Every day is earth day for humans, and reading about the state of our planet should be part of everyone’s book choices. Environmentally oriented books include scientific inquiries into climate change, energy sources, extinction, and all the thorny social and political implications of environmental troubles. But reading “green” can also include clever and surprising ecofiction, thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening microhistories, provocative travelogues, and a manifesto about spending more time outdoors. These recent titles renew our appreciation for life on earth and recalibrate our sense of our species’ part in the whirling planet’s great symbiotic dance.
The Age of Sustainable Development, by Jeffrey D. Sachs
Sachs asks the central question: “Is there a way to change course, a way to combine economic development with environmental sustainability?” After charting the full extent of such global predicaments as worsening income inequality, poverty, and hunger, along with the devastating impacts of climate change, including the decrease in groundwater and biodiversity, Sachs offers a path to sustainable living determined by “scientifically and morally based problem solving,” social inclusion and equality, good governance, and a “wave of sustainable technologies.”
The Bees, by Laline Paull
Paull’s imaginative and compelling novel, told from the perspective of a bee named Flora 717, and featuring a plot similar to Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale, won the Orion Book Award, which is presented each year to one fiction and one nonfiction title that “deepen the reader’s connection to the natural world” and “represent excellence in writing.”
Dancing with the Devil in the City of God: Rio de Janeiro on the Brink, by Juliana Barbassa
Journalist Barbassa reports with passionate and intrepid curiosity on life in Rio de Janeiro, the city of her birth, as it prepared for its bids for both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, curious about how the frenzied infrastructure changes would impact the city’s tumultuous politics, gross inequalities, vibrant culture, and fragile ecology.
Getting to Green: Saving Nature; A Bipartisan Solution, by Frederic C. Rich
Rich bridges two cultures as a corporate lawyer and conservationist, and his clear, thorough analysis of our environmental predicament and a possible solution will speak to both liberals and conservatives and everyone in-between. This informative, fair, probing, and heartfelt book should enliven all environmental debates.
Gold, Fame, Citrus, by Claire Vaye Watkins
In Watkins’ first novel, the California drought is catastrophic, forcing a mass exodus. But a few hardy, rebellious, thirsty souls remain, including Luz, a famous model of Mexican and Anglo parentage with an ironic back story, and Ray, AWOL from the military after serving in the Middle East. As they take in a very strange little girl, and set off across the vast, new, ever-changing desert landscape, Watkins unspools a fast-moving, high-tension, sexy, ecocrisis saga.
Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, by Edward O. Wilson
For decades, scientist, educator, and environmentalist Wilson has cogently and ardently sought to awaken us to the grand intricacy of life on Earth and the increasingly urgent need to protect the wondrous biosphere that sustains us. Here he brings all his knowledge and wisdom to an unflinching view of environmental realities in this time of climate change and mass extinction and calls for humankind to commit nothing less than “half the planet’s surface to nature.” This startling, courageous, many will say wildly quixotic vision of a truly global preservation effort is guaranteed to provoke thought, and, let us hope, action.
Invisible Beasts, by Sharona Muir
Sophie, the narrator in Muir’s canny first novel, is descended from “a long line of naturalists and scientists,” including a few who can see “invisible animals.” Sophie is one such “invisible- beast spotter,” a gift she keeps secret until she realizes that it is her duty as a naturalist to share her observations as we confront the loss of biodiversity. Muir dexterously mixes fancy with biological fact in this enchanting, funny, and brilliantly imaginative climate-change-era variation on Aesop’s Fables.
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History, by Cynthia Barnett
In this spectacularly vivid, all-encompassing history of rain, environmental and science writer Barnett asserts that “as rain goes, so goes civilization.” She chronicles catastrophic droughts and floods ancient and modern, and discusses acid rain, polluted storm-water runoff, water shortages, and the current and dire rise in extreme storms and droughts, then sweetens the brew with lively histories of meteorology, the raincoat, and “strange rains” of fish and frogs.
Sightlines: A Conversation with the Natural World, by Kathleen Jamie
Scottish poet and essayist Jamie writes of her immersions in nature and history in 14 finely tooled, scrubbed, rinsed, and polished essays chronicling such adventures as a trip to the Arctic, work at an archaeological dig, and a visit to a raucous island colony of gannets, where the seabirds seem timeless, even though disconcerting bits of plastic are woven into their nests.
Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life, by Richard Louv
Louv, whose Last Child in the Woods (2008) became the twenty-first century’s back-to-nature clarion call, presents am enthusiastic, well-organized, and inspiring guide on how to ensure that one’s self and one’s family spends much-needed time outdoors soaking up “Vitamin N” (N is for nature).