Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable agricultural practices are increasingly needed to feed the hungry billions as Earth’s population grows . . . learn more about Sustainable Agriculture»

The recommended books reviewed below point the way to increasing agricultural productivity without harming the environment. Sustainable farming is a central element in a systemic approach to saving the Earth.

Recommended Books on Sustainable Agriculture

Agrarian DreamsAgrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California
Julie Guthman

Many believe organic farming to be the solution to sustainable agriculture. Refuting popular portrayals of organic agriculture as a small-scale family farm endeavor, Guthman explains how organic farming in California has replicated the industrial agriculture it set out to oppose. A fascinating overview of this modern trend. 2004, University of California Press

AgroecologyAgroecology: The Science of Sustainable Agriculture
Miguel A. Altieri

Agroecology pays attention to the farming ecosystem and involves managing all natural resources, not only the "target" crop. The book includes a large section on the design of alternative ecologically based agricultural systems and technologies. 1995, Westview Press

The Biological FarmerThe Biological Farmer: A Complete Guide to the Sustainable & Profitable Biological System of Farming
Gary F. Zimmer

This is the farming consultant's bible. It schools the interested grower in sound methods of maintaining a balanced and healthy soil. Zimmer is an active farmer and has created a viable and sustainable business with his organic farm. 2000, Acres USA

The Doubly Green RevolutionThe Doubly Green Revolution: Food for All in the Twenty-First Century
Gordon Conway

The original Green Revolution produced new technologies for farmers, creating food abundance. A second transformation of agriculture is now required--specifically, Gordon Conway argues, a "doubly green" revolution that stresses conservation as well as productivity. He calls for researchers and farmers to forge genuine partnerships in an effort to design better plants and animals, develop alternatives to inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, improve soil and water management, and enhance earning opportunities for the poor, especially women. 1999, Cornell University Press

Eating Fossil FuelsEating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food And the Coming Crisis in Agriculture
Dale Allen Pfeiffer

The Green Revolution was made possible by cheap fossil fuels to supply crops with artificial fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation. Estimates of the net energy balance of agriculture in the United States show that ten calories of hydrocarbon energy are required to produce one calorie of food. Eating Fossil Fuels examines the interlinked crises of energy and agriculture and highlights some startling findings: the worldwide expansion of agriculture has appropriated fully 40 percent of the photosynthetic capability of this planet; and the Green Revolution provided abundant food sources for many, resulting in a population explosion well in excess of the planet’s carrying capacity. Pfeiffer concludes that the effect of energy depletion will be disastrous without a transition to a sustainable, re-localized agriculture. 2006, New Society Publishers

short list

Ecoagriculture: Strategies To Feed the World and Save Wild Biodiversity
Future Harvest, Jeffrey A. McNeely, Sara J. Scherr

The authors show how agricultural landscapes can be designed more creatively to take the needs of human populations into account while also protecting and enhancing biodiversity. It features a wealth ofreal-world case studies that demonstrate the applicability of the ideas discussed. 2002, Island Press



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. 2002, University of Arizona Press

The Farm as Natural HabitatThe Farm as Natural Habitat: Reconnecting Food Systems with Ecosystems
Nina L. Bradley

Bradley challenges the notion that the dominant agricultural landscape in the U.S. - bereft of its original vegetation and wildlife and despoiled by chemical runoff - is inevitable if we are to feed ourselves. Hopeful and visionary! 2002, Island Press


Farming with the WildFarming with the Wild
Dan Imhoff

Modern industrial agriculture plays a major role in the decline in biodiversity in the United States. Dan Imhoff promotes a new vision for sustainable agriculture beginning with farms that gracefully meld within landscapes, pulsing with a wide range of native species. Farming with the Wild offers vivid profiles of more than 30 innovative farms and ranches in the U.S. An on-the-ground picture of a new agrarian movement. 2003, Sierra Club Books

Feeding the Ten BillionFeeding the Ten Billion
L.T. Evans

At the current rate of increase, the world's population is likely to reach ten billion by the middle of the twenty-first century. This fascinating book looks at the intimate links between population growth and agricultural innovation over the past 10,000 years, illustrating how the evolution of agriculture has both shaped and been shaped by the course of world population growth. This historical context serves to illuminate our present position and to aid understanding of possible future paths to food security for the planet. 1998, Cambridge University Press

The Greening of the RevolutionThe Greening of the Revolution: Cuba's Experiment with Organic Agriculture
Peter Rosset, Bloba Exchange, Medea Benjamin

Cuba's social and economic systems have been in crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The country has adopted a Low Input, Sustainable Acriculture style of food production in order to cope with drastically reduced inputs of chemicals, fertilizer, fuel, and capital. A comprehensive report from a twenty-member delegation. 1995, Ocean Press

Mendel in the KitchenMendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Food
Nina V. Fedoroff and Nancy Marie Brown

Fedoroff and Brown argue forcefully that we should embrace most of the advances genetic engineering has made in the agricultural arena. In Mendel in the Kitchen, they take readers through the basics of genetics and genetic engineering to demonstrate why they believe that the risks associated with this technology are trivial. They also contend that the use of modern molecular technology to insert genes from one species into another isn't very different from the hybrid crosses that agriculturalists have been doing for millennia. The authors articulate how genetically modified crops could reduce the amount of pesticides and fertilizers used and increase the yield of crop plants to keep up with a growing world population that could reach eight or nine billion in this century. 2006, Joseph Henry Press

A Movable FeastA Movable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization
Kenneth F. Kiple

The globalization of food -whereby the cuisines of the world have been increasingly untied from regional food production and the foods of the world have become increasingly available to everyone in the world - is not a new economic concept: it's as old as agriculture itself. Kiple shows how the spread of agriculture increased food production which encouraged population growth, which invariably created food shortages and disease. A fascinating story of how our foods come from every corner of the globe. 2007, Cambridge University Press

Organic FarmingOrganic Farming: an International History
W. Lockeretz

Beginning as a small protest to the industrialization of agriculture in the 1920's, organic farming has become a significant force in agricultural policy, marketing, and research. Illustrated with case histories of important organic institutions in various countries, this is the first comprehensive historical overview of organic farming. 2007, Cabi Publishing

The Omnivore's DilemmaThe Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Michael Pollan

Pollan examines what he calls "our national eating disorder" (the Atkins craze, the precipitous rise in obesity) in this remarkably clearheaded book. Pollan approaches his mission not as an activist but as a naturalist: "The way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world." All food, he points out, originates with plants, animals and fungi. Pollan's narrative strategy is simple: he traces four meals back to their ur-species. He starts with a McDonald's lunch. Surprise: the origin of this meal is a cornfield in Iowa; one of the many eye-openers in the book is the prevalence of corn in the American diet - of the 45,000 items in a supermarket, more than a quarter contain corn. Later, Pollan prepares a dinner with items from Whole Foods, investigating the flaws in the world of "big organic"; cooks a meal with ingredients from a small, utopian Virginia farm; and assembles a feast from things he's foraged and hunted. A fascinating tour of the American diet.
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 2006
2007, Penguin

Outgrowning the EarthOutgrowing the Earth
Lester R. Brown

The author dramatically details how human demands are outstripping the earth's capacities - and what we need to do about it. Future security, Brown says, depends on raising water productivity, stabilizing climate by moving beyond fossil fuels, and slowing population growth. 2005, W.W. Norton

Out of the EarthOut of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil
Daniel Hillel

Professor Hillel explores ancient cultures to demonstrate that destructive farming practices and deforestation have been occuring with regularity for thousands of years. This book is passionate in its defense of the earth and the need for wise stewardship of its resources. 1992, University of California Press

Smallholders, HouseholdersSmallholders, Householders: Farm Families and the Ecology of Intensive, Sustainable Agriculture
Robert Netting

Dr. Netting illustrates the technology and knowledge of intensive farm practices as exemplified in Nigerian permanent subsistence cultivation, a Swiss alpine dairy farming system, and wet-rice farming in Asia. In each of these systems, the farm family household is seen as a repository of ecological knowledge. The author views these examples of sustainable agriculture and suggests that the West can profit by studying them. 1993, Stanford University Press

Stolen HarvestStolen Harvest
Vandana Shiva

Shiva contrasts corporate methods of food production that prevail in the United States with the small farmer economy that predominates in the Third World. She shows how native farming practices frequently produce higher yields and criticizes commercial fishing and aquaculture practices that result in environmental destruction and reduced catches. A passionate and articulate wake-up call to the public. 2001, Zed Books

Sustainable AgricultureSustainable Agriculture
John Mason

The technological revolution in farming practices has allowed us to clear and cultivate more land, grow plants and animals faster, and kill a greater variety of pests than ever before. Unfortunately, these efficiencies have created problems such as soil structural decline, erosion, salinity, soil acidification, loss of fertility, nutrients in waterways, and a buildup of chemical residues in the soil. Mason points out the necessity of a sustainable approach which addresses these problems before it is too late. He explores farming practices such as permaculture, biodynamics, organic farming, agroforestry, conservation tillage, and integrated hydroculture. 2003, CSIRO Publishing

Sustainable Agriculture and ResistanceSustainable Agriculture and Resistance
Fernando Funes,, eds.

This is the story of Cuba's remarkable recovery from a food crisis brought on by the collapse of trade relations with the former socialist bloc and the tightening of the US embargo. Unable to import food, fertilizer, and machines, Cuba turned toward self reliance. Sustainable agriculture, organic farming, urban gardens, smaller farms, animal traction, and biological pest control are part of the successful paradigm shift underway in the Cuban countryside. 2002, Food First

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

Tomorrow's TableTomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food
Pamela C. Ronald and R. W. Adamchak

With the world’s population projected to grow some 50 percent by midcentury, rigorous agricultural planning becomes indispensable to forestall the onset of ecological and human disaster. Ronald and Adamchak examine the often-passionate debate about genetically engineered food and how it may affect the food supply of the future, meticulously dissecting arguments for and against such application of science. This wildly eccentric book juxtaposes deep scientific analysis of genetically engineered agriculture with recipes for such homey kitchen staples as cornbread and chocolate chip cookies. In a marvelously useful table, they outline a history of biological technology from 4000 BC through the dawn of the twenty-first century. 2010, Oxford University Press

The Unsettling of America
short list

The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
Wendell Barry

Poet/farmer Wendell Berry sees the environmental crisis as a crisis of character, agriculture, and culture. Because Americans are divorced from the land, they mistreat it; because they are divorced from each other, they mistreat those around them. Berry argues for thecreation of more meaningful work, the protection of the environment, and the necessity of meaningful community. 1996, Sierra Club Books


World Agriculture and the EnvironmentWorld Agriculture and the Environment: A Commodity-By-Commodity Guide to Impacts and Practices
Jason Clay

World Agriculture presents a unique assessment of agricultural commodity production and the associated environmental problems, along with prescriptions for increasing efficiency and reducing damage to natural systems. 2004, Island 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