The best books to deal with catastrophic risks

Who am I?

I am a former white-collar crime federal prosecutor and California state court judge turned policymaker and author. Though I started in law, I joined the Department of Homeland Security mid-career where I ended up with an assignment that no one wanted: create the department’s first-ever climate adaptation plan. That experience showed me that climate change is a mounting risk affecting everything. I then joined President Barack Obama’s climate team in the White House, where I crafted policy to address catastrophic risks, including climate change and biological threats. Since then, I have become an author, media pundit, and frequent podcast guest, using my voice to call for action on climate.

I wrote...

The Fight for Climate After Covid-19

By Alice C. Hill,

Book cover of The Fight for Climate After Covid-19

What is my book about?

The Fight for Climate After COVID-19 draws on the troubled and uneven COVID-19 experience to illustrate the critical need to ramp up resilience rapidly and effectively on a global scale. Drawing on my years of working alongside public health and resilience experts crafting policy to build both pandemic and climate change preparedness, I expose parallels between the underutilized measures that governments should have taken to contain the spread of COVID-19—such as early action, cross-border planning, and bolstering emergency preparedness—and the steps leaders can take now to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

Why did I love this book?

Multiple friends have given me this book as a gift and, after reading it, I understand why. A collaborative, inclusive group assembled by editor Paul Hawken scanned the world for the best approaches to cut harmful carbon pollution. The book answers the essential question of “What is possible?” to reverse the buildup of human-caused emissions in the atmosphere. This inspirational volume provides the answers by identifying the one hundred most promising solutions to combat global warming.

By Paul Hawken (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

• New York Times bestseller •

The 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming, based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world

“At this point in time, the Drawdown book is exactly what is needed; a credible, conservative solution-by-solution narrative that we can do it. Reading it is an effective inoculation against the widespread perception of doom that humanity cannot and will not solve the climate crisis. Reported by-effects include increased determination and a sense of grounded hope.” —Per Espen Stoknes, Author, What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming…

Book cover of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America

Why did I love this book?

In 1927, biblical rains caused the levees that line the banks of the Mississippi River to collapse. The floodwaters covered an area about the size of New England, killed more than one thousand people, and left three-quarters of a million residents without food, water, or work. The Great Mississippi Flood was one of the worst natural disasters in American history. It laid bare the deep inequities in American society, which left Black families stranded without drinking water or food while rescuers hauled white families to safety. The flood changed America’s relationship with water forever. Offering a gripping account of the flooding and its lasting impacts, this New York Times bestseller serves as a warning of the harm that results from a lack of preparedness.

By John M. Barry,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year, winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award and the Lillian Smith Award.

An American epic of science, politics, race, honor, high society, and the Mississippi River, Rising Tide tells the riveting and nearly forgotten story of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. The river inundated the homes of almost one million people, helped elect Huey Long governor and made Herbert Hoover president, drove hundreds of thousands of African Americans north, and transformed American society and politics forever.

The flood brought with it a human storm: white and black collided, honor…

All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis

By Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (editor), Katharine K. Wilkinson (editor),

Book cover of All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis

Why did I love this book?

An anthology, All We Can Save captures the voices and expertise of sixty women leading efforts to address climate change, ranging from scientists to journalists to farmers. Laced with a sense of hope and possibility, the collection captures nuances, sentiments, and perspectives that are often absent in conversations about climate. The clear-eyed essays and stirring poems make one thing apparent: solving a crisis as complex as climate change requires a much larger negotiating table that gives everyone a seat.

By Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (editor), Katharine K. Wilkinson (editor),

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked All We Can Save as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • Provocative and illuminating essays from women at the forefront of the climate movement who are harnessing truth, courage, and solutions to lead humanity forward.

“A powerful read that fills one with, dare I say . . . hope?”—The New York Times

There is a renaissance blooming in the climate movement: leadership that is more characteristically feminine and more faithfully feminist, rooted in compassion, connection, creativity, and collaboration. While it’s clear that women and girls are vital voices and agents of change for this planet, they…

Odds Against Tomorrow

By Nathaniel Rich,

Book cover of Odds Against Tomorrow

Why did I love this book?

Climate fiction, or “cli-fi” as it is now known, lets readers imagine the world about which scientists are warning, a world where climate-fueled extremes upend humanity’s everyday existence. This book tells the story of a Midwestern math whiz who studies “worst-case scenarios” for a living. When one of those scenarios collides with his own life, action, adventure, and love follow.

By Nathaniel Rich,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

New York City, the near future: Mitchell Zukor works on the cutting edge of corporate irresponsibility, and business is booming. A gifted mathematician, he spends his days in Manhattan calculating worst-case scenarios for FutureWorld, a consulting firm that indemnifies corporations against potential disasters. As Mitchell immerses himself in the mathematics of catastrophe, he exchanges letters with Elsa Bruner - a college crush with an apocalyptic secret of her own - and becomes obsessed by a culture's fears. When his predictions culminate in a nightmarish crescendo, Mitchell realizes he is uniquely prepared to profit from the disaster. But at what cost?

Pale Horse, Pale Rider

By Katherine Anne Porter,

Book cover of Pale Horse, Pale Rider

Why did I love this book?

After the 1918 flu pandemic killed an estimated 675,000 Americans, few novelists dared write about the tragedy. A survivor of the pandemic, Katherine Anne Porter took the plunge in 1939, ultimately winning a Pulitzer Prize for this short novel. The semi-autobiographical tale tells the story of a young newspaper writer who falls ill. As sickness overtakes her, the protagonist’s mind explores the past and the feared future. When the disease finally loosens its hold, she wakes to a new world, one which requires her to persevere in a society changed irreversibly by war and disease.

By Katherine Anne Porter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The classic 1939 collection of three short novels, including the famous title story set during the flu epidemic of 1918.

From the gothic Old South to revolutionary Mexico, few writers evoke such a multitude of worlds, both exterior and interior, as powerfully as Katherine Anne Porter. This sharp collection of three short novels includes “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” Porter's most celebrated story, where a young woman lies in a fever during the influenza epidemic, her childhood memories mingling with fears for her boyfriend on his way to war. Also included is “Noon Wine,” a haunting story of tragedy and scandal…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in climate change, global warming, and environmentalism?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about climate change, global warming, and environmentalism.

Climate Change Explore 159 books about climate change
Global Warming Explore 60 books about global warming
Environmentalism Explore 165 books about environmentalism

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, A Cold Welcome, and Braiding Sweetgrass if you like this list.