The best books for building peace with nature

Who am I?

I started off studying tropical rainforest creatures and saw the catastrophic impacts of modern humanity on nature and indigenous peoples. My work then focused on how to resolve conflicts between people and nature, at first in and around national parks and then more widely. I became quite good at dissecting environmental aid portfolios, and writing up what I had found in a series of books. I was also drawn into the great climate protests of 2019 and 2020, and now I'm working on pulling it all together into a book on Restoring Peace with Nature.

I wrote...

Water: Life in Every Drop

By Julian Caldecott,

Book cover of Water: Life in Every Drop

What is my book about?

Water and water-bearing ecosystems—oceans, swamps, permafrosts, lakes, rivers, and aquifersare used here to introduce the ecological nitty-gritty of our place in nature and how we can live safely and lawfully within the Earth's systems. An informed awareness of water and the life it bears is a key starting point for this, and there can be no success without it. With a wealth of stories and examples from across the world, this book offers abundant ecological insights in support of this quest.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Seabird's Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet's Great Ocean Voyagers

Julian Caldecott Why did I love this book?

This book hurled me into a compassionate and respectful understanding of puffins, gannets, fulmars, cormorants, and other seabirds, and their varied and extraordinary relationships with the world ocean and its winds and sea cliffs. It left me aware of huge gaps in my perception of these different worlds, of the otherness and perfection of seabirds, and of my own species' abuse of such wonders. It re-set my standard for beautiful writing, and for appreciating the feeling of standing against a gale above the sea while surrounded by creatures who are truly at home there.

By Adam Nicolson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Seabird's Cry as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Enter ancient lands of wind and waves where the planet’s greatest flyers battle for survival.

As the only creatures at home on land, at sea, and in the air, seabirds have evolved to thrive in the most demanding environment on Earth.

In The Seabird’s Cry, Adam Nicolson travels ocean paths, fusing traditional knowledge with astonishing facts science has recently learned about these creatures: the way their bodies actually work, their dazzling navigational skills, their ability to smell their way to fish or home and to understand the discipline of the winds upon which they depend.

This book is a paean…

Book cover of Venomous Lumpsucker

Julian Caldecott Why did I love this book?

This tells the story of a near future when mass extinction has driven the international community to negotiate a deal to save life on Earth. But this deal was corrupted at birth by the interests and opportunism of corporate capitalism. Woven around efforts to 'save' a fish species by people with madly different motivations, the book feels true while also being darkly funny, easy to read, and transforming in its power. It is all horribly familiar from my own experience of the deals that people and institutions have made to save the world from climate change. All of them are warped by the power of the profits made from destroying life, and by no one being willing to pay for precaution or clean-up.

By Ned Beauman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Venomous Lumpsucker as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A dark and witty story of environmental collapse and runaway capitalism from the Booker-listed author of The Teleportation Accident.

The near future. Tens of thousands of species are going extinct every year. And a whole industry has sprung up around their extinctions, to help us preserve the remnants, or perhaps just assuage our guilt. For instance, the biobanks: secure archives of DNA samples, from which lost organisms might someday be resurrected . . . But then, one day, it’s all gone. A mysterious cyber-attack hits every biobank simultaneously, wiping out the last traces of the perished species. Now we’re never…

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

Julian Caldecott Why did I love this book?

While studying wildlife, I often slept on a polythene sheet on the floor of a tropical rainforest. In the velvet blackness, I would look down on the tracery of glowing fungal threads everywhere in the leaf litter of the forest floor. In my memory they blend with night flights over human cities: bright trunk roads and byways among the packed ranks of houses, all in a wide and sparkling network. And so it is with the fungal kingdom described here. A vast aspect of life on Earth is revealed that is almost entirely invisible to the naked eye, yet makes life work in all its parts, including us. It's the rich but easy-read kind of book that makes you say, 'well I never!' on every page, from sheer wonder at seeing how fungi join things up in a living world of near-infinite complexity.

By Merlin Sheldrake,

Why should I read it?

17 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 The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt's New World

Julian Caldecott Why did I love this book?

We live in a golden age of discovering complex systems. The path was opened by the science of ecology, which Alexander von Humboldt founded in the early 1800s after years of exploring South America. Taking meticulous observations and recognising and communicating patterns that connect great swathes of the biosphere, Humboldt was inspired by the indigenous peoples with whom he lived and worked. The eternal need for reciprocity and peace with nature are the common insights of ecology and indigenous cultures from the Andes to Australia. They offer a great theme opposed to the other, darker inventions of recent centuries: imperialism, racism, and future-eating capitalism. Andrea Wulf wonderfully explains Humboldt's contribution to the insights that might make humanity's survival possible, and which could help us go on to build a society with peace with nature at its heart.

By Andrea Wulf,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Invention of Nature as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



'A thrilling adventure story' Bill Bryson

'Dazzling' Literary Review

'Brilliant' Sunday Express

'Extraordinary and gripping' New Scientist

'A superb biography' The Economist

'An exhilarating armchair voyage' GILES MILTON, Mail on Sunday

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) is the great lost scientist - more things are named after him than anyone else. There are towns, rivers, mountain ranges, the ocean current that runs along the South American coast, there's a penguin, a giant squid - even the Mare Humboldtianum on the moon.

His colourful adventures read…

Book cover of No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference

Julian Caldecott Why did I love this book?

I was in Parliament Square at Samhain, 31 Oct 2018, when the Extinction Rebellion began. Greta Thunberg spoke there, but the mic broke so she paused at every sentence for the front rank to call out her words to those behind. The potent archetype of a virgin girl-child speaking truth to power worked its traditional magic, by exalting a thousand people, including me. Fast-forward a few years, and millions on the streets, and this little book condenses the motivation and message of climate activism: “Everyone and everything needs to change. Make the best available science the heart of politics and democracy. We must start today. We have no more excuses.” Greta offers everything important that we have been trying to say for decades. She encourages us to unify our divided minds and purposes. To me this is worthy of the most passionate engagement.

By Greta Thunberg,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times bestseller by Time's 2019 Person of the Year

"Greta Thunberg is already one of our planet's greatest advocates." -Barack Obama

The groundbreaking speeches of Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist who has become the voice of a generation, including her historic address to the United Nations

In August 2018 a fifteen-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, decided not to go to school one day in order to protest the climate crisis. Her actions sparked a global movement, inspiring millions of students to go on strike for our planet, forcing governments to listen, and earning her a…

You might also like...

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

Book cover of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

Ashley Rubin Author Of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

New book alert!

Who am I?

I have been captivated by the study of prisons since my early college years. The fact that prisons are so new in human history still feels mind-blowing to me. I used to think that prisons have just always been around, but when you realize they are actually new, that has major implications. This is nowhere more clear than at the beginning: how hard it was to get to the point where prisons made sense to people, to agree on how prisons should be designed and managed, and to keep on the same path when prisons very quickly started to fail. It’s still puzzling to me.

Ashley's book list on the origins of American prisons

What is my book about?

What were America's first prisons like? How did penal reformers, prison administrators, and politicians deal with the challenges of confining human beings in long-term captivity as punishment--what they saw as a humane intervention?

The Deviant Prison centers on one early prison: Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in Philadelphia, one of the leading cities for penal reform, Eastern ultimately defied national norms and was the subject of intense international criticism.

The Deviant Prison traces the rise and fall of Eastern's unique "Pennsylvania System" of solitary confinement and explores how and why Eastern's administrators kept the system going, despite great personal cost to themselves. Anyone interested in history, prisons, and criminal justice will find something to enjoy in this book.

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

What is this book about?

Early nineteenth-century American prisons followed one of two dominant models: the Auburn system, in which prisoners performed factory-style labor by day and were placed in solitary confinement at night, and the Pennsylvania system, where prisoners faced 24-hour solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. By the close of the Civil War, the majority of prisons in the United States had adopted the Auburn system - the only exception was Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, making it the subject of much criticism and a fascinating outlier. Using the Eastern State Penitentiary as a case study, The Deviant Prison brings to light…

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