The best histories of nature in unexpected places

The Books I Picked & Why

Animal City: The Domestication of America

By Andrew A. Robichaud

Animal City: The Domestication of America

Why this book?

I love the way Andrew Robichaud brings to life the animal ghosts that haunt our modern cities. In ways that we often forget today, animals were integral to the development of urban spaces in ways that were much more visible in the nineteenth century, whether they were horses pulling carriages or pigs and cows herded down the street toward slaughterhouses. The laws governing how cities were organized typically began with debates over where animals were welcome. Robichaud does a great job of recreating the ecologically diverse nineteenth-century American cities in ways that make it easier to understand urban spaces and our relationships with animals today.


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Pests in the City: Flies, Bedbugs, Cockroaches, and Rats

By Dawn Day Biehler

Pests in the City: Flies, Bedbugs, Cockroaches, and Rats

Why this book?

If you close your eyes and imagine nature in a city, most likely the first thing you imagine is a city park rather than the rats skittering between walls or the flies swarming the piles of garbage awaiting pick up. Dawn Biehler does a fantastic job of bringing the vermin in urban spaces to life, not only by looking at the ways these creatures are tied up in issues of environmental justice, but also by considering the perspectives and behaviors of the animals themselves.


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Arcadian America: The Death and Life of an Environmental Tradition

By Aaron Sachs

Arcadian America: The Death and Life of an Environmental Tradition

Why this book?

While some of us like to imagine humans as separate from nature, one moment where that boundary dissolves is with death. Inescapably, we will all eventually decompose and become a part of our environment. In Aaron Sach’s book, nineteenth-century Americans reckon with death through the creation of carefully landscaped cemeteries. What I particularly love about Arcadian America is how Sachs weaves his own memoir about his encounters with mortality in with the history he’s telling, making it a gripping page-turner.


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Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash

By Susan Strasser, Alice Austen

Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash

Why this book?

So much can be said about a society based on how it defines and handles its trash. Where the line is between trash and treasure can vary, even within a community, based on a person’s need and creativity. Susan Strasser’s beautifully written history of garbage shows how our relationships with both consumption and waste have changed over time. Especially as we reconsider our current wastefulness, it is eye-opening to learn about how folks handled garbage at other points in history.


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Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape

By Francesca Russello Ammon

Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape

Why this book?

I’ll admit that bulldozers seem like the very antithesis of nature and that’s why I love this book. Francesca Ammon looks at how the cultural embrace of bulldozers following World War II, whether through planning, urban renewal, or even children’s books, reshaped the way Americans dealt with their environment in the second half of the twentieth century. Bulldozers gave Americans immense power to level hills, neighborhoods, and orange groves to create blank slates so they could build highways and redesign cities. This book changed the way I understood the cultural and technological rise (and fall) of this destructive tool.


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