around the world. 2003, University of California Press

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

John Muir believed that much of California was pristine, untouched wilderness before the arrival of Europeans. But as this groundbreaking book demonstrates, what Muir was really seeing were the fertile gardens of the Sierra Miwok and Valley Yokuts Indians, modified and made productive by centuries of harvesting, tilling, sowing, pruning, and burning. Marvelously detailed and beautifully written, Tending the Wild is an unparalleled examination of Native American knowledge and uses of California's natural resources that reshapes our understanding of native cultures and shows how we might begin to use their knowledge in our own conservation efforts. 2006, University of California Press

Vanishing VoicesVanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World's Languages
Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine

Creating an explicit link between ecological and linguistic vitality, Nettle and Romaine persuasively present the scientific value of saving endangered languages. Anecdotes, statistics, and graphs help address significant assumptions about why languages die and how a few languages have achieved world dominance. Highlighting the wealth of scientific knowledge encoded in threatened languages, the authors promote not only bi- or multilingualism but also the economic and ecological benefits of cooperating with endangered language speakers. 2002, Oxford University Press

What Place for Hunter-Gatherers in Millennium Three?What Place for Hunter-Gatherers in Millennium Three?
T. Headland and D. Blood

This book takes a hard look at the traumatic cultural changes that our planet's remaining hunter-gatherer societies experienced in the twentieth century, and the precarious future that is about to engulf them in the twenty-first century. Case studies presented here include the central African pygmies, the San Bushmen, and the Agta Negritos. This book helps greatly to focus our attention on the issues that matter, insisting on the preservation of the human rights of proud former foraging peoples. 2002, SIL International

When Languages DieWhen Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge
K. David Harrison

The majority of languages spoken now around the globe will likely disappear within our lifetime. The phenomenon known as language death has started to accelerate as the world has grown smaller. This extinction of languages, and the knowledge therein, has no parallel in human history. When Languages Die focuses on the essential question, what is lost when a language dies? What forms of knowledge are embedded in a language's structure and vocabulary? And how harmful is it to humanity that such knowledge is lost forever? Harrison's book is a testament not only to the pressing issue of language death, but to the remarkable span of human knowledge and ingenuity. 2008, Oxford University Press

The World's Writing SystemsThe World's Writing Systems
Peter T. Daniels

This massive volume brings together an encyclopedic collection of fascinating information. General articles on the relationship of writing to language, linquistics, and decipherment accompany page after page devoted to every script extant from Egyptian and Chinese scripts to Ogham, Cree, and Mandarin. A beautiful and useful reference work. 1996, Oxford University Press

Writing Systems of the WorldWriting Systems of the World: Alphabets, Syllabaries, Pictograms
Akira Nakanishi

A compact catalog of the major writing systems in the world. For inclusion in this book the languages must be in current use on newspapers, stamps or currency. This excellent reference work organizes the writing systems geographically with comprehensive maps to illustrate where they are used. 1990, Charles E. Tuttle

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