The best books to understand environmental justice and the environmental humanities

The Books I Picked & Why

Braiding Sweetgrass

By Robin Wall Kimmerer

Braiding Sweetgrass

Why this book?

A deep well of ecological and Indigenous cultural wisdom. Kimmerer, a distinguished professor of ecology and a member of the Potawatomi Nation, writes gorgeous, vivid essays about Native American culture and the spiritual resonance that arises from becoming more intimate with our natural world. One of my favorite books of the last decade.


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An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

Why this book?

A riveting narrative history of the United States refracted through the Native American experience. Absolutely devastating in its moral clarity. Dunbar-Ortiz examines the violence that routinely accompanied the country’s founding, beginning with genocide and colonial land grabs; overtly racist federal land policy; and ceaseless discrimination, political neglect, and cultural blindness directed at contemporary Native American communities. A clarion call for a national reckoning with the country’s founding, a troubling vision of itself.


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Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

By Chris Hedges, Joe Sacco

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

Why this book?

An illustrated book of long-form nonfiction that examines poor Black, Indigenous, White, and Migrant communities in the United States, and how they have all been broken by extractive capitalism and racist public policy. Hedges’ writing is intentionally polemical, designed to shatter any illusions about the welfare of our fellow citizens living in communities ruined by racism and industrial-scale environmental degradation. Sacco’s long-form graphic illustrations are equally haunting. I’ve taught this book continually for many years.


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Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape

By Lauret Savoy

Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape

Why this book?

A beautifully constructed memoir written by a geologist, examining her own mixed-race heritage, national stories and myths, and environmental justice across the continent. Savoy travels the country searching for the ephemeral threads connecting herself to her African-American and Native American heritage, and in so doing explores everything from the destruction of all-Black towns to the imposition of dislocated European place-names on the North American landscape. In the end, she writes that “each of us is, too, a landscape inscribed by memory and loss."


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Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret

By Catherine Coleman Flowers

Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret

Why this book?

A powerful investigation into decades-long environmental injustice and land exploitation that have compromised African-American communities, in this case, in Alabama, and around the Deep South. A harrowing look at just how relentless southern white political structures have oppressed poor, rural African-American communities. In the end, also a riveting example of how – with proper leadership and organization -- communities can come together to fight back against structural racism.


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