The best books about human impact on the natural world

Who am I?

My formative experiences as a writer took place largely in natural settings—as well as in the pages of many books. When I was a teenager I moved with my family to Jasper National Park, where I hiked and climbed and started writing my first stories. On one winter climb in a frozen ravine, I lost my footing and slid down an ice slope into a natural well. This became the seed of my first novel, Icefields. Living in a protected “wilderness” also helped me understand how precious and fragile the natural world is. I have published several novels and a collection of short fiction. I teach creative writing at the University of Alberta and live in a place with lots of trees. 


I wrote...

Icefields

By Thomas Wharton,

Book cover of Icefields

What is my book about?

Icefields is an award-winning historical novel set in the Canadian Rockies in the early 20th century, when the remote Jasper area was first being opened up to tourism and modern development. When an Irish doctor falls into a crevasse on an expedition, a journey begins for him that alters his understanding of the natural world and draws him into the stories of the people who live here. The novel has just been re-released in a new Landmark edition, with an afterword and an interview with the author.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Overstory

Thomas Wharton Why did I love this book?

For me, the best books are those that not only hold you captive while you’re turning the pages, but that alter your perception of the world long after you’ve finished reading. The Overstory had that effect on me. I have never looked at a tree the same way after finishing this novel. The characters themselves have their understanding of the world overturned and even shattered by encounters with trees, revealing the loss and devastation humans have perpetrated on nature, and sending them on transformative paths as they struggle to help protect what is left. A book that made me despair and then brought me hope.

By Richard Powers,

Why should I read it?

28 authors picked The Overstory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Overstory, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of-and paean to-the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers's twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours-vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see…


Book cover of Dune

Thomas Wharton Why did I love this book?

A novel set on an alien planet in the far future might seem an odd choice for a book about human impact on the natural world, but Dune was the first “environmental” book I ever encountered. I first read it as a teenager, and it’s no exaggeration to say my consciousness got expanded! Growing up in the oil and gas country of Alberta, I saw clear parallels between the reckless resource extraction in my own society and that depicted in the novel. The spice melange powers an entire civilization the same way crude oil has powered ours. There are so many layers to this novel it’s like an entire ecosystem itself. Paul Atreides not only awakens to his psychic power, but also to the ecological truths of a planet.

By Frank Herbert,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Before The Matrix, before Star Wars, before Ender's Game and Neuromancer, there was Dune: winner of the prestigious Hugo and Nebula awards, and widely considered one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written.

Melange, or 'spice', is the most valuable - and rarest - element in the universe; a drug that does everything from increasing a person's lifespan to making interstellar travel possible. And it can only be found on a single planet: the inhospitable desert world of Arrakis.

Whoever controls Arrakis controls the spice. And whoever controls the spice controls the universe.

When the Emperor transfers stewardship of…


Book cover of The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman

Thomas Wharton Why did I love this book?

I had never heard of “cosmoecological thought” before I read this first-person account of the life of a Yanomami shaman. For Davi Kopenawa and his people, the forest is everything—their library, their philosophy, their universe. The book is a mind-altering vision of what the Yanomami live and believe, but also a record of one Indigenous man’s sadness and bewilderment at the ecological shortsightedness of Western industrial society.

“I am leaving the drawings of these words on this paper skin so that [the] children and those who are born after them can one day see and understand…” – Davi Kopenawa

By Davi Kopenawa, Bruce Albert, Nicholas Elliott (illustrator) , Alison Dundy (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Falling Sky is a remarkable first-person account of the life story and cosmo-ecological thought of Davi Kopenawa, shaman and spokesman for the Yanomami of the Brazilian Amazon. Representing a people whose very existence is in jeopardy, Davi Kopenawa paints an unforgettable picture of Yanomami culture, past and present, in the heart of the rainforest--a world where ancient indigenous knowledge and shamanic traditions cope with the global geopolitics of an insatiable natural resources extraction industry.

In richly evocative language, Kopenawa recounts his initiation and experience as a shaman, as well as his first encounters with outsiders: government officials, missionaries, road…


Book cover of Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future

Thomas Wharton Why did I love this book?

The first part of this book—“A lone human voice”—is one of the most unforgettably moving pieces of prose I have ever read. The book is a collage of personal accounts of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and its aftermath, focusing on the experiences of people who lived through it, and are still living with it. These stories testify to the inescapable fact that we a part of nature. To consider our impact on the natural world is to recognize the devastating impact we have on ourselves. The author was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2015 for this book and her other work. 

By Svetlana Alexievich,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

'Absolutely essential and heartbreaking reading. There's a reason Ms. Alexievich won a Nobel Prize' - Craig Mazin, creator of the HBO / Sky TV series Chernobyl

- A new translation of Voices from Chernobyl based on the revised text -

In April 1986 a series of explosions shook the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Flames lit up the sky and radiation escaped to contaminate the land and poison the people for years to come. While officials tried to hush up the accident, Svetlana Alexievich spent years collecting testimonies from survivors - clean-up workers, residents, firefighters,…


Book cover of The Most Important Comic Book on Earth: Stories to Save the World

Thomas Wharton Why did I love this book?

From the jacket copy: “An anthology dedicated to saving as many species from extinction as humanly possible. The single largest collection of…comics calling for planetary change… The Most Important Comic Book on Earth is a global collaboration bringing together a diverse team of more than 300 leading environmentalists, artists, authors, actors, filmmakers, musicians, and more to present over 120 stories to save the world.” 

Purchasing this anthology helps support projects aiming to save some of the one million species facing extinction today. Is there a better reason to buy a book?

By DK, DK, DK

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Most Important Comic Book on Earth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

The Most Important Comic Book On Earth is a global collaboration for planetary change, bringing together a diverse team of 300 leading environmentalists, artists, authors, actors, filmmakers, musicians, and more to present over 120 stories to save the world.

Whether it's inspirational tales from celebrity names such as Cara Delevingne and Andy Serkis, hilarious webcomics from War and Peas and Ricky Gervais, artworks by leading illustrators David Mack and Tula Lotay, calls to action from activists George Monbiot and Jane Goodall, or powerful stories by Brian Azzarello and Amy Chu, each of the comics in this anthology will support projects…


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Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

Book cover of Dinner with Churchill

Robin Hawdon Author Of Number Ten

New book alert!

Who am I?

My writing is eclectic and covers many topics. However, all my books tend to have a thriller element to them. Perhaps it's my career as an actor and playwright which has instilled the need to create suspense in all my writings. I sometimes feel that distinguished authors can get so carried away with their literary descriptions and philosophical insights that they forget to keep the story going! It is the need to know what happens next that keeps the reader turning the pages. Perhaps in achieving that some subtlety has to be sacrificed, but, hey, you don't read a political thriller to study the philosophical problems of governing nations!

Robin's book list on lone heroes and threats to national security

What is my book about?

This is a new novel by one of the UK's most prolific writers. It is based around an extraordinary true incident at the start of World War II when fierce political opponents Winston Churchill and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain encountered each other at a famous dinner party. Seen from the perspective of Lucy Armitage, a young girl suddenly conscripted by a strange stroke of fate into Churchill's overworked but adoring team of secretaries.

As Churchill prepares to take over the leadership of the nation, Lucy finds herself increasingly involved in her famous employer's phenomenal work output and eccentric habits. When romance and the world of espionage impinge on her life, she becomes a vital part of the eternal struggle between good and evil regimes that still exists today.

Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

What is this book about?

It is on historical record that, on the evening of October 13th 1939, six weeks after war had been declared on Hitler's Germany, Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, fierce and implacable opponents for years over the appeasement issue, met together with their two wives, Clementine and Anne, for a private dinner at Admiralty House, and event which caused ripples throughout Westminster.

Chamberlain was still Prime Minister, but had seen all his efforts to negotiate peace with Hitler shattered. Churchill had been recalled to the cabinet after ten years 'in the wilderness', his dire warnings of the Nazi threat vindicated.

Lucy…


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