The best books that´ll help you understand the biodiversity crisis—by telling you a great story

Benjamin von Brackel Author Of Nowhere Left to Go: How Climate Change Is Driving Species to the Ends of the Earth
By Benjamin von Brackel

Who am I?

As a science journalist I have concentrated on the consequences of climate change. It´s the most frightening as fascinating experiment, we conduct with our planet. In 2018 I wrote a book on extreme weather together with climate scientist Freddy Otto from the University of Oxford (Angry Weather). After this I got immersed in a different climate consequence: How it is affecting biodiversity and with it the foundation of our societies. But what I also love is good storytelling. I quickly get bored with texts that have no dramaturgy or that don't give the reader any pleasure—unlike the fantastic and highly relevant books on this list.

I wrote...

Nowhere Left to Go: How Climate Change Is Driving Species to the Ends of the Earth

By Benjamin von Brackel,

Book cover of Nowhere Left to Go: How Climate Change Is Driving Species to the Ends of the Earth

What is my book about?

As humans accelerate global warming, animals and plants must flee to the margins: on scattered nature reserves, between major highways, or among urban sprawl. And when even these places become too hot and inhospitable, wildlife is left with only one path to survival: an often-formidable journey toward the poles as they race to find a new home in a warming world. Tropical zones lose their inhabitants, beavers settle in Alaska, and gigantic shoals of fish disappear—just to reappear along foreign coastlines.

Award-winning environmental journalist Benjamin von Brackel traces these awe-inspiring journeys and celebrates the remarkable resilience of species around the world. But the lengths these plants and animals must go to avoid extinction are as alarming as they are inspirational.

The books I picked & why

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Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

By Elizabeth Kolbert,

Book cover of Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

Why this book?

I have to start with a confession: I buy many books on the climate and biodiversity crisis—as this is my main focus as a science journalist—but in many cases, I have to quit reading after several chapters. Even if they are of relevance—they often are simply too depressing and a mere accumulation of horrible facts.

This does not apply to the books of Elizabeth Kolbert—which is all the more amazing as her topic is hard stuff: How men alter and destroy nature, which we depend on. But nonetheless: I can´t stop reading it. Kolbert travels far and takes her readers to magical places that appear to be from a different planet. And by this she pulls one deeper and deeper into complicated issues, she manages to explain in a fascinating and readable way.

The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions

By David Quammen,

Book cover of The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions

Why this book?

Not many can manage the task of mastering a complicated subject and turn it into life—which means storytelling—as good as David Quammen. In his books he writes long passages on scientific discourses that sometimes come close to textbooks. But I enjoy reading them, because I learn so much and because he alternates these sections with (often very funny) stories. Stories of people that shape their scientific field, which reads like a good novel. Like in “The song of the Dodo”—a portrait of the scientific field of “Island Biogeography,” which explains why animal and plant species are where they are and why they become extinct when their habitat becomes too small.

Silent Spring

By Rachel Carson,

Book cover of Silent Spring

Why this book?

Two years ago I´ve read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring for the first time. I was baffled. It´s a book on the biodiversity crisis in the 50s and 60s, but it seemed like reading a new release. That´s not only because of Carson’s lively and modern way to describe the vanishing of insects and birds because of DDT & Co. It´s also because the spreading of as powerful as disastrous pesticides still continues today as does the view that nature has to serve humans.

The Swarm

By Frank Schatzing,

Book cover of The Swarm

Why this book?

From one day to another nature seems to have gone mad. Even more: The species on the Earth seem to have conspired against humanity—after being decimated and clobbered by us humans. Like a last-ditch counterattack to ensure survival.

I read this thriller while starting to write my book. And it was exciting—not only because Frank Schätzing—a German fiction author—is a master of suspense. But because what he describes is not so far away from what I describe in my nonfiction (!) book: The epic journey of species toward the poles and up the mountains—with all its consequences for the civilized world as well as our irrational handling of it. Schätzing's fictional story is based on a solid ground of facts. But there is another reason, why The Swarm does not seem too absurd: It´s because climate change is altering life on earth in a way that itself seems like a thriller—a real thriller.

The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt's New World

By Andrea Wulf,

Book cover of The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt's New World

Why this book?

He was one of the most important and popular scientists in the history of men, but for many years I didn´t know who Alexander von Humboldt really was and what he actually did do—until I read the book of Andrea Wulff. She rummaged through archives and wrote a fluffy and fascinating biography about the man who revolutionized our view on nature: Up to then it was thought that every animal and plant has its own specific place on Earth, right there where God did create them. Von Humboldt discovered that every species has its own specific climate niche and lives within the borders of belts that span around the world, von Humboldt called isotherms. The only thing the Prussian visionary didn´t describe is: What happens if these bands start moving like they do today because of climate change?

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