The best books about human impact on the natural world

The Books I Picked & Why

The Overstory

By Richard Powers

The Overstory

Why 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.


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Dune

By Frank Herbert

Dune

Why 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.


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The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman

By Davi Kopenawa, Bruce Albert, Nicholas Elliott, Alison Dundy

The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman

Why 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


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Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future

By Svetlana Alexievich

Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future

Why 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. 


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

By DK

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

Why 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?


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