The best books that will make you rethink your place in the natural world

Who am I?

I am a science journalist and former scientist who focuses on human-wildlife interactions, especially when those interactions turn sour. I’ve been fascinated by the animals people hate for years now, especially since I got to write on the earliest origins of the house mouse. To gain expertise, I was a 2019-2020 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT, and have spent the past three years immersing myself in all things pest—from reaching into a coyote’s stomach to taking a whiff of elephant repellant. My freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Science News, Sierra, and many other outlets. 


I wrote...

Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains

By Bethany Brookshire,

Book cover of Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains

What is my book about?

Do you hate rats? Pigeons? What about cats? Or elephants? Why do we love some animals, and hate others so very, very much? In Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains, Bethany Brookshire shows that calling an animal a pest says far more about who we are and what we want out of our environments than it does about any animals we disdain. Filled with science, history, philosophy, and humor, Pests will show readers what there is to venerate in vermin, and how we could see our environments—and the animals that live in them—a little differently.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Wild Souls: Freedom and Flourishing in the Non-Human World

Bethany Brookshire Why did I love this book?

We love wild animals, right? We love to see or go into the wilderness. But what makes wilderness wilderness, and how wild is wild? If and every California condor is bred in captivity, are those animals wild? When a rat is living on an island and threatening seabirds, is it right to drop tons of poison, and kill thousands of rats, to save 100 chicks? And whether it’s right or wrong, whose decision is it to make? Emma Marris tackles these questions with science, ethics, and beautiful, clear, sweeping prose, and comes to her own philosophical conclusions. This book helped me to form my own thoughts about how to tackle the ethical questions of pests, and her writing is an inspiration all on its own.   

By Emma Marris,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Wild Souls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2022 Rachel Carson Environment Book Award * Winner of the 2022 Science in Society Journalism Award (Books) * Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize

“Thoughtful, insightful, and wise, Wild Souls is a landmark work.”--Ed Yong, author of An Immense World

"Fascinating . . . hands-on philosophy, put to test in the real world . . . Marris believes that our idea of wildness--our obsession with purity--is misguided. No animal remains untouched by human hands . . . the science isn’t the hard part. The real challenge is the ethics, the act of imagining our appropriate…


Book cover of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

Bethany Brookshire Why did I love this book?

When I began to research why we hate so many animals in our lives, I quickly came to realize that a lot of the scientific and common thinking about animals and their place in our world is based on some very Western, white worldviews. Braiding Sweetgrass is a great introduction to traditional ecological knowledge, showing that there’s more than one way to see our relationships with our environments, and how a different perspective leads to radically different actions. It is also just beautiful to read. Reading this book is like reading a meadow in summer, a sensual experience as much as it is educational. 

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Why should I read it?

43 authors picked Braiding Sweetgrass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Called the work of "a mesmerizing storyteller with deep compassion and memorable prose" (Publishers Weekly) and the book that, "anyone interested in natural history, botany, protecting nature, or Native American culture will love," by Library Journal, Braiding Sweetgrass is poised to be a classic of nature writing. As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take "us on a journey that is…


Book cover of Pests in the City: Flies, Bedbugs, Cockroaches, and Rats

Bethany Brookshire Why did I love this book?

One of the things I quickly began to realize while researching my book is how much the animals we label pests reflect problems within our own society. They might reflect attitudes toward animals, yes. But they also often reflect our attitudes towards each other, and highlight social inequalities. Pests in the City is a study of different pests and how they highlight issues of social justice in urban environments. It’s educational and eye-opening, and you’ll never forget what you learn. 

By Dawn Day Biehler,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Pests in the City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From tenements to alleyways to latrines, twentieth-century American cities created spaces where pests flourished and people struggled for healthy living conditions. In Pests in the City, Dawn Day Biehler argues that the urban ecologies that supported pests were shaped not only by the physical features of cities but also by social inequalities, housing policies, and ideas about domestic space.

Community activists and social reformers strived to control pests in cities such as Washington, DC, Chicago, Baltimore, New York, and Milwaukee, but such efforts fell short when authorities blamed families and neighborhood culture for infestations rather than attacking racial segregation or…


Book cover of Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law

Bethany Brookshire Why did I love this book?

I mean, how could I not recommend a Mary Roach book about animals? Fuzz breaks down all the things animals do that, if humans did them, would be cause for a lot of jail time. Stealing, breaking and entering, poisoning, pooping in public, even murder. But what do you do when the perp is a bear, a bird, or…a bean? This is essential reading to make you the life of any fun cocktail party, and I hope that I can be as funny as Roach when I grow up. 

By Mary Roach,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What's to be done about a jaywalking moose? A bear caught breaking and entering? A murderous tree? Three hundred years ago, animals that broke the law would be assigned legal representation and put on trial. These days, as New York Times best-selling author Mary Roach discovers, the answers are best found not in jurisprudence but in science: the curious science of human-wildlife conflict, a discipline at the crossroads of human behavior and wildlife biology.

Roach tags along with animal-attack forensics investigators, human-elephant conflict specialists, bear managers, and "danger tree" faller blasters. Intrepid as ever, she travels from leopard-terrorized hamlets in…


Book cover of Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants

Bethany Brookshire Why did I love this book?

It seems like a bit of a long title for a New York Times Bestseller but I promise this book is educational, entertaining, and worth every second. Sullivan spent a year observing a rat-infested alley, and came away with a better understanding of our least-favorite rodents, as well as the many people who spend their lives trying to keep rats and humans apart. At first it might seem weird to sit outside and watch the rats every night, but by the end, you can’t imagine doing anything else.

By Robert Sullivan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

New York Public Library Book for the Teenager
New York Public Library Book to Remember
PSLA Young Adult Top 40 Nonfiction Titles of the Year

"Engaging...a lively, informative compendium of facts, theories, and musings."-Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

Behold the rat, dirty and disgusting! Robert Sullivan turns the lowly rat into the star of this most perversely intriguing, remarkable, and unexpectedly elegant New York Times bestseller.

Love them or loathe them, rats are here to stay-they are city dwellers as much as (or more than) we are, surviving on the effluvia of our society. In Rats, the critically acclaimed bestseller,…


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Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

Book cover of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

Christina Ward Author Of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

New book alert!

Who am I?

For me, history is always about individuals; what they think and believe and how those ideas motivate their actions. By relegating our past to official histories or staid academic tellings we deprive ourselves of the humanity of our shared experiences. As a “popular historian” I use food to tell all the many ways we attempt to “be” American. History is for everyone, and my self-appointed mission is to bring more stories to readers! These recommendations are a few stand-out titles from the hundreds of books that inform my current work on how food and religion converge in America. You’ll have to wait for Holy Food to find out what I’ve discovered.

Christina's book list on the hidden history of America

What is my book about?

Does God have a recipe? Independent food historian Christina Ward’s highly anticipated Holy Food explores the influence of mainstream to fringe religious beliefs on modern American food culture.

Author Christina Ward unravels how religious beliefs intersect with politics, economics, and, of course, food to tell a different story of America. It's the story of true believers and charlatans, of idealists and visionaries, and of the everyday people who followed them—often at their peril.

Holy Food explains how faith pioneers used societal woes and cultural trends to create new pathways of belief and reveals the interconnectivity between sects and their leaders.

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

What is this book about?

Does God have a recipe?

"Holy Food is a titanic feat of research and a fascinating exploration of American faith and culinary rites. Christina Ward is the perfect guide – generous, wise, and ecumenical." — Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams

"Holy Food doesn't just trace the influence that preachers, gurus, and cult leaders have had on American cuisine. It offers a unique look at the ways spirituality—whether in the form of fringe cults or major religions—has shaped our culture. Christina Ward has gone spelunking into some very odd corners of American history to unearth this fascinating collection of stories…


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5 book lists we think you will like!

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