Best Books on the Environmental History of the United States

Nancy C. Unger Author Of Beyond Nature's Housekeepers: American Women in Environmental History
By Nancy C. Unger

The Books I Picked & Why

Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England

By William Cronon

Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England

Why this book?

This prize-winning book is a classic, and a wonderful introduction to the value of environmental history, engagingly written by one of the giants in the field. Cronon shows how the first American Revolution was not the political one of 1776, but the incredible changes to the plant, animal, and human communities put into motion by the arrival of European colonists.


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American Environmental History: An Introduction

By Carolyn Merchant

American Environmental History: An Introduction

Why this book?

There are many general introductions to American environmental history. This one, by a pioneering leader in the field, is excellent. The comprehensive narrative provides a good mix of facts and interpretation, and Merchant provides as well a list of agencies, concepts, laws, and people, in addition to resource guides to print, film, video, archival, and electronic sources, plus bibliographies and essays on a variety of topics


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Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West

By Donald Worster

Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West

Why this book?

This is a classic by a leader in the field. It’s a hefty tome combining philosophy, economics, and history, but is well worth the time and energy required. Worster emphasizes that lack of water resources is a massive problem for the modern American West, necessitating increasingly complex and far-reaching irrigation systems that come at high social and economic costs. The result is an “empire” whose power is based on who controls the water vital to the urban, suburban, and rural life of the hydraulic west.


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Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States

By Carl A. Zimring

Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States

Why this book?

The environmental justice movement grew out of recognition of the disproportionate environmental burdens faced by low-income communities, including many communities of color. Zimring provides a detailed and compelling analysis of the long history of environmental racism that the environmental justice movement seeks to remedy. He reveals how ideas about race, hygiene, and waste have shaped where and how people (including Native Americans, immigrant groups, and African Americans) have lived and worked.


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The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism

By Adam Ward Rome

The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism

Why this book?

Adam Rome examines an underappreciated topic in environmental history: the environmental costs of the ever-growing American suburbs. Mass migration to the suburbs coincided with the rise of the environmental movement. That convergence was followed by political controversy, and ultimately codes, regulations, and guidelines. Rome is a great storyteller who reveals important shifts in growth management and environmental policy. 


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