The best books on the climate crisis

Who am I?

I’m an environmental journalist (BBC, The Guardian, The Sunday Times) and book author, based in the UK. My interest lies in the intersection between human health, the environment, and climate crisis: the actions we can take that not only reduce climate change for future generations but also improve biodiversity, health, and wellbeing right now. That led to me write my first book, Clearing The Air, about air pollution. And I’m now writing my second book, The Last Drop, looking at how climate change is affecting the world’s water cycle and our access to freshwater. My best books list below maybe misses out on some obvious choices (Naomi Klein, Rachel Carson, etc) in favour of more recent books and authors deserving of a wider audience. 


I wrote...

Clearing The Air: The Beginning and the End Of Air Pollution

By Tim Smedley,

Book cover of Clearing The Air: The Beginning and the End Of Air Pollution

What is my book about?

Clearing The Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution is my journey to understand what air pollution is, and how it became a global public health crisis that kills some 7-10 million people globally each year. I was living in London, had just become a Dad, and a headline caught my eye on my commute home on the tube that read: “Oxford Street has worst diesel pollution on Earth”. This completely blindsided me, so I set out to answer four key questions: What is air pollution? What causes it? Why is it bad for our health? And – perhaps most importantly – what can we do about it?

My journey for the answers ultimately became this book, and took me to Delhi, Beijing, Paris, Helsinki, and, erm, Milton Keynes. I came across some shocking stories, but I also found optimism and solutions for how we can start clearing the air and see instant results. 

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made

By Gaia Vince,

Book cover of Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made

Why this book?

Gaia’s book came out at a time when climate change wasn’t a hot literary topic and Greta Thunberg hadn’t yet painted “Skolstrejk för Klimatet” on a sign. The Anthropocene marks a new Geological age, the Age of Humans, and Gaia, an editor at Nature, set out to discover what that means for the planet, her, and us. In her words: "I set out to discover whether our species will survive, and how". In so doing she became the first female winner of the Royal Society science book prize.


There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years

By Mike Berners-Lee,

Book cover of There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years

Why this book?

Rather than weaving a literary narrative, Berners-Lee's aim is to offer something more practically helpful: a handbook for climate action. It’s essentially the FAQs page to the climate crisis. What is Ocean Acidification and why does it matter? Should I fly? How could one crop save us over half a billion tonnes of CO2e? He‘s done the calculations so we don’t have to.  


Our Biggest Experiment: An Epic History of the Climate Crisis

By Alice Bell,

Book cover of Our Biggest Experiment: An Epic History of the Climate Crisis

Why this book?

Alice Bell offers a full history of climate science, from Eunice Newton Foote’s early CO2 experiments in the 1850s, to Thomas Edison, Big Oil, the formation of the IPCC, and beyond. Given such a pressing crisis, we can often get caught up with the here and now – Bell’s book allows us to take a step back and remind ourselves how we got here, and learn the lessons from history. 


Forecast: A Diary of the Lost Seasons

By Joe Shute,

Book cover of Forecast: A Diary of the Lost Seasons

Why this book?

Joe Shute’s book brings us right up to date, opening with the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, and that strange, momentary blip of nature remerging as humans retreated to their homes. Shute looks at the climate crisis through the window in more ways than one – how seasons and weather patterns are changing, and how that shifts our cultural and ancestral connections with nature. It’s a poetic read told by a true nature lover. 


Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art

By Rebecca Wragg Sykes,

Book cover of Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art

Why this book?

This is my leftfield choice, as Wragg Sykes’s book is a history of our lost Eurasian ancestors, the Neanderthals. But climate change is a very real and foreboding presence throughout this book. Neanderthals lived through major, rapid changes in climate, from temperate forests to the deep freeze of ice ages, and survived. Reading about how past humans lived through climate crisis gives some hope, but also brings home the sobering reality of what it takes and what is lost.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in climate change, neanderthals, and nature?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about climate change, neanderthals, and nature.

Climate Change Explore 14 books about climate change
Neanderthals Explore 9 books about neanderthals
Nature Explore 97 books about nature

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, Climate Adaptation, and The End of Ice if you like this list.