The best environmental books of all time

Who am I?

I’m a wilderness guide, community organizer, and writer focused on stopping the destruction of the planet. My work, which has appeared in The New York Times and been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, has taken me to the Siberian Arctic to document climate change research, to the Philippines to work with grassroots communities defending tropical rainforests, and to Nevada where I began a protest movement against an open-pit lithium mine.

I wrote...

Book cover of Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do about It

What is my book about?

Bright Green Lies argues that solar and wind energy, electric cars, efficiency programs, and green cities are failing to protect the planet, because these techno-fixes are designed to sustain industrial civilization — the way of life that is killing the planet — and protect it from the effects of peak oil and ecological collapse.

When we find ourselves no longer listening to and retelling bright green lies,” the authors write, “we will find ourselves where we should have been all along, in alignment with the earth and with the powerful, wonderful, beautiful, creative processes that have made life on this planet what it is.”

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism

Why did I love this book?

Why do people harm each other and the planet? Why do the rich continue to accumulate more and more wealth, when they already have all they need? When is enough, enough?

Those questions can be answered by social psychologists, environmental economists, historians, and other academics. But Jack D. Forbes’ book is perhaps the best explanation I have ever read. Drawing on the history of the colonization of North America, Forbes (Renape/Lenape) argues that modern civilization is based around “a spiritual sickness with a physical vector.” He calls it the wetiko disease: the desire to consume other beings, with no possibility of satiation. Forbes’ exploration from his indigenous perspective is one of the most important books I’ve ever read.

By Jack D. Forbes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Columbus and Other Cannibals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Celebrated American Indian thinker Jack D. Forbes’s Columbus and Other Cannibals was one of the founding texts of the anticivilization movement when it was first published in 1978. His history of terrorism, genocide, and ecocide told from a Native American point of view has inspired America’s most influential activists for decades. Frighteningly, his radical critique of the modern "civilized" lifestyle is more relevant now than ever before.
Identifying the Western compulsion to consume the earth as a sickness, Forbes writes:
"Brutality knows no boundaries. Greed knows no limits. Perversion knows no borders. . . . These characteristics all push towards…

Book cover of Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism

Why did I love this book?

Most environmentalists today believe that wind turbines, solar panels, and electric cars represent our path to a sustainable future. In Green Illusions, engineer Ozzie Zehner blows this thesis out of the water.

Green technologies, Zehner explains, require fossil fuels at every step in their production, maintenance, and disposal. But he is not advocating for continuing to use fossil fuels. Rather, Zehner argues that we have a consumption crisis, and that building more industrial products in factories will not solve the issue. He concludes by offering straightforward, common-sense solutions that actually move us in the right direction.

By Ozzie Zehner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Green Illusions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

We don't have an energy crisis. We have a consumption crisis. And this book, which takes aim at cherished assumptions regarding energy, offers refreshingly straight talk about what's wrong with the way we think and talk about the problem. Though we generally believe we can solve environmental problems with more energy-more solar cells, wind turbines, and biofuels-alternative technologies come with their own side effects and limitations. How, for instance, do solar cells cause harm? Why can't engineers solve wind power's biggest obstacle? Why won't contraception solve the problem of overpopulation lying at the heart of our concerns about energy, and…

Book cover of Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change

Why did I love this book?

The basic laws of ecology should be taught to every child in the world. Food webs, watersheds, the hydrological and carbon cycles, population dynamics, and sustainable harvest are fundamental to our survival. 

Catton’s book explores population ecology and applies these lessons to human beings. He rejects racist historical tropes and misinformation alike, laying out the reality of human overshoot of the planet’s carrying capacity. This book is sobering, and should be required reading for every person in any position of leadership in the world today.

By William R. Catton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Overshoot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Our day-to-day experiences over the past decade have taught us that there must be limits to our tremendous appetite for energy, natural resources, and consumer goods. Even utility and oil companies now promote conservation in the face of demands for dwindling energy reserves. And for years some biologists have warned us of the direct correlation between scarcity and population growth. These scientists see an appalling future riding the tidal wave of a worldwide growth of population and technology.


A calm but unflinching realist, Catton suggests that we cannot stop this wave - for we have already overshot the Earth's capacity…

Book cover of The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability

Why did I love this book?

The importance of this book is less about human diets, and more about the food system itself. Keith explains in great detail that agriculture — the growing of annual monocrops — is the single most destructive activity humans have ever undertaken. Much of the planet’s surface, formerly teeming with wildlife, has now been cleared, drained, plowed, fertilized, and dedicated to one species: humans.

This doesn’t mean all food production is destructive; Keith distinguishes between agriculture and other methods of growing food, like horticulture, wild-tending, and pastoralism. But the conclusion is simple. We’re in overshoot, and agriculture is a big part of the problem.

By Lierre Keith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Vegetarian Myth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Part memoir, nutritional primer, and political manifesto, this controversial examination exposes the destructive history of agriculture—causing the devastation of prairies and forests, driving countless species extinct, altering the climate, and destroying the topsoil—and asserts that, in order to save the planet, food must come from within living communities. In order for this to happen, the argument champions eating locally and sustainably and encourages those with the resources to grow their own food. Further examining the question of what to eat from the perspective of both human and environmental health, the account goes beyond health choices and discusses potential moral issues…

Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet

By Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, Aric McBay

Book cover of Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet

Why did I love this book?

The first four books on this list provide a grounding in the how and why of environmentalism. Deep Green Resistance is focused purely on what we can do to save the world. 

The book explores the history of environmental and political movements in detail, as well as strategy and tactics. By learning from the past and innovating based on current global politics and economics, the authors argue we can build an effective resistance movement to dismantle the global industrial system that is destroying the planet. The conclusions are controversial, but the importance of these topics cannot be ignored. Anyone who is serious about sustainability should buy this book and read it.

By Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, Aric McBay

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Deep Green Resistance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For years, Derrick Jensen has asked his audiences, "Do you think this culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of life?" No one ever says yes.
Deep Green Resistance starts where the environmental movement leaves off: industrial civilization is incompatible with life. Technology can't fix it, and shopping—no matter how green—won’t stop it. To save this planet, we need a serious resistance movement that can bring down the industrial economy. Deep Green Resistance evaluates strategic options for resistance, from nonviolence to guerrilla warfare, and the conditions required for those options to be successful. It provides…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in environmentalism, agriculture, and explorers?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about environmentalism, agriculture, and explorers.

Environmentalism Explore 166 books about environmentalism
Agriculture Explore 52 books about agriculture
Explorers Explore 81 books about explorers

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Consulting the Genius of the Place, How to Live Off-Grid, and Solar Power if you like this list.