Earth Science and Sustainability Booklist

Non-Fiction Books

A selection of non-fiction books about Earth Science and Sustainability.

Berwald, Juli

Coral reefs are a microcosm of our planet: wondrously diverse, deeply interconnected, and critically imperiled. They sustain entire ecosystems and protect vulnerable coasts. But corals across the planet are in the middle of an unprecedented die-off, beset by warming oceans, pollution, human damage, and their own devastating pandemic. Even under stress, they are out-of-this world gorgeous, sending out warning flares in fluorescent bursts of yellow, pink, and indigo. Juli Berwald fell in love with coral reefs as a marine biology student, entranced by their beauty and complexity. While she was concerned by bleaching events and coral disease, she didn't fully understand what a dead reef meant until she experienced one on a dive: barren, decaying, and coated in slime. Deeply alarmed, she traveled the world desperate to discover how to prevent their loss. Life on the Rocks is a meditative ode to the reefs and the undaunted scientists working to save them against almost impossible odds. Berwald explores what it means to keep fighting a battle that can't be won, contemplating the inevitable grief of climate change and the beauty of small victories.

Gilio-Whitaker, Dina

Interrogating the concept of environmental justice in the U.S. as it relates to Indigenous peoples, this book argues that a different framework must apply compared to other marginalized communities, while it also attends to the colonial history and structure of the U.S. and ways Indigenous peoples continue to resist, and ways the mainstream environmental movement has been an impediment to effective organizing and allyship.

Hayhoe, Katharine

Called “one of the nation's most effective communicators on climate change” by The New York Times, Katharine Hayhoe knows how to navigate all sides of the conversation on our changing planet. A Canadian climate scientist living in Texas, she negotiates distrust of data, indifference to imminent threats, and resistance to proposed solutions with ease. Over the past fifteen years Hayhoe has found that the most important thing we can do to address climate change is talk about it—and she wants to teach you how.

Jahren, Hope

Hope Jahren is an award-winning geobiologist, a brilliant writer, and one of the seven billion people with whom we share this earth. The Story of More is her impassioned open letter to humanity as we stand at the crossroads of survival and extinction. Jahren celebrates the long history of our enterprising spirit--which has tamed wild crops, cured diseases, and sent us to the moon--but also shows how that spirit has created excesses that are quickly warming our planet to dangerous levels. In short, highly readable chapters, she takes us through the science behind the key inventions--from electric power to large-scale farming and automobiles--that, even as they help us, release untenable amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. She explains the current and projected consequences of greenhouse gases--from superstorms to rising sea levels--and shares the science-based tools that could help us fight back.

Lanham, J. Drew

Dating back to slavery, Edgefield County, South Carolina—a place ”easy to pass by on the way somewhere else"—has been home to generations of Lanhams. In The Home Place, readers meet these extraordinary people, including Drew himself, who over the course of the 1970s falls in love with the natural world around him. As his passion takes flight, however, he begins to ask what it means to be “the rare bird, the oddity”—to find joy and freedom in the same land his ancestors were tied to by forced labor, and then to be a black man in a profoundly white field. This book is a remarkable meditation on nature and belonging, at once a deeply moving memoir and riveting exploration of the contradictions of black identity in the rural South—and in America today.

Lee, Jessica J.

Combining an immersive exploration of nature with captivatingly beautiful prose, Jessica J. Lee embarks on a journey to discover her family's forgotten history and to connect with the island they once called home Taiwan is an island of extremes: towering mountains, lush forests, and barren escarpment. Between shifting tectonic plates and a history rife with tension, the geographical and political landscape is forever evolving. After unearthing a hidden memoir of her grandfather's life, Jessica J. Lee seeks to piece together the fragments of her family's history as they moved from China to Taiwan, and then on to Canada. But as she navigates the tumultuous terrain of Taiwan, Lee finds herself having to traverse fissures in language, memory, and history, as she searches for the pieces of her family left behind. Interlacing a personal narrative with Taiwan's history and terrain, Two Trees Make a Forest is an intimate examination of the human relationship with geography and nature, and offers an exploration of one woman's search for history and belonging amidst an ever-shifting landscape.

Lowman, Margaret

Biologist, botanist, and conservationist Meg Lowman--aka 'CanopyMeg'--takes us on an adventure into the 'eighth continent' of the world's treetops, along her journey as a tree scientist, and into climate action.

Maathai, Wangari

In Unbowed, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage. When Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she began a vital poor people's environmental movement, focused on the empowerment of women, that soon spread across Africa. Persevering through run-ins with the Kenyan government and personal losses, and jailed and beaten on numerous occasions, Maathai continued to fight tirelessly to save Kenya's forests and to restore democracy to her beloved country. Infused with her unique luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai's remarkable story of courage, faith, and the power of persistence is destined to inspire generations to come.

Momaday, N. Scott

Momaday reflects on his native ground and its influence on his people. "When I think about my life and the lives of my ancestors, I am inevitably led to the conviction that I, and they, belong to the American land. This is a declaration of belonging. And it is an offering to the earth." he writes. Earth Keeper is a story of attachment, rooted in oral tradition. Momaday recalls stories of his childhood that have been passed down through generations, stories that reveal a profound and sacred connection to the American landscape and a reverence for the natural world. In this moving work, he offers an homage and a warning. Momaday reminds us that the Earth is a sacred place of wonder and beauty; a source of strength and healing that must be protected before it's too late. As he so eloquently yet simply reminds us, we must all be keepers of the Earth.

Nezhukumatathil, Aimee

From beloved, award-winning poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil comes a debut work of nonfiction -- a collection of essays about the natural world, and the way its inhabitants can teach, support, and inspire us.

Penniman, Leah

In 1920, 14 percent of all land-owning US farmers were black. Today less than 2 percent of farms are controlled by black people--a loss of over 14 million acres and the result of discrimination and dispossession. While farm management is among the whitest of professions, farm labor is predominantly brown and exploited, and people of color disproportionately live in "food apartheid" neighborhoods and suffer from diet-related illness. The system is built on stolen land and stolen labor and needs a redesign.

Richardson, Patric

Patric Richardson, aka the "Laundry Evangelist," reveals his revolutionary methods for cleaning clothes-and making laundry loads more fun. Doing laundry is rarely anyone's favorite task. But to Patric Richardson, laundry isn't just fun-it's a way of life. After years of running Laundry Camp at the Mall of America for thousands of eager learners, he's ready to share his tips, tricks, and hacks-bringing surprise and delight to this commonly dreaded chore. Sorting your laundry? It's not all about whites and darks. Pondering the wash cycles? Every load, even your delicates, should be washed using express or quick-wash on warm. Facing expensive dry cleaning bills? You'll learn how to wash everything-yes everything-at home. And those basically clean but smelly clothes? Richardson has a secret for freshening those too (hint: it involves vodka, not soap). Changing your relationship with laundry can also change your life. Richardson's handy advice shows us how to save time and money (and the planet!) with our laundry-and he intersperses it all with a healthy dose of humor, real-life laundry stories, and lessons from his Appalachian upbringing and career in fashion. Laundry Love will make you wonder why you ever stressed about ironing, dry cleaning, or (god forbid) red wine spills on your new couch. No matter the issue, Richardson is here to help you make laundry miracles happen-wrinkles and stains be damned.

Sabatini Sloan, Aisha

In Borealis, Aisha Sabatini Sloan writes about a solitary summer visit to Alaska, observing glaciers, shorelines, mountains, bald eagles, and herself. As she studies her surroundings, the myth of Alaska-excitement, exploration, possibility-is complicated by boredom and isolation, and her attempts to set down place in writing are suffused with nostalgia and anxiety. The first title commissioned for the Spatial Species series, Borealis is a shapeshifting logbook of Sabatini Sloan's experiences as a queer woman contemplating her Blackness in the wilderness and in the mysteries of art-making. The Spatial Species series, edited by Youmna Chlala and Ken Chen, investigates the ways we activate space through language. In the tradition of Georges Perec's An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, Spatial Species titles are pocket-sized editions, each keenly focused on place. Instead of tourist spots and public squares, we encounter unmarked, noncanonical spaces: edges, alleyways, diasporic traces. Such intimate journeying requires experiments in language and genre, moving travelogue, fiction, or memoir into something closer to eating, drinking, and dreaming.

Savoy, Lauret E.

Sand and stone are Earth's fragmented memory. Each of us, too, is a landscape inscribed by memory and loss. One life-defining lesson Lauret Savoy learned as a young girl was this: the American land did not hate. As an educator and Earth historian, she has tracked the continent's past from the relics of deep time; but the paths of ancestors toward her--paths of free and enslaved Africans, colonists from Europe, and peoples indigenous to this land--lie largely eroded and lost. In this provocative and powerful mosaic of personal journeys and historical inquiry across a continent and time, Savoy explores how the country's still unfolding history, and ideas of 'race,' have marked her and the land. From twisted terrain within the San Andreas Fault zone to a South Carolina plantation, from national parks to burial grounds, from 'Indian Territory' and the U.S.-Mexico Border to the U.S. capital, Trace grapples with a searing national history to reveal the often unvoiced presence of the past. In distinctive and illuminating prose that is attentive to the rhythms of language and landscapes, she weaves together human stories of migration, silence, and displacement, as epic as the continent they survey, with uplifted mountains, braided streams, and eroded canyons.

Sheldrake, Merlin

Living at the border between life and non-life, fungi use diverse cocktails of potent enzymes and acids to disassemble some of the most stubborn substances on the planet, turning rock into soil and wood into compost, allowing plants to grow. Fungi not only help create soil, they send out networks of tubes that enmesh roots and link plants together in the "Wood Wide Web." Fungi also drive many long-standing human fascinations: from yeasts that cause bread to rise and orchestrate the fermentation of sugar into alcohol; to psychedelic fungi; to the mold that produces penicillin and revolutionized modern medicine. And we can partner with fungi to heal the damage we've done to the planet. Fungi are already being used to make sustainable building materials and wearable leather, but they can do so much more. Fungi can digest many stubborn and toxic pollutants from crude oil to human-made polyurethane plastics and the explosive TNT. They can grow food from renewable sources: edible mushrooms can be grown on anything from plant waste to cigarette butts. And some fungi's antiviral compounds might be able to ease the colony collapse of bees. Merlin Sheldrake's revelatory introduction to this world will show us how fungi, and our relationships with them, are more astonishing than we could have imagined. Bringing to light science's latest discoveries and ingeniously parsing the varieties and behaviors of the fungi themselves, he points us toward the fundamental questions about the nature of intelligence and identity this massively diverse, little understood kingdom provokes.

Simard, S.

A personal and scientific work on trees, forests, and the author's profound discoveries of tree communication.

Smil, Vaclav

An essential analysis of the modern science and technology that makes our twenty-first century lives possible--a scientist's investigation into what science really does, and does not, accomplish. We have never had so much information at our fingertips and yet most of us don't know how the world really works. This book explains seven of the most fundamental realities governing our survival and prosperity. From energy and food production, through our material world and its globalization, to risks, our environment and its future, How the World Really Works offers a much-needed reality check--because before we can tackle problems effectively, we must understand the facts. In this ambitious and thought-provoking book we see, for example, that globalization isn't inevitable--the foolishness of allowing 70 per cent of the world's rubber gloves to be made in just one factory became glaringly obvious in 2020--and that our societies have been steadily increasing their dependence on fossil fuels, such that any promises of decarbonization by 2050 are a fairy tale.

Washington, Harriet A.

Demonstrates how environmental racism influences the racial IQ gap and explains what needs to be done to remedy its effects on marginalized communities.

Fiction Books

A selection of fiction books that emphasize the importance of Earth science and sustainability.

Ghosh, Amitav

Off the easternmost coast of India lies the immense archipelago of tiny islands known as the Sundarbans. Life here is precarious, ruled by the unforgiving tides and the constant threat of attacks by Bengal tigers. Into this place of vengeful beauty come two seekers from different worlds, whose lives collide with tragic consequences. The settlers of the remote Sundarbans believe that anyone without a pure heart who ventures into the watery island labyrinth will never return. With the arrival of two outsiders from the modern world, the delicate balance of small community life uneasily shifts. Piya Roy is a marine biologist, of Indian descent but stubbornly American, in search of a rare dolphin. Kanai Dutt is an urbane Delhi businessman, here to retrieve the journal of his uncle, who died mysteriously in a local political uprising. When Piya hires an illiterate but proud local fisherman to guide her through the crocodile-infested backwaters, Kanai becomes her translator. From this moment, the tide begins to turn. A contemporary story of adventure and romance, identity and history, The Hungry Tide travels deep into one of the most fascinating regions on earth, where the treacherous forces of nature and human folly threaten to destroy a way of life.

Hurston, Zora Neale

Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person—no mean feat for a black woman in the '30s. Janie's quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.

Kingsolver, Barbara

Prodigal Summer weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives inhabiting the forested mountains and struggling small farms of southern Appalachia.

Mbue, Imbolo

'We should have known the end was near.' So begins Imbolo Mbue's exquisite and devastating novel How Beautiful We Were. Set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, it tells the story of a people living in fear amidst environmental degradation wrought by a large and powerful American oil company. Pipeline spills have rendered farmlands infertile. Children are dying from drinking toxic water. Promises of clean up and financial reparations to the villagers are made--and ignored. The country's government, led by a corrupt, brazen dictator, exists to serve its own interest. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight the American corporation. Doing so will come at a steep price. Told through multiple perspectives and centered around a fierce young girl named Thula who grows up to become a revolutionary, Joy of the Oppressed is a masterful exploration of what happens when the reckless drive for profit, coupled with the ghosts of colonialism, comes up against one village's quest for justice--and a young woman's willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people's freedom.

McConaghy, Charlotte

A gorgeous and pulse-pounding new novel set in the wild Scottish Highlands. Inti Flynn arrives in Scotland with her twin sister, Aggie, to lead a team of biologists tasked with reintroducing fourteen gray wolves into the remote Highlands. She hopes to heal not only the dying landscape, but Aggie, too, unmade by the terrible secrets that drove the sisters out of Alaska. Inti is not the woman she once was, either, changed by the harm she's witnessed-inflicted by humans on both the wild and each other. Yet as the wolves surprise everyone by thriving, Inti begins to let her guard down, even opening herself up to the possibility of love. But when a farmer is mauled to death, Inti knows where the town will lay blame. Unable to accept her wolves could be responsible, Inti makes a reckless decision to protect them. But if the wolves didn't make the kill, then is something more sinister at play? Charlotte McConaghy's Once There Were Wolves is the unforgettable story of a woman desperate to save the creatures she loves-if she isn't consumed by a wild that was once her refuge.

Okorafor, Nnedi

Born into post-apocalyptic Africa to a mother who was raped after the slaughter of her entire tribe, Onyesonwu is tutored by a shaman and discovers that her magical destiny is to end the genocide of her people.

Wilson, Diane

A haunting novel spanning several generations, The Seed Keeper follows a Dakota family's struggle to preserve their way of life, and their sacrifices to protect what matters most.