2020 Earth Month Reading List
20 Books To Check Out (Virtually) this Earth Month
The following books can help you to celebrate the beauty and history of our planet and learn about ways to protect the environment. sustainNU curated this list of books, many of which are available online for free and others you can purchase to add to your home library.
Need a library card? In Chicago, apply for an eCard. In Evanston, sign up here. If you are interested in buying a physical copy of these books, there are many local, small bookstores offering home delivery. If you are in Chicago, try City Lit Books, Women and Children First, or Open Books. In Evanston, try Bookends and Beginnings. Looking for other stores? Find a local store to support with Bookshop!
If you read one of these or have another recommendation, let us know @sustainNU’s (Twitter, Facebook or Instagram) with #NUEarthMonth2020. Even when sheltered at home, we can connect with our planet, campus and community. Happy Reading!
Free Online through Northwestern Libraries
By: Thomas Lovejoy
Biodiversity and Climate Change: Transforming the Biosphere is a synthesis of our rapidly growing understanding of how climate change and people are transforming the biosphere and the biodiversity of our planet. It is perfect for people who care about our planet, research these topics, or manage natural resources. A little more technical than others on this list, it would be perfect for a student in biology, environmental sciences, or a researcher interested in deepening their understanding of these topics. Topics range from, “extinction risk to ocean acidification, from the future of the Amazon to changes in ecosystem services, and from geoengineering to the power of ecosystem restoration.”
"Superbly authoritative. . . . An invaluable resource for scientists and members of the public who seek a more thorough understanding of two of the critical existential threats that we face. Its contributors are top experts. It is well written: well organized, well documented, and well indexed. Your copy will become well thumbed."—Paul R. Ehrlich, Quarterly Review of Biology
Explore our Earth like never before, through these beautiful images taken by a NASA Earth-observing environmental satellite. Earth as Art is a gallery of images offering a different perspective of nature than we can experience here on land. This is a perfect book to sit down with and peruse at your leisure.
“This book celebrates Earth’s aesthetic beauty in the patterns, shapes, colors, and textures of the land, oceans, ice, and atmosphere. Earth-observing environmental satellites can measure outside the visible range of light, so these images show more than what is visible to the naked eye,” – Lawrence Friedl, NASA Earth Science
By: Peter Plastrik and John Cleveland
Life After Carbon looks to the future of what our cities could be if we reinvent what the modern city model looks like. Plastrik and Cleveland explore how cities need to adapt in order to combat climate change, by radical transformations in city design, use of physical space, how wealth is generated, and how natural ecosystems are incorporated are just a few of the themes and topics. It is an interesting and informative look at how our built environment can shape our future as urbanization continues to rise globally.
"Plastrik and Cleveland give readers nothing less than a new and compelling vision for what cities could be: carbon-free, climate adaptive, biophilic and nature-rich, with restorative closed-loop metabolisms, and, of course, wonderful places in which to live. Together these stories, ideas, and emerging practices chart an optimistic urban future. Life After Carbon is an essential resource for planners, mayors, and citizens (all of us) with a vested interest in accelerating this future." -- Timothy Beatley, Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities at the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia
By: Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nature is an 1836 classic essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson in which he builds the foundation of transcendentalism, a belief system which supports a non-traditional appreciation of nature. Transcendentalism suggests that the divine is within nature and that reality can be understood by studying nature. Within the essay, Emerson explores the themes of Commodity, Beauty, Language, Discipline, Idealism, Spirit, and Prospects – and how humans use nature for their understanding of the world, desire for delight and basic needs. Explore the connection between nature and spirituality through this historical text!
“Nature, in particular, gives a beautiful statement of Emersonian idealism. It is neither an immaterialism like that of Berkeley, nor any other type of reductive, subjective idealism. It is rather a poetic, Platonizing, realistic dualism.” – Joseph L Blau Associate Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University
By: Yoram Bauman and Grady Klein
Bauman and Klein offer this amusing, thorough, and approachable guide to one of the most important topics of our time, climate change. The book starts at observations, looks at future prediction, and outlines potential solutions and global actions—offering a detailed understanding of not only the key concepts of climate change but also the landscape of solutions and challenges. An enjoyable and informative read for anyone looking for better understanding of climate change who also loves visual illustrations.
"It's difficult to imagine that a book about climate change could be easy to understand, let alone funny. But Yoram Bauman and Grady Klein's The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change, an illustrated book that walks readers through the basics of climate science, is both. ...approachable and engaging." – Nature Conservancy
Free Online through the Evanston Public Library
Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss
(Available at Libby by Overdrive and Hoopla)
By: Margaret Renkl
Renkl’s book, Late Migrations, traces stories in her life with the rich, natural history of her southern backyard. Within her brief essays, she braids together narratives, a portrait of her complicated parents, the transition to caregiver, and observations of the natural history surrounding her Nashville home. This is the perfect book for people interested in observations of wildlife, natural history and warm, rich memoirs.
“A compact glory, crosscutting between consummate family memoir and keenly observed backyard natural history. Renkl’s deft juxtapositions close up the gap between humans and nonhumans and revive our lost kinship with other living things.”―Richard Powers, author of The Overstory
Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard
(Available at Hoopla)
By: Douglas Tallamy
Wildlife populations are in decline and the native plants they depend on are fast disappearing. In this book, Tallamy outlines a vision where homeowners everywhere turn their yards into conservation corridors that provide wildlife habitats. Tallamy outlines specific suggestions you can immediately incorporate into your yard.
“Here is one area where individual action really can help make up for all that government fails to do: your backyard can provide the margin to keep species alive. Mow less, think more!”—Bill McKibben, author of Falter
The Death and Life of the Great Lakes
(Available at Libby by Overdrive)
By: Dan Egan
The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is written by prize-winning reporter Dan Egan. It paints an accessible and compelling portrait of the challenges facing the Great Lakes. It examines the challenges lurking below the surface and exposes the changes that are happening right under our eyes. This is a great read for anyone who is interested in invasive species, freshwater systems, species migration and challenges facing the Great Lakes region.
“Dipping into this book was like opening the secret diary of a mercurial and mysterious parent. In telling what might otherwise be a grim tale, Egan, a two-time Pulitzer finalist, nimbly splices together history, science, reporting and personal experiences into a taut and cautiously hopeful narrative.” – Robert Moor, New York Times
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from A Secret World
(Available at Libby by Overdrive and Hoopla)
By: Peter Wohlleben
Explore The Hidden Life of Trees and understand how scientific discoveries now view trees like human families, “tree parents live together with their children, they communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers.” After reading this book, you will never look at trees the same way.
“[Peter] Wohlleben has delighted readers and talk-show audiences alike with the news—long known to biologists—that trees in the forest are social beings.” —The New York Times
The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where We Go From Here
(Available at Libby by Overdrive)
By: Hope Jahren
Hope Jahren, in The Story of More, highlights the link between our habits and the endangered planet. She explains the consequences of global warming and the actions that we all can take to improve our planet. Anyone looking for actions they can take to help combat climate change and understand the global changes will be interested in this book. Her lively, intimate narrative allows the reader to connect with her voice and serves as a great option for readers interested in resource conservation.
“Hope Jahren asks the central question of our time: how can we learn to live on a finite planet? The Story of More is thoughtful, informative, and—above all—essential.” —Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction
Free Online through the Chicago Public Library
To access these online with a Chicago Public Library card, sign into Chicago Public Library’s Overdrive.
By: Al Gore
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is a call to action. The book covers the impact of a changing climate and delivers hope by outlining what you can do now. It will empower you to make a difference—and lets you know how to take action. This book is perfect for anyone looking for ways to make a difference and those feeling like they are unsure how to take action to combat climate change. It also has a wonderful companion film available to rent online.
"Vibrantly illustrated with photographs and infographics, the book can and should be read before, after, or in lieu of seeing the film, its vital information readily accessible and useful in print...This clarifying and inspiring call to stand with the facts and support the sustainable revolution belongs in every library." - Booklist
By: Hope Jahren
Geobiologist Hope Jahren’s book Lab Girl is a beautiful memoir of a women in science and her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is a celebration of the curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist. This book is a great read for anyone who likes diving into a descriptive memoir and exploring tree science.
“A powerful new memoir . . . Jahren is a remarkable scientist who turns out to be a remarkable writer as well. . . Think Stephen Jay Gould or Oliver Sacks. But Hope Jahren is a woman in science, who speaks plainly to just how rugged that can be. And to the incredible machinery of life around us.” —On Point/NPR
By: Edward Posnett
Edward Posnett takes us to some of the most, “far-flung locales on the planet to bring us seven wonders of the natural world - eiderdown, vicuña fiber, sea silk, vegetable ivory, civet coffee, guano, and edible birds' nests - that promise ways of using nature without damaging it.” It follows the journeys of these objects and highlights the people and the communities that harvest, process, and trade them. It weaves together history, folklore, ritual, myth, interviews, and compelling narratives to tell these object’s stories. A beautiful read for people who like fiction, travel writing and cultural history.
“A beautiful exploration of our fraught connections with other species. With seemingly boundless curiosity, Posnett invites us on journeys through the surprising webs created by international trade. Uniting these stories from around the world are essential questions for our time: Is a balance between humans and the rest of nature possible? Or do we inevitably destroy what we harvest and desire? Full of surprise, delight, and horror, these lively tales illuminate and captivate.” —David George Haskell, author of The Songs of Trees and The Forest Unseen
By: Michael Pollan
In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan highlights how people and domesticated plants have a reciprocal, beneficial relationship. He highlights, “four fundamental human desires—sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control—with the plants that satisfy them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato.” Pollan’s book is an interesting piece on artificial selection and domestication—a great read for anyone interested in humankind’s influence on nature.
“[Pollan] has a wide-ranging intellect, an eager grasp of evolutionary biology and a subversive streak that helps him to root out some wonderfully counterintuitive points. His prose both shimmers and snaps, and he has a knack for finding perfect quotes in the oddest places.... Best of all, Pollan really loves plants.”
—The New York Times Book Review
By: Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin
Food waste in the landfill releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas. To help reduce your emissions, composting is a great backyard or apartment activity. The Complete Compost Gardening Guide walks you through Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin’s six-way compost gardening system. Anyone looking to garden this spring can use this guide to nourish your plants in a compost system which encourages growth and sustainability.
Turn the compost bin upside down! The nutritious, organic diet your garden craves is as simple as creating compost heaps right in the garden. Plants and compost live together in labor-and time-saving harmony, producing bright, sweet, juicy vegetables all season long. – Back Cover
Available for Purchase
By: Mary Robinson
“Holding her first grandchild in her arms in 2003, Mary Robinson was struck by the uncertainty of the world he had been born into. Before his fiftieth birthday, he would share the planet with more than nine billion people--people battling for food, water, and shelter in an increasingly volatile climate. The faceless, shadowy menace of climate change had become, in an instant, deeply personal.” Join Mary Robinson as she travels all across the world, from Malawi to Mongolia, and discovers a grassroots movement among women fighting for climate justice. Compelling and vivid stories of the women she meets and the movements they are leading are inspirational to anyone interested in environmental justice and climate advocacy movements.
“As advocate for the forgotten and the ignored, Mary Robinson has not only shone a light on human suffering, but illuminated a better future for our world.” -Barack Obama
By: Anna Lappé
Diet for a Hot Planet, sparking a revolution in our thinking about the social and environmental impact of our food choices, Anna Lappé picks up the conversation, examining another hidden cost of our food system: the climate crisis. From raising cattle in industrial-scale feedlots to razing rainforests to make palm oil for Pop-Tarts, the choices we make about how we put food on our plates, and what we do with the waste, contribute to as much as one third of total greenhouse-gas emissions. Lappé exposes the interests resisting this crucial conversation while she educates and empowers readers and eaters committed to healing the planet.” – Back Cover
“Anna Lappé's Diet for a Hot Planet does for the present generation what her mother's Diet for a Small Planet did for the last: empower us to think in a new way about how food affects our own health as well as that of the planet. Her inspiring book makes it clear that food choices matter to climate change and that each of us, voting with our forks, can make a real difference in ensuring a more sustainable food system. I want all my students to read this powerful book.” ―Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University, and author of What to Eat
By: George Marshall
Why is there still inaction in the face of climate change? What is the psychological mechanism that allows us to know something is true, but do nothing to stop it? To move people to action it will take more than facts and information, our values, assumptions, and prejudices can take on a lives of their own. George Marshall’s Don’t Even Think About It tackles these questions and more. “Once we understand what excites, threatens, and motivates us, we can rethink and reimagine climate change, for it is not an impossible problem. In the end, Don't Even Think About It is both about climate change and about the qualities that make us human and how we can grow as we deal with the greatest challenge we have ever faced.” This book would be perfect for people interested in moving others to action in the face of our current sustainability challenges and the fields of communications, evolutionary biology and psychology.
“The science of climate change is easy: burning fossil fuels creates greenhouse gasses that are warming our world. George Marshall reminds us about the hard part: connecting the wellhead to the tailpipe in people's minds as soon as possible. Please read this book, and think about it. Let's get to work.” ―Bill Nye
By: Richard Louv
“Our Wild Calling explores these powerful and mysterious bonds and how they can transform our mental, physical, and spiritual lives, serve as an antidote to the growing epidemic of human loneliness, and help us tap into the empathy required to preserve life on Earth.” Through interviews with wildlife experts, indigenous healers, and psychologists, Richard Louv shows the history of human communication with and connection to animals. He makes the case for making a sustainable and shared habitat for all creatures – pointing to a deep connection between all animals fueled by protection and love. This book is a great read for people interested in urban, wild, and domesticated animals or what true connection means.
"Richard Louv has done it again. A remarkable book that will help everyone break away from their fixed gaze at the screens that dominate our lives and remember instead that we are animals in a world of animals." – Bill McKibben, author of Falter
By: Taras Gescoe
In America, a century of auto-centric culture and city planning has left most cities devoid of robust public transportation. With alternative and sustainable transportation options vital to combating the environmental challenges of our world, a revolution in transportation is needed. “On a journey that takes him around the world―from New York to Moscow, Paris, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Bogotá, Phoenix, Portland, Vancouver, and Philadelphia―Grescoe profiles public transportation here and abroad, highlighting the people and ideas that may help undo the damage that car-centric planning has done to our cities and create convenient, affordable, and sustainable urban transportation―and better city living―for all.” This book follows his adventure and study of public transportation systems around the world with a descriptive narrative. It is a great read for anyone interested in city and urban planning, transportation systems, and how we can build sustainable models of transportation in America.
“Entertaining and illuminating...Grescoe's adventurous, first-person inspection of the world's latest high-tech transit systems keeps readers engaged while underscoring the importance of developing greener forms of transportation.” ―Library Journal