There are few things in life better than sprawling out in a warm spot in the sun with a good old-fashioned book. Call me a holdout on technology or a literary Luddite if you will, but when it comes to consuming the written word, I prefer a book over a phone, tablet or digital reader. I like flipping the pages and the smell of the paper — and the heft of the information bound within and the potential dreams it has to share.
There’s a reason John Waters said, “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t &*#$ them.” (We bleeped the word, but you get the idea.)
Given my profession as an environmental blogger, it should surprise no one that my bookshelves are heavy with green books. I’ve been covering this beat for coming up on a decade now, so I’ve had a lot of time to accumulate a healthy collection of books about climate change, renewable energy, land policy, organic food and green fashion, building, business, and activism. I took some time and plucked out 13 of the best green books that I think every armchair environmentalist should read and own.
"Building with Awareness" by Ted Owens
This book about green building is made for flipping through. It’s a tight little package with great photography and a crisp and clean design and layout. Author Ted Owens not only wrote a informationally-dense book, but he also produced an accompanying DVD. Together, the book and DVD are a comprehensive guide to building a greener home from the ground up.
"Power Trip" by Amanda Little
Amanda Little is a former writer over at Grist,where she penned the Muckraker column, digging into the intersection of green energy, politics and business. Her book, "Power Trip: The Story of America’s Love Affair With Energy," weaves together those three threads to tell the story of how our country produces and uses energy. Little traveled across the United States in the course of writing her book, visiting places like a Pentagon fuel-planning office and a New York State electrical facility. She’s a good writer writing about an interesting topic. Easy buy.
"Arctic Voices" edited by Subhankar Banerjee
"Arctic Voices" is a collection of essay about the Arctic region written by 39 writers, activists, scientists and scholars. It examines the myriad of issues confronting the Arctic in the face of climate change and makes a strong collective call for taking corrective action.
Editor Subhankar Banerjee chose his material well and pulled together a comprehensive collection that is sure to round out your understanding of this vitally important story.
"The Eco Chick Guide to Life: How to Be Fabulously Green" by Starre Vartan
My good friend and fellow MNN writer Starre Vartan wrote this helpful book. "The Eco Chick Guide to Life: How to Be Fabulously Green" is geared towards women, with a third of the book dedicated toward greener beauty and health products, but the rest of it has plenty of great general information about things like making your living space more eco-friendly and growing an organic garden.
"Who Owns The World: The Surprising Truth About Every Piece of Land on the Planet" by Kevin Cahill with Rob McMahon
This book answers a question that many of us have never really thought about before: who really owns most of the land in the world? Authors Kevin Cahill and Rob McMahon did exhaustive research on land ownership around the world and came up with some interesting findings. For instance, did you know that England’s Queen Elizabeth II owns about one-sixth of the world’s total land mass (more than 7 billion acres). Or that only 15 percent of the population can be counted as land owners? The book is arranged geographically and allows for the quick and easy lookup of any part of the world. For instance, I just flipped to the section about my home state of Maine and found out that the federal government owns just 0.9 percent of the land and that out of 5,810 farms within our borders, 3,829 are wholly owned. This is a great book for those with wonkish tendencies.
"Small, Gritty, and Green" by Catherine Tumber
Author Catherine Tumber traveled to 25 cities throughout the Northeast and Midwest of the U.S. to tell the story of how our smaller industrial cities, suffering from the effects of deindustrialization and suburban flight, can hold the keys to building a “greener, low carbon, relocalized future”. Her contention is that smaller cities like Buffalo, N.Y., and Peoria, Ill., can leverage their urban density, proximity to farmland, and existing industrial infrastructure to transform into bustling, productive beacons of sustainability.
"The Once and Future World" by J.B. MacKinnon
This book is a examination of our very concept of “nature” and a telling of the story of how humans have affected the natural landscape over the last thousand years or so. Author J.B. MacKinnon sets out on a literary journey searching for the last remaining pockets of “untouched” wilderness and looks at how ecosystems have been knocked around by human interference (both overt and unintentional).
"Oil and Honey" by Bill McKibben
Climate hero Bill McKibben turned his focus inward for this, his 16th book, as he examines the events that lead him to become an environmental activist after a long career as an author and journalist. The title of the book speaks to two experiences that helped drive him towards working against the dangers of climate change — getting involved with a Vermont beekeeper fighting to expand the local food market and the battle against the Keystone XL pipeline. McKibben is a terrific writer and has a knack for drawing his readers into the idea that they too need to do something about climate change. For all the good that he’s done as an activist, I think his most important contribution is inspiring others to take up his cause. The world needs more Bill McKibbens.
"Plastic: A Toxic Love Story" by Susan Freinkel
Plastic is, at once, one of humanity’s best and worst inventions. Our landscapes are choked with orphan plastic bags caught on skeletal tree branches and our oceans, lakes and rivers are awash in old soda bottles, cast off nylon fishing nets, and long forgotten sandwich baggies. At the same time, plastic medical equipment allows diabetics to treat their disease while plastic safety harnesses keep children snug and safe in their car seats. Look around the room where are are reading this now. You’re unlikely not to see something important to your life made of plastic. Herein lies the question addressed by "Plastic" — is it possible to get the benefits of using plastic without all the nasty downsides?
"Eco Barons" by Edward Humes
"Eco Barons" tells the stories of a handful of scientists, activists and entrepreneurs who have dedicated their lives and fortunes towards protecting the environment. It profiles people like Roxanne Quimby, the founder of Burt’s Bees, who has spent millions of dollars of her own money buying up vast swaths of Maine forest land with the hopes of turning it into a national park, and Douglas Tompkins, a co-founder of The North Face and ESPRIT. Like Quimby, Tompkins is a major landholder focused on protecting wilderness in Chile and Argentina. These and other inspirational stories come together easily in Hume’s book, making it a good pick for a casual afternoon of reading.
"Merchants of Doubt" by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
This book lays out the inner workings of a small group of people who make a living spread doubt, fear, and uncertainty about whatever their rich corporate clients pay them to. This band of duplicitous message massagers were first set loose by the big tobacco companies in the '40s to cast doubt on the science connecting cigarettes and lung cancer, and they’ve been employed ever since on a wide range of issues, from ozone-depleting CFCs to the climate change. Authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway do a brutally thorough job of laying out the facts and connecting all the points and people in the network. This one is a must-read. Buy it and read it.
"Chaos: Making a New Science" by James Gleick
This selection is not explicitly about the environment, but it is about the raw science and math of nature. "Chaos" is all about fractal patterns, chaos theory and all the places we see it pop up in nature. It’s gripping reading, even when you don’t know exactly what it’s talking about.
"The Earthbound Cook" by Myra Goodwin
Earthbound Farms is the largest producer of organic produce in the United States and was founded in 1984 by Drew and Myra Goodman on a 2.5-acre farm. Over the years their business has expanded to more than 30,000 acres and they are now a familiar sight in the grocery produce section. "The Earthbound Cook" was written by Myra Goodman and is chock-a-block full of healthy, but delicious recipes. In our house, pages 364 (Whole Wheat Pecan Pancakes), 280 (Seeded Multigrain Bread), and 11 (Zanzibar Chicken Soup) get a lot of action, though there are tons of other great recipes in between. Awash in bright, vivid photography, "The Earthbound Cook" is sure to amp up your appetite as you follow along with it.
Want to read more about good books? Check out these stories here on MNN:
- 5 books set in a post-apocalyptic world
- 6 books every dog owner should read
- 17 extraordinary bookstores