The best books to change how you think about plants

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve loved plants since I was a child – that’s probably why I grew up to become an environmental historian and nature writer! But I longed for stories about plants and nature that didn’t paint them as passive and ours to dominate. And stories that represented the voices of those on the margins of nature writing. I have written three books of nature writing, as well as a nature-themed picture books, and many more shorter essays on the natural world along the way.   

I wrote...

Dispersals: On Plants, Borders, and Belonging

By Jessica J. Lee,

Book cover of Dispersals: On Plants, Borders, and Belonging

What is my book about?

In fourteen essays, Dispersals explores the entanglements of the plant and human worlds: from species considered invasive, like giant hogweed, to those vilified but intimate, like soy, and those like kelp, on which our futures depend. Each of the plants considered in this collection is somehow perceived as being "out of place"—weeds, samples collected through imperial science, crops introduced and transformed by our hand.

Combining memoir, history, and scientific research in poetic prose, my book meditates on the question of how both plants and people come to belong, why both cross borders and how our futures are more entwined than we might imagine.

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The books I picked & why

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

Jessica J. Lee Why did I love this book?

While many folks turn to Braiding Sweetgrass first, I read Gathering Moss first and was completely enthralled: this is a book that makes the work of science personal.

I love how Kimmerer brings the tiny worlds of moss to life – it’s completely enchanting! It changed my understanding of these tiny plants.

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 Weeds: In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants

Jessica J. Lee Why did I love this book?

I have always felt uneasy about how we vilify weeds—and reading Mabey’s book helped me understand exactly why!

By showing the power of scrappy, forgotten plants, Mabey re-enchanted me with the less showy, less obviously desirable corners of our world. It’s a book that’s lyrical while being jam-packed with information.

By Richard Mabey,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“[A] witty and beguiling meditation on weeds and their wily ways….You will never look at a weed, or flourish a garden fork, in the same way again.”
—Richard Holmes, author of The Age of Wonder

“In this fascinating, richly detailed book, Richard Mabey gives weeds their full due.”
—Carl Zimmer, author of Evolution

Richard Mabey, Great Britain’s Britain’s “greatest living nature writer” (London Times), has written a stirring and passionate defense of nature’s most unloved plants.  Weeds is a fascinating, eye-opening, and vastly entertaining appreciation of the natural world’s unappreciated wildflowers that will appeal to fans of David Attenborough, Robert…

Book cover of Unearthing: A Story of Tangled Love and Family Secrets

Jessica J. Lee Why did I love this book?

This is a book I read quite recently that reminded me of why I love gardens: because they teach us about ourselves and offer an opportunity to connect to those around us.

In Unearthing, Maclear unpacks a family secret and reconnects with her mother, but she tells the story through plants and gardens. It’s a book that demonstrates how entwined our human lives are with the natural world.

By Kyo Maclear,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For readers of Crying in H Mart and Wintering, an unforgettable memoir about a family secret revealed by a DNA test, the lessons learned in its aftermath, and the indelible power of love.

Three months after Kyo Maclear's father dies in December 2018, she gets the results of a DNA test showing that she and the father who raised her are not biologically related. Suddenly Maclear becomes a detective in her own life, unravelling a family mystery piece by piece, and assembling the story of her biological father. Along the way, larger questions arise: what exactly is kinship? And what…

Book cover of The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World

Jessica J. Lee Why did I love this book?

This book is an absolute classic when it comes to plants, and I often turn back to it. Pollan mixes history, science, and cultural reflection to tell fuller stories about plants we have long histories with, like apples, all the while illuminating what makes those plants important to us—and how they’ve also transformed our ways of living.

It’s a book rich with anecdotes that are completely unforgettable.

By Michael Pollan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A farmer cultivates genetically modified potatoes so that a customer at McDonald's half a world away can enjoy a long, golden french fry. A gardener plants tulip bulbs in the autumn and in the spring has a riotous patch of colour to admire. Two simple examples of how humans act on nature to get what we want. Or are they? What if those potatoes and tulips have evolved to gratify certain human desires so that humans will help them multiply? What if, in other words, these plants are using us just as we use them? In blending history, memoir and…

Book cover of The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature

Jessica J. Lee Why did I love this book?

I was enthralled with this book from its very premise: a book about looking closely…really closely. Haskell tracks the growth of a square meter of forest over a year, bringing to life the minutiae of life.

It’s a book that made me want to get down on the ground and get to know the unseen details of every patch of land I encountered. 

By David George Haskell,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Forest Unseen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A biologist reveals the secret world hidden in a single square meter of old-growth forest--a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Pen/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award 

Look out for David Haskell's new book, The Songs of Tree: Stories From Nature's Great Connectors, coming in April of 2017

In this wholly original book, biologist David Haskell uses a one- square-meter patch of old-growth Tennessee forest as a window onto the entire natural world. Visiting it almost daily for one year to trace nature's path through the seasons, he brings the forest and its inhabitants to vivid life.

Each of…

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Rewriting Illness

By Elizabeth Benedict,

Book cover of Rewriting Illness

Elizabeth Benedict

New book alert!

What is my book about?

What happens when a novelist with a “razor-sharp wit” (Newsday), a “singular sensibility” (Huff Post), and a lifetime of fear about getting sick finds a lump where no lump should be? Months of medical mishaps, coded language, and Doctors who don't get it.

With wisdom, self-effacing wit, and the story-telling artistry of an acclaimed novelist, Elizabeth Benedict recollects her cancer diagnosis after discovering multiplying lumps in her armpit. In compact, explosive chapters, interspersed with moments of self-mocking levity, she chronicles her illness from muddled diagnosis to “natural remedies,” to debilitating treatments, as she gathers sustenance from family, an assortment of urbane friends, and a fearless “cancer guru.”

Rewriting Illness is suffused with suspense, secrets, and the unexpected solace of silence.

Rewriting Illness

By Elizabeth Benedict,

What is this book about?

By turns somber and funny but above all provocative, Elizabeth Benedict's Rewriting Illness: A View of My Own is a most unconventional memoir. With wisdom, self-effacing wit, and the story-telling skills of a seasoned novelist, she brings to life her cancer diagnosis and committed hypochondria. As she discovers multiplying lumps in her armpit, she describes her initial terror, interspersed with moments of self-mocking levity as she indulges in "natural remedies," among them chanting Tibetan mantras, drinking shots of wheat grass, and finding medicinal properties in chocolate babka. She tracks the progression of her illness from muddled diagnosis to debilitating treatment…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in weeds, Tennessee, and plants?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about weeds, Tennessee, and plants.

Weeds Explore 8 books about weeds
Tennessee Explore 63 books about Tennessee
Plants Explore 23 books about plants