A good planet is hard to find
Earth Day is a good time to learn more, get inspired, and even take some action. To pique your interest, we've selected fiction and nonfiction reads devoted to specific environmental concerns.
Protecting our water
The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan (nonfiction)
The Great Lakes—Michigan, Superior, Huron, Erie, and Ontario—hold 20 percent of the world’s supply of surface fresh water and provide sustenance, work, and recreation for tens of millions of Americans. But they are under threat as never before, and their problems are spreading across the continent. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is prize-winning reporter Dan Egan’s compulsively readable portrait of an ecological catastrophe happening right before our eyes, blending the epic story of the lakes with an examination of the perils they face and the ways we can restore and preserve them for generations to come. [e-book | print]
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy (fiction)
Franny Stone has always been the kind of woman who is able to love but unable to stay. Leaving behind everything but her research gear, she arrives in Greenland with a singular purpose: to follow the last Arctic terns in the world on what might be their final migration to Antarctica. Franny talks her way onto a fishing boat, and she and the crew set sail, traveling ever farther from shore and safety. But as Franny’s history begins to unspool—a passionate love affair, an absent family, a devastating crime—it becomes clear that she is chasing more than just the birds. [e-book | print | large type | audiobook]
The End We Start From by Megan Hunter (fiction)
In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. As they move from place to place, shelter to shelter, their journey traces both fear and wonder as Z's small fists grasp at the things he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds. This is a story of new motherhood in a terrifying setting: a familiar world made dangerous and unstable, its people forced to become refugees. [e-book | print | audiobook]
Protecting our climate
How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need by Bill Gates (nonfiction)
Bill Gates has spent a decade investigating the causes and effects of climate change. In this book, he not only explains why we need to work toward net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases, but also details what we need to do to achieve this profoundly important goal. Drawing on his understanding of innovation and what it takes to get new ideas into the market, he describes the areas where technology is already helping to reduce emissions, where and how the current technology can be made to function more effectively, where breakthrough technologies are needed, and who is working on these essential innovations. [e-book | print]
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells (nonfiction)
Without a revolution in how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth could become close to uninhabitable and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as early as the end of this century. In his travelogue of our near future, David Wallace-Wells brings into stark relief the climate troubles that await—food shortages, refugee emergencies, and other crises that will reshape the globe. But the world will be remade by warming in more profound ways as well, transforming our politics, our culture, our relationship with technology, and our sense of history. It will be all-encompassing, shaping and distorting nearly every aspect of human life as it is lived today. [e-book | print]
We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer (nonfiction)
Jonathan Safran Foer explores the central global dilemma of our time in a surprising, deeply personal, and urgent new way. The task of saving the planet will involve a great reckoning with ourselves—with our all-too-human reluctance to sacrifice immediate comfort for the sake of the future. We have, he reveals, turned our planet into a farm for growing animal products, and the consequences are catastrophic. Only collective action will save our home and way of life. And it all starts with what we eat—and don’t eat—for breakfast. [e-book | print]
Protecting our plants
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (fiction)
Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry's brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits her father's money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma's research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. [e-book | print | audiobook]
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (fiction)
It wouldn’t be an environmentally focused reading list without a Barbara Kingsolver book; like The Signature of All Things, this also features a female biologist. From her outpost in an isolated mountain cabin, reclusive wildlife biologist Deanna Wolfe watches a den of coyotes that have recently migrated into the region. She is caught off-guard by a young hunter who invades her this private space, confounding her self-assured, solitary life. On a farm several miles down the mountain, Lusa Maluf Landowski, a bookish city girl turned farmer's wife, finds herself unexpectedly marooned in a strange place where she must declare or lose her attachment to the land that has become her own. [e-book | print | audiobook]
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (nonfiction)
Acclaimed biologist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more. Lab Girl is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when work and love come together. It is told through Jahren’s stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota, with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work. [e-book | print | audiobook]
If you've already read Jahren's excellent memoir, she has a new book addressing climate changes, The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here [print].
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