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

Who am I?

I’m a writer, artist, and historian, and I’ve spent much of my career trying to blow up the powerful American definition of environment as a non-human world “out there”, and to ask how it’s allowed environmentalists, Exxon, and the EPA alike to refuse to take responsibility for how we inhabit environments. Along the way, I’ve written Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America and "Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in LA"; co-founded the LA Urban Rangers public art collective; and co-created the “Our Malibu Beaches” phone app. I currently live in St. Louis, where I’m a Research Fellow at the Sam Fox School at Washington University-St. Louis. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Stop Saving the Planet!: An Environmentalist Manifesto

What is my book about?

We’ve been ​“saving the planet” for decades…and environmental crises just get worse. All this Tesla driving & LEED building & carbon trading seems to accomplish little to nothing—all while low-income communities continue to suffer the most devastating consequences. So why aren’t we cleaning up the toxic messes & rolling back climate change? Also, why do so many Americans hate environmentalists?

Jenny Price says, enough already! — with this short, fun, fierce manifesto for an approach that is hugely more effective, tons fairer, and a great deal less righteous. She challenges you, Exxon, & the EPA alike to think and act completely anew—and to do it now.

The books I picked & why

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

By Leah Hager Cohen,

Book cover of 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.

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

By Leah Hager Cohen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Once upon a time we knew the origins of things: what piece of earth the potato on our dinner plate came from, which well our water was dipped from, who cobbled our shoes, and whose cow provided the leather. In many parts of the world, that information is still readily available. But in our society, even as technology makes certain kinds of information more accessible than ever, other connections are irrevocably lost.

In Glass, Paper, Beans, Leah Cohen traces three simple commodities on their geographic and semantic journey from her rickety table at the Someday Café to their various points…


Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

By Michael Pollan,

Book cover of 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.

Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

By Michael Pollan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An account of one man's experience in his garden.


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

By Carolyn Finney,

Book cover of 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.

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

By Carolyn Finney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Faces, White Spaces as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why are African Americans so underrepresented when it comes to interest in nature, outdoor recreation, and environmentalism? In this thought-provoking study, Carolyn Finney looks beyond the discourse of the environmental justice movement to examine how the natural environment has been understood, commodified, and represented by both white and black Americans. Bridging the fields of environmental history, cultural studies, critical race studies, and geography, Finney argues that the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial violence have shaped cultural understandings of the ""great outdoors"" and determined who should and can have access to natural spaces.

Drawing on a variety of sources…


Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature

By William Cronon (editor),

Book cover of 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.”

Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature

By William Cronon (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In a lead essay that powerfully states the broad argument of the book, William Cronon writes that the environmentalist goal of wilderness preservation is conceptually and politically wrongheaded. Among the ironies and entanglements resulting from this goal are the sale of nature in our malls through the Nature Company, and the disputes between working people and environmentalists over spotted owls and other objects of species preservation.

The problem is that we haven't learned to live responsibly in nature. The environmentalist aim of legislating humans out of the wilderness is no solution. People, Cronon argues, are inextricably tied to nature, whether…


This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

By Naomi Klein,

Book cover of 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.

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

By Naomi Klein,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked This Changes Everything as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Naomi Klein, author of the #1 international bestsellers, The Shock Doctrine and No Logo, returns with This Changes Everything, a must-read on how the climate crisis needs to spur transformational political change

Forget everything you think you know about global warming. It's not about carbon - it's about capitalism. The good news is that we can seize this existential crisis to transform our failed economic system and build something radically better.

In her most provocative book yet, Naomi Klein, author of the global bestsellers The Shock Doctrine and No Logo, tackles the most profound threat humanity has ever faced: the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in gardening, environmentalism, and African Americans?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about gardening, environmentalism, and African Americans.

Gardening Explore 69 books about gardening
Environmentalism Explore 121 books about environmentalism
African Americans Explore 507 books about African Americans

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Democracy in Chains, The Ecological Rift, and The Orchard if you like this list.