The best books for awakening to a vital, exuberant, living kinship with the more-than-human world

Why am I passionate about this?

I remember, as a very young child, clandestinely sneaking out of the house on humid Houston nights to gather toads. How my parents never caught me in the act, I do not know. I only know holding these amphibians in my hands felt special, magical even. This compulsion toward other creatures speaks to the unfolding of my lifelong learnings, a path that led me to a PhD in Religion and Nature and then to work for the Center for Humans and Nature. I’ve never stopped reflecting on how humans might better care for our earthling kin, and I don’t suspect I’ll ever cease marveling at the earth’s wild generativity. 

I wrote...

Book cover of Planet

What is my book about?

2022 Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal Winner: Ecology & Environment and 2022 Nautilus Book Award Special Honors as Best of Anthology

From the Center for Humans and Nature, a collection in five volumes: essays, interviews, poetry, and stories of solidarity that highlight the interdependence that exists between humans and nonhuman beings. We live in an astounding world of relations. Kinship: Belonging in a World of Relations is a lively series that explores our deep interconnections with the living world. More than 70 contributors―including Robin Wall Kimmerer, Richard Powers, David Abram, J. Drew Lanham, and Sharon Blackie―invite readers into cosmologies, narratives, and everyday interactions that embrace a more-than-human world as worthy of our response and responsibility.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses

Gavin Van Horn Why did I love this book?

Robin, a co-editor of the Kinship series with me, has become well-known for her book Braiding Sweetgrass, which was a New York Times bestseller. Robin’s popularity is based in part on her unique ability to bridge the worlds of Western science (she has a PhD in botany) and indigenous wisdom (she’s a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation). For those looking to dive deeper into her work, Robin’s first book Gathering Moss is a gleaming green gem of a book, full of stories that will pull you into wondrous microcosms of relation. This is a book about the value of paying attention, and how doing so can change you. You’ll never see moss the same way again, and you may never see the world the same way again.

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Gathering Moss as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Living at the limits of our ordinary perception, mosses are a common but largely unnoticed element of the natural world. Gathering Moss is a beautifully written mix of science and personal reflection that invites readers to explore and learn from the elegantly simple lives of mosses.

In this series of linked personal essays, Robin Kimmerer leads general readers and scientists alike to an understanding of how mosses live and how their lives are intertwined with the lives of countless other beings. Kimmerer explains the biology of mosses clearly and artfully, while at the same time reflecting on what these fascinating…

Book cover of Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures

Gavin Van Horn Why did I love this book?

Entangled Life is purportedly about fungi and recent discoveries related to communications and exchanges among the massive mycorrhizal networks (the so-called “wood-wide web”) that exist beneath our feet. But the biology in this book quickly leads to mind-blowing existential questions about symbiotic relationships and what it means to be human. Sheldrake gifts readers with fascinating glimpses of a world that exists largely beyond our sensorial capacities yet enables nearly all of life as we know it to emerge, diverge, and converge. Living beings are constantly communicating, and sometimes communing, in ways that not only make us possible but “make questions of our categories… Our bodies, like those of all other organisms, are dwelling places. Life is nested biomes all the way down.”

By Merlin Sheldrake,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked Entangled Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A “brilliant [and] entrancing” (The Guardian) journey into the hidden lives of fungi—the great connectors of the living world—and their astonishing and intimate roles in human life, with the power to heal our bodies, expand our minds, and help us address our most urgent environmental problems.

“Grand and dizzying in how thoroughly it recalibrates our understanding of the natural world.”—Ed Yong, author of I Contain Multitudes

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR—Time, BBC Science Focus, The Daily Mail, Geographical, The Times, The Telegraph, New Statesman, London Evening Standard, Science Friday

When we think…

Book cover of Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World

Gavin Van Horn Why did I love this book?

I benefited immensely from this book by Tyson Yunkaporta, an Indigenous Australian academic and storyteller—or, to use his words, a “yarner,” someone who actively listens and weaves various conversations together. Yunkaporta critiques settler colonial culture while providing tools for reflecting on the patterns within nature and how attending to these might lead us to behave differently. Peppered with a fair amount of the author’s own journey in reclaiming his ancestral knowledge, the book takes its name from mnemonic symbols that were traditionally drawn in sand. Yunkaporta expresses a compelling cosmovision as well as techniques for countering individual and cultural narcissism, reminding readers that living with land is a collective journey of becoming good kin.

By Tyson Yunkaporta,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Sand Talk as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner, Small Publishers' Adult Book of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards 2020

This remarkable book is about everything from echidnas to evolution, cosmology to cooking, sex and science and spirits to Schrödinger’s cat.

Tyson Yunkaporta looks at global systems from an Indigenous perspective. He asks how contemporary life diverges from the pattern of creation. How does this affect us? How can we do things differently?

Sand Talk provides a template for living. It’s about how lines and symbols and shapes can help us make sense of the world. It’s about how we learn and how we remember. It’s about…

Book cover of Being Salmon, Being Human: Encountering the Wild in Us and Us in the Wild

Gavin Van Horn Why did I love this book?

Hailed as a “new genre of nature writing,” Mueller’s book is species-specific, dwelling upon the lives and deaths of salmon, yet the subject matter could apply to any creature that has become a commodity within late-stage capitalism. Mueller contrasts the Norwegian farmed-salmon industry and the increasing mechanization and reduction of living beings to things with wild salmon populations and Native people’s perspectives from the Pacific Northwest. Critically, he dares to take on the perspective of salmon, sprinkling memorable and moving vignettes throughout the book, helping readers imagine the world from a salmon’s-eye-view. This work of interspecies empathy is a rare and welcome contribution to thinking about personhood through a lens that is other-than-human.

By Martin Lee Mueller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Being Salmon, Being Human as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nautilus Award Silver Medal Winner, Ecology & Environment

In search of a new story for our place on earth

Being Salmon, Being Human examines Western culture's tragic alienation from nature by focusing on the relationship between people and salmon-weaving together key narratives about the Norwegian salmon industry as well as wild salmon in indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest.

Mueller uses this lens to articulate a comprehensive critique of human exceptionalism, directly challenging the four-hundred-year-old notion that other animals are nothing but complicated machines without rich inner lives and that Earth is a passive backdrop to human experience. Being fully…

Book cover of Animism: Respecting the Living World

Gavin Van Horn Why did I love this book?

I first met Graham when I was a PhD student attending a conference on religion & animals. He is a person who seems drawn to and across boundaries of scholarship, and though this book is scholarly, it’s also a totally accessible overview of the ways in which animism is not some primitive ideology but, rather, core to human experience and cultures all over the world. Harvey provides a careful treatment of historical and contemporary animist perspectives, nonhuman personhood, and the formation of animistic sensibilities. He details how animism fosters a constant dialogue between humans and non-human persons—a kind of social, spiritual, and ecological conversation that is continuously negotiated. Animism is not a thing of the past; it’s a way of life that is vital to a viable future. 

By Graham Harvey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Animism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How have human cultures engaged with and thought about animals, plants, rocks, clouds, and other elements in their natural surroundings? Do animals and other natural objects have a spirit or soul? What is their relationship to humans? In this new study, Graham Harvey explores current and past animistic beliefs and practices of Native Americans, Maori, Aboriginal Australians, and eco-pagans. He considers the varieties of animism found in these cultures as well as their shared desire to live respectfully within larger natural communities. Drawing on his extensive casework, Harvey also considers the linguistic, performative, ecological, and activist implications of these different…

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Book cover of This Animal Body

Meredith Walters

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Neuroscience PhD student Frankie Conner has finally gotten her life together—she’s determined to discover the cause of her depression and find a cure for herself and everyone like her. But the first day of her program, she meets a group of talking animals who have an urgent message they refuse to share. And while the animals may not have Frankie’s exalted human brain, they know things she doesn’t, like what happened before she was adopted.

To prove she’s sane, Frankie investigates her forgotten past and conducts clandestine experiments. But just when she uncovers the truth, she has to make an…

By Meredith Walters,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Animal Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Frankie Conner, first-year graduate student at UC Berkeley, is finally getting her life together. After multiple failures and several false starts, she's found her calling: become a neuroscientist, discover the cause of her depression and anxiety, and hopefully find a cure for herself and everyone like her.

But her first day of the program, Frankie meets a mysterious group of talking animals who claim to have an urgent message for her. The problem is, they're not willing to share it. Not yet. Not until she's ready.

While Frankie's new friends may not have her highly evolved, state-of-the-art, exalted human brain,…

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