The best books for understanding how bad climate change is becoming for life on Earth

Why am I passionate about this?

Climate Studies is a massive, cross-disciplinary field that exceeds the grasp of everyone involved, myself included. I start from my home discipline, philosophy, and follow the leads wherever they take me—a practice I learned from decades as a Freud scholar. The climate books I admire most are those that take this vast literature and synthesize the issues. This means I admire and respect the work being done by smart journalists like McKibben, Klein, and Wallace-Wells, who are perfect jumping-off points to thinking carefully about the future of life today. They are the ‘journalist-philosophers’ who are attempting these essential first drafts of history. Start with them and see where it all leads. 


I wrote...

The Democracy of Suffering: Life on the Edge of Catastrophe, Philosophy in the Anthropocene

By Todd Dufresne,

Book cover of The Democracy of Suffering: Life on the Edge of Catastrophe, Philosophy in the Anthropocene

What is my book about?

The Democracy of Suffering is one of a small but growing literature that deals with the philosophical implications of climate change. Most such books emphasize the ethics of climate change, above all our ethical obligations to future generations. But this is (probably) the only book to start from the history and epistemological implications of the “subject” in Western philosophy. As such it paints a picture of the philosophical past that helped cause climate change; the neoliberal present that ended in 2008; and the ‘future’ of our terraformed planet today. Dufresne asks and answers three very big questions: who caused this catastrophe, and what is it doing to human subjects now? And what is the ‘Anthropocene Condition’?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The End of Nature

Todd Dufresne Why did I love this book?

McKibben is an American journalist, researcher, and founder of the environmental organization 350.org. His End of Nature is one of the first trade books to address climate change. Written in clear, accessible language, McKibben argues that nature has been thoroughly subjected to human forces that forever undermine traditional views of an environment set apart, pristine and original, from the things we have done to it. The biggest thing we’ve done is increase the average temperature above industrial norms, and this book is a classic framing of this issue. 

By Bill McKibben,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the earliest warnings about climate change and one of environmentalism's lodestars

'Nature, we believe, takes forever. It moves with infinite slowness,' begins the first book to bring climate change to public attention.

Interweaving lyrical observations from his life in the Adirondack Mountains with insights from the emerging science, Bill McKibben sets out the central developments not only of the environmental crisis now facing us but also the terms of our response, from policy to the fundamental, philosophical shift in our relationship with the natural world which, he argues, could save us. A moving elegy to nature in its…


Book cover of Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization

Todd Dufresne Why did I love this book?

Scranton is polarizing because he wallows in doom and flirts with an unpleasant form of nihilism. But even so, he provides an honest, sometimes searing introduction to the big troubles we are facing today—and he does so at the right level of analysis, our entire civilization. It is also very short and punchy. If, however, readers prefer less doom and more hope, then read instead Naomi Klein’s smart, serviceable collection of short essays, On Fire.

By Roy Scranton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Learning to Die in the Anthropocene as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"In Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, Roy Scranton draws on his experiences in Iraq to confront the grim realities of climate change. The result is a fierce and provocative book."--Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History "Roy Scranton's Learning to Die in the Anthropocene presents, without extraneous bullshit, what we must do to survive on Earth. It's a powerful, useful, and ultimately hopeful book that more than any other I've read has the ability to change people's minds and create change. For me, it crystallizes and expresses what I've been thinking about and trying…


Book cover of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

Todd Dufresne Why did I love this book?

Like my previous recommendations, this book started out as an essay (2017) in the popular press. So it is highly accessible and well written. It’s also very smart. It provides deep dives into the most pressing worries of climate change researchers (e.g., methane emissions), efficiently describing results that are undersold or ignored in all of the IPCC Reports to date. If you only have time to read one book on climate change, this is it. Or read the article of the same title online for a quick taste. 

By David Wallace-Wells,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

**SUNDAY TIMES AND THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER**

'An epoch-defining book' Matt Haig
'If you read just one work of non-fiction this year, it should probably be this' David Sexton, Evening Standard

Selected as a Book of the Year 2019 by the Sunday Times, Spectator and New Statesman
A Waterstones Paperback of the Year and shortlisted for the Foyles Book of the Year 2019
Longlisted for the PEN / E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

It is worse, much worse, than you think.

The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says…


Book cover of McSweeney's Issue 58: 2040 Ad

Todd Dufresne Why did I love this book?

McSweeney’s is a singular publisher of beautifully designed, smart, and unusual books. This one is a collection of writers devoted to imagining the effects of climate change in the near future. Sad, wistful, compelling stories, written from myriad global perspectives and based on climate science. One that has stuck with me is a story called “1740” by Asja Bakic, a Croatian writer. But if you prefer a big, classic novel in the “cli fi” literature, look to the works of Kim Stanley Robinson. 

By Claire Boyle (editor), Dave Eggers (editor), Wesley Allsbrook (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked McSweeney's Issue 58 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Spanning six continents and nine countries―from metropolitan Mexico City to the crumbling ancient aqueducts of Turkey, the receding coastline of Singapore to the coral shores of northern Australia―McSweeney’s 58 is wholly focused on climate change, with speculative fiction from ten contributors, made in collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Global in scope, each story is set in the year 2040 and imagines what the world might look like if the dire warnings issued by the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C were to come true. Using fiction―informed here and there by realism and climate science―this issue…


Book cover of How to Blow Up a Pipeline

Todd Dufresne Why did I love this book?

I consider this to be one of the best books ever written about climate change. For here we have a clear-eyed examination of what is working and not working to save the planet from climate catastrophe. Malm, a Swedish academic, demonstrates carefully and provocatively that only militant action has moved the needle on past injustices — and that we better get militant now if we hope to make meaningful changes that save Earth from a situation of climate injustice that is bad but is going to get worse. If you already understand the predicament we’re in, including the “6th mass extinction,” then skip the other books and start with this one. It’s also accessible and well-written. 

By Andreas Malm,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked How to Blow Up a Pipeline as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The science on climate change has been clear for a very long time now. Yet despite decades of appeals, mass street protests, petition campaigns, and peaceful demonstrations, we are still facing a booming fossil fuel industry, rising seas, rising emission levels, and a rising temperature. With the stakes so high, why haven't we moved beyond peaceful protest?

In this lyrical manifesto, noted climate scholar (and saboteur of SUV tires and coal mines) Andreas Malm makes an impassioned call for the climate movement to escalate its tactics in the face of ecological collapse. We need, he argues, to force fossil fuel…


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We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

Book cover of We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

Amy T. Waldman

New book alert!

What is my book about?

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus atUW-Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

Jest established lasting friendships with John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, and others, but ultimately, this book tells a universal story of love and hope – about figuring out where you belong, finding your way there, and living a life that matters.

We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

What is this book about?

The entertaining and inspiring story of a stubbornly independent promoter and club owner 

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus at UW–Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

This funny, nostalgia-inducing book details the lasting friendships Jest established…


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