The best books about air pollution and what we can do about it

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was growing up, our neighbours used to have weekly garden bonfires that filled our house with choking smoke. Around this time, I did a school project on air pollution that opened my eyes to the horrors of breathing toxic air. All this must have made an impact because, 40-odd years later, after taking a science degree and working for a decade as an environmental campaigner, I decided to write an eye-opening, easy-to-read book about why air pollution still kills millions of people each year—and what we can do to put that right.


I wrote...

Breathless: Why Air Pollution Matters - and How it Affects You

By Chris Woodford,

Book cover of Breathless: Why Air Pollution Matters - and How it Affects You

What is my book about?

Air pollution is one of the world's biggest killers – it ends up to 10 million lives prematurely each year and plays a part in six of the top ten global causes of death, including lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and dementia. Breathless gives us clear facts and hard-hitting statistics about air pollution in everyday life, why it's still a problem, and how we can clean it up. Rooted in the latest science, it includes fascinating real-time experiments to measure the air quality in city streets and inside your home, and helps you make up your own mind about the risks and trade-offs of modern living—wherever in the world you are. It was selected as an Independent "Pick of the Month" in March 2021.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Invisible Killer: The Rising Global Threat of Air Pollution - And How We Can Fight Back

Chris Woodford Why did I love this book?

Few people have as much hands-on experience with air pollution as Dr. Gary Fuller. A scientist at Imperial College London, he set up and manages the London Air Quality Network—one of the world's biggest urban air pollution monitoring networks. In this surprisingly engaging book, I discovered the fascinating story of how the world woke to the problem of dirty air, including why it took us so long to fix the problem of acid rain, why the "Dieselgate" scandal really happened, and why supposedly "green" wood burning stoves have turned out to be such an environmental disaster. I think the great thing about Gary's work is his optimism: air pollution is a problem we really can solve, making a huge difference to the quality of life for literally billions of people.

By Gary Fuller,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

More than 90% of the world's population is exposed to air pollutant concentrations exceeding World Health Organisation guideline levels. Having air that is healthy to breathe is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st Century. Some of this is unfinished business from the last 60 years, but as more and more of us live in cities, more of us are living close to pollution sources. Europe is wrestling with air pollution from diesel transport and in China and India they are facing air pollution problems that they have never met before. The air pollution that we breathe every day…


Book cover of The Big Smoke: A History of Air Pollution in London since Medieval Times

Chris Woodford Why did I love this book?

Most of us think air pollution's a relatively recent problem that started back in the Industrial Revolution, but as Peter Brimblecombe demonstrates in this wonderfully readable book, it's a much older problem with deeper roots, linked to broader trends in how humans have used and abused the planet. I generally hate history, but I loved this book: it's superbly scholarly but also riveting and well-written, and tiny telling details make what could have been a very dull subject really fascinating. It was originally published in 1987, so it doesn't cover recent history, but it's still worth reading nevertheless.

By Peter Brimblecombe,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

First published in 1987, Peter Brimblecombe's book provides an engaging historical account of air pollution in London, offering a fascinating insight into the development of air pollution controls against a changing social and economic background. He examines domestic and industrial pollution and their effects on fashions, furnishings, buildings and human health. The book ends with an intriguing analysis of the dangers arising from contemporary pollutants and a glimpse of what the future may hold for London.


Book cover of Clearing The Air: The Beginning and the End Of Air Pollution

Chris Woodford Why did I love this book?

One of the fascinating things about air pollution is why and how it varies around the globe. Tim Smedley brought a journalist's keen perspective to the subject by traveling the world to see and experience the problems for himself. This book makes a great partner to mine. Where I explore air pollution science topic by topic, Tim zooms in to explore real impacts on real people. And it's not all gloom: two short appendices describe what we can do as societies and individuals to clean up our act.

By Tim Smedley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

**SHORTLISTED FOR THE ROYAL SOCIETY INSIGHT INVESTMENT SCIENCE BOOK PRIZE 2019**

'Read this book and join the effort to terminate air pollution.' Arnold Schwarzenegger

Air pollution has become the world's greatest environmental health risk, and science is only beginning to reveal its wide-ranging effects. Globally, 19,000 people die each day from air pollution, killing more than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and car accidents combined.

What happened to the air we breathe?

Sustainability journalist Tim Smedley has travelled the world to try and find the answer, visiting cities at the forefront of the fight against air pollution, including Delhi, Beijing, London and…


Book cover of Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution

Chris Woodford Why did I love this book?

Like Tim Smedley, Beth Gardiner brings a journalist's eye to the problem of air pollution and contrasts how it affects different people in different ways in the UK, India, Poland, and the USA. For some people, science is dull, mundane, and plonkingly prosaic, but Beth's eleven stories really brought the problem alive for me in a spellbinding writing style I really admire.

By Beth Gardiner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Nothing is as elemental, as essential to human life, as the air we breathe. Yet around the world, in rich countries and poor ones, it is quietly poisoning us. 

Air pollution prematurely kills seven million people every year, including more than one hundred thousand Americans. It is strongly linked to strokes, heart attacks, many kinds of cancer, dementia, and premature birth, among other ailments. In Choked, Beth Gardiner travels the world to tell the story of this modern-day plague, taking readers from the halls of power in Washington and the diesel-fogged London streets she walks with her daughter to Poland’s…


Book cover of Understanding Environmental Pollution

Chris Woodford Why did I love this book?

To really get to grips with why air pollution is still a problem in the 21st century, you need to understand the broader context of how people use materials and energy and why they make waste. Marquita Hill's classic book, in print for over 25 years and now in its fourth edition, is one of the best places to start. Although it's billed as a student textbook, it's packed with photos and illustrations, and the concise, highly readable text means you can happily read it from cover to cover. A great place for students to start.

By Marquita K. Hill,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This undergraduate textbook examines environmental pollution ranging from our homes to the global environment. Completely updated and with over 50% new and rewritten material, this new edition assesses the international scope of pollution, including water, climate change, acidification, energy, solid and hazardous waste, persistent chemicals, and pesticides. The pollutants of current major concern are examined, including plastics and electronic waste. Both the impacts and the sources of pollution are addressed, as well as governmental, corporate, and personal responsibility for pollution. Pollution prevention is emphasized throughout, but students will come to see that prevention is not enough. The text moves on…


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The Cowboy's Lost Family

By Roxanne Snopek,

Book cover of The Cowboy's Lost Family

Roxanne Snopek

New book alert!

What is my book about?

He’s looking for the one thing she’s done with: family.

Brade Oliver arrives in Grand, Montana, looking for blood—and answers. Genetic tests reveal that his biological family may reside in the small, western town, and he’s on a mission to finally discover the one thing his adoptive family couldn’t give him: the truth.

Kendall McKinley craves a normal life, free of the demands, drama, and constraints of her dysfunctional family. Despite being focused on building her career and working on a restoration project, Kendall can’t help herself from noticing a handsome stranger the first night he arrives. But when Brade…

The Cowboy's Lost Family

By Roxanne Snopek,

What is this book about?

He’s looking for the one thing she’s done with: family.

Brade Oliver arrives in Grand, Montana, looking for blood—and answers. Genetic tests reveal that his biological family may reside in the small, western town, and he’s on a mission to finally discover the one thing his adoptive family couldn’t give him: the truth.

Kendall McKinley craves a normal life, free of the demands, drama, and constraints of her dysfunctional family. Despite being focused on building her career and working on a restoration project, Kendall can’t help herself from noticing a handsome stranger the first night he arrives. But when Brade…


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