The best books to revolutionize how Americans think about nature & environment

The Books I Picked & Why

Glass, Paper, Beans: Revolutions on the Nature and Value of Ordinary Things

By Leah Hager Cohen

Glass, Paper, Beans: Revolutions on the Nature and Value of Ordinary Things

Why this book?

“Where do my coffee and newspaper come from?” Cohen muses one morning in her favorite coffee shop…and she’s off and running, to find the unseen nature and labor that make our everyday lives possible. The most gorgeous, lyrical explanation of alienation and fetishization you’ll ever find, and a model for how to drag nature writing into the 21st century.


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Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

By Michael Pollan

Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

Why this book?

A self-critical and often hysterically funny account of what happens when you plant a garden to be “one with nature” and nature has other ideas. Still my favorite Pollan book (his first!), which is saying a lot. Favorite bit: his journey from “living in harmony” with a resident groundhog to an albeit ill-considered act of firebombing.


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Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors

By Carolyn Finney

Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors

Why this book?

American nature-lovers are just Americans who love nature? Not exactly, Finney reminds us. She showcases the baked-in whiteness of American environmentalist ideas and advocacy historically, and carves out space for how African Americans have imagined, enjoyed, experienced, and fought for the “great outdoors”—and draws on both scholarship and her own experiences to do so.


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Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature

By William Cronon

Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature

Why this book?

An oldie but a goodie, and a classic. Cronon’s lead essay “The Trouble with Wilderness” roused ‘90s environmentalism like a brilliant party crasher—but don’t miss Richard White’s “Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living,” Giovanna Di Chiro’s “Nature as Community,” and, well, my own “Looking for Nature at the Mall.”


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This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

By Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

Why this book?

Another powerhouse paradigm-shifter—a party crasher for 21st-century environmentalism—and yeah, it’s a doozie. Think we can “save the planet” without challenging an economy that’s fundamentally hard-wired to devastate people and environments? Or that we can use the profit-maximizing economy (here’s looking at you, carbon markets) to reign in the inevitable earth-wide destruction? Think harder and think again.


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