Read books about eco-topics
Are your eyes fried and wrists sore from perusing the best of the green blogosphere? Although heading online for eco-education and entertainment is enthusiastically GreenYour-approved, there's nothing quite like cozying up (or busying yourself while in-transit) with an engaging book. Reading books about eco-topics is a surefire way to expand eco-consciousness no matter what your preferred genre or green passion—there's something for everyone.
How to read books about eco-topics
- Burnt out from bad news? You may assume that the green literary canon is filled with titles geared toward Debbie Downer, with descriptions of eco-peril and rampant pollution; reports of human and animal populations facing danger, despair, and death; heavy-handed political rhetoric; messages along the lines of "humankind has screwed up big time and we're going to pay for it." However, not all environmentally themed books rely on pessimism and green propaganda. In the tradition of Walden, many offer stunning, reflective descriptions of Mother Earth at her most radiant; some offer messages of hope, advancement, and green do-goodery; others, especially in recent years, focus on what you can do to foster change rather than dwell on the consequences of environmental abuse.
- Everyone has a must read list and GreenYour is no exception. For our current eco-lit picks, see the Find it! section below. For other "top" lists head to Grist (British picks), The Society of Environmental Journalists (fiction), Outside, Greenopia, and various top lists and reviews at A Guide to Outdoor Literature. Is there a book on your must-read list? Let us know about it in the Comments section.
- A green education can never start too early. Luckily, there are a plethora of titles that cater to the burgeoning environmentalist. Parents and educators alike should check out titles for children recommended by The Boston Public Library. Keep in mind that a green bedtime story or lesson doesn't have to be restricted to Earth Day. Children's books with environmental themes are rarely blunt with their views and instead often use metaphor, imaginative storytelling, and illustrations to get the point across.
- Open to discussion? Book clubs are a popular phenomenon, so why not start one with an environmental focus or incorporate green reads into an existing one? By keeping selections lively and diverse, you'll encourage dialogue and debate about pertinent issues between members over a glass of wine or cup of coffee. The fabulous Eco-Libris will even balance out the books read in your club by planting trees in developing countries.
- An afterword. Now that we've steered you in the right direction in terms of subject matter, how you read is also something to consider before you dive in. Although it may be hard to convince staunch bookworms to give it a go, try settling down with an e-book, seek out publishers using recycled paper, or borrow from libraries to make the experience more eco-friendly. And although you may prefer a shiny, unspoiled copy, look into buying secondhand from a used book store, charity shop, or online merchant like Amazon.com or Half.com. Not only will you save a few bucks and a tree, but when shopping at stores like New York City's Housing Works Used Book Cafe you'll also support a good cause.
Find it! Books about eco-topics
Below you'll find a diverse selection of titles—from science fiction to history to green living guides and more—that have at one time or another appeared on GreenYour's nightstand or bookshelf.
A collection of influential nature essays first published in 1949, a year after conservationist Leopold's death. This edition features photographs of Leopold's former Wisconsin farm taken by Michael Sewell. Leopold's writings remain timeless and elegant.
At 900 pages, this sweeping anthology covers American eco-lit beginning with the early conservationalists like Thoreau and John Muir and ending with contemporary green scribes like Michael Pollan and Paul Hawken. Along the way, writers such as John Steinbeck, Buckminster Fuller, and others are featured.
Blue Planet Run: The Race to Provide Safe Drinking Water to the World created by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt
Thirsty for change? Although heavy on the visuals—this volume features more than 250 photographs from top-notch photojournalists—Blue Planet Run also features essays addressing the global water crisis by eco-luminaries such as Bill McKibben, Paul Hawken, and others.
From the moment you pick up this innovative manifesto that calls for a complete end to the cycle of waste, you'll know you're in for something out of the ordinary: the book itself is waterproof, completely recyclable, and contains pages made from plastic resins and fillers.
Callenbach's 1975 sci fi yarn imagines Ecotopia, an environmentally correct but slightly sinister country consisting of Washington, Oregon, and northern California. In the novel, a New York reporter investigates the country 20 years after it seceded from the rest of the United States.
Good News for a Change: How Everyday People are Helping the Planet by David Suzuki and Holly Dressel
Environmental scientist Suzuki and co-author Dressel move beyond headline-stealing, bad news bears eco-news with remarkable examples of individuals, organizations, and governments from around the globe making green strides.
Inspire your Jewish friends with a book that explains Judaism’s deep concern for the well-being of the natural world. Written by 21 different contributors, this book examines the Jewish mystical tradition, Jewish environmental activism, and attempts to formulate a constructive Jewish theology of nature.
Dillard's Pulitzer Prize-winning, Thoreau-channeling 1974 work may not boast razzle dazzle and a page-turning plot, but its rich, lyrical language and thoughtful meditations on a sojourn spent in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains prove to be a pleasurable read.
Kingsolver—the acclaimed author of The Poisonwood Bible and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life—enchants with her 2001 novel set in Appalachia. The book contains environmental themes, multiple narrative voices, and Kingsolver's rich, patented sense of place.
Primarily known for his transgressive science fiction novels and meditations on automobile culture, like Concrete Island and Crash, this 1994 work from controversial British scribe Ballard is a riveting—albeit bleak—tale of an eco-crusade gone bad.
Marine biologist Carson's classic 1962 work is an in-depth look at the environmental perils of agricultural chemicals like DDT. Although she passed away two years after her groundbreaking book's publication, Carson's legacy lives on in the work of many environmental groups.
The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen
Rogers and Kostigen reach for the stars in this smart, practical guide to achieving green one reasonable step at a time. A-listers like Robert Redford, Jennifer Aniston, Martha Stewart, and Ellen DeGeneres contribute anecdotes on their own eco-friendly lifestyle habits.
The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook: 77 Essential Skills To Stop Climate Change by David de Rothschild
Amusing full-color illustrations, environmental facts, and instruction merrily collide in this cheeky but essential spin on survival guides of yesteryear. De Rothschild's book is the official tie-in volume to 2007's global Live Earth concerts.
This 1971 classic features all the things that children (and adults) love about the good doctor: infectious rhymes, vivid illustrations, and a fantastic cast of characters. This time around, Seuss inserts a resonant message of environmental stewardship.
Weisman's study in what-ifs imagines a world suddenly depopulated. How would Mother Nature go about mending the environmental wounds inflicted by mankind? Although some might find the premise a bit grim, Weisman signs off on an optimistic note, imagining the earth transforming itself back to Eden.
This thick, beautifully conceived volume, a companion to the popular site Worldchanging, is a treasure trove of everything you wanted to know about green but were scared (or hesitant) to ask. Forward written by Al Gore.
Reading books about eco-topics helps you go green because...
- People read for different reasons: education, enlightenment, entertainment, and escape. With a diverse selection of environmentally themed titles available, both classic and current, eco-awareness and change can be achieved across several genres.
- Reading is not a passive activity but the first—often most crucial—step in reaching greener pastures. For example, reading a single book on climate change can lead to various lifestyle adjustments including volunteerism, greening your ride, or becoming politically active.
Reading is ripe with strong criticism and preference. That is, everyone knows what they like and are often outspoken about what authors and works they think to be best—from Steinbeck to Steele, Dean R. Koontz to D.H. Lawrence, Iris Murdoch to Irvine Welsh. The environmental genre is no different.
In terms of environmental influence, a poll conducted by the Environmental Defense Fund cites Henry David Thoreau's 1854 Transcendentalist classic Walden and Rachel Carson's 1962 work Silent Spring as the clear front-runners. The former—a study in self-reliance and nature appreciation—details the author's two-year time-out in rural Massachusetts. The latter, a groundbreaking (and at the time, controversial) examination of the dangers of pesticides is credited with sparking the modern environmental movement that lead to the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Says the EPA: "Silent Spring played in the history of environmentalism roughly the same role that Uncle Tom's Cabin played in the abolitionist movement. In fact, EPA today may be said without exaggeration to be the extended shadow of Rachel Carson." Additionally, National Review listed Silent Spring as one of the 100 best non-fiction books of the 20th century, joining works by Winston Churchill, George Orwell, Anne Frank, T.S. Eliot, and others. Coming in third in the Environmental Defense Fund's poll was Dr. Seuss's typically whimsical but message-heavy picture book from the 1970s, The Lorax.
Some publishers work exclusively in the environmental genre. Case in point is Chelsea Green Publishing, a company that since 1984 has released over 400 titles, several of them award-winning or best-selling.
While many other publishers don't work exclusively with eco-titles, they are making strides toward greener business practices. It's estimated that 30 million trees are used each year for books sold in the US—1,153 times the number of trees in New York's Central Park. In response to the environmental and social damage that stems from book publishing, over 160 publishers have adopted environmental policies or signed The Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper Use. Authors like Alice Walker and Margaret Atwood have also backed the move toward sustainable publishing spearheaded by the Green Press Initiative.
One of the world's most popular contemporary literary icons, Harry Potter, got the green treatment in his final 784-page installment, 2007's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Potter's American publisher, Scholastic, partnered with the Rainforest Alliance to print every copy with a minimum of 30 percent recycled fiber. Additionally, two-thirds of the paper used was Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified, and copies of the "deluxe" edition contained 100 percent recycled paper produced in a sustainably powered factory. Greenpeace estimated that the effort conserved tens of thousands of trees. The initial print run for a previous Potter adventure, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was handled in a similar manner by its Canadian publisher, Raincoast Books. The company used strictly 100 percent recycled paper, saving an estimated 39,320 trees, 17 million gallons of water, and 1,885 pounds of solid waste, as well as energy and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Eco-Libris Blog
- EcoBusinessLinks - Green Bookstores
- The Green Guide - Mommas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Pollute: Quick, Summer Reads
- Eco Books This former independent bookseller maintains a list of interesting eco-titles.
- Green Books A UK-based indie publisher of titles addressing environmental and cultural issues.
- Environmental Defense Fund - What Is the Most Influential Environmental Book?
- US Environmental Protection Agency - The Birth of EPA
- National Review - 100 Best Non-fiction Books of the Century
- Chelsea Green Publishing - About Us
- The Green Press Initiative - Book Sector
- The Green Guide - Greener Kids Books
- The Guardian - Boy wizard turns green