The best books for thinking of ourselves as the environment

Who am I?

I’ve been passionate about animals, the environment, and social justice since I was a child. As an adult I have been frustrated—even enragedthat so many products and practices are considered safe and “normal” even though they harm wildlife, pets, and people. I think it's bizarre that people imagine themselves as separate from the chemicals they spray in their homes and their yards, even as they breathe in the toxins. I hope that the concept of “transcorporeality,” which urges us to see our own bodies as literally part of the environment, will convince people that environmentalism isn’t optional but is a vital part of human health and social justice.


I wrote...

Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self

By Stacy Alaimo,

Book cover of Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self

What is my book about?

What does it mean to understand your own body as “nature,” that is, as physically interconnected with the material world? How does understanding ourselves as part of the environment transform ethics, politics, and daily practices? Focusing on feminist, environmentalist, and new materialist theory as well as environmental health and environmental justice movements, this book analyzes a broad range of memoirs, activism, film, art, and philosophy in order to propose the concept of trans-corporeality, which calls us to think of ourselves as the very stuff of the wider world. While Western culture has divided body and mind, nature and culture, science and daily life, this book calls each of us to understand environmental issues in new paradigms in which human beings are intermeshed with the world.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Cancer Journals

Stacy Alaimo Why did I love this book?

Like everything Audre Lorde wrote, this slim book is powerful and revolutionary. Lorde refuses to see her breast cancer as just a personal problem, and instead, as a Black lesbian feminist, traces its origins to larger economic, industrial, and political forces, including food additives and air pollution. Her activist research is impressive, but it is her fierce, bold critiques that I find most inspiring. She calls out the medical establishment, “We live in a profit economy and there is no profit in the prevention of cancer; there is only profit in the treatment of cancer.” She condemns psychological “causes” of cancer, “It is easier to demand happiness than clean up the environment.” Lorde calls us to understand ourselves within a matrix of social and environmental forces and to make change.

By Audre Lorde,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Cancer Journals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Moving between journal entry, memoir, and exposition, Audre Lorde fuses the personal and political as she reflects on her experience coping with breast cancer and a radical mastectomy.

A Penguin Classic

First published over forty years ago, The Cancer Journals is a startling, powerful account of Audre Lorde's experience with breast cancer and mastectomy. Long before narratives explored the silences around illness and women's pain, Lorde questioned the rules of conformity for women's body images and supported the need to confront physical loss not hidden by prosthesis. Living as a "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," Lorde heals and re-envisions herself…


Book cover of Body Toxic

Stacy Alaimo Why did I love this book?

Suzanne Antonetta’s Body Toxic epitomizes what I call the “material memoir,” a mode of writing autobiography that seeks to understand the self through connections to places and substances. Antonetta bravely examines her own physical and mental health, grappling with scientific data: “I choked facts and they choked me back, they stuck like Legos—clingy but hard to build into anything real.” Recalling the nuclear warhead that caught fire nearby her childhood home, spraying radioactive particles, she notes that her entire family, bizarrely, has somehow forgotten this incident. Body Toxic is fascinating, chilling, and unnerving, but also beautifully written in unflinching yet poetic prose. Body Toxic convinced me that our life stories are incomplete if they ignore how places and substances have affected us.

By Susanne Antonetta,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A thought-provoking and dramatic account two families who hope to start a new life in the boglands of New Jersey only to discover, much too late, that their new living environment was riddled with radiation and toxic waste.

Two immigrant families drawn together from wildly different parts of the world, Italy on one side and Barbados on the other, pursued their vision of the American dream by building a summer escape in the boglands of New Jersey, where the rural and industrial collide. They picked gooseberries on hot afternoons and spent lazy days rowing dinghies down creeks. But the gooseberry…


Book cover of Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know And Don't Know About Cancer

Stacy Alaimo Why did I love this book?

The title says it all: How Politics Shapes What We Know and Don’t Know About Cancer! This massive study demonstrates how political and economic forces have restricted, diminished, and warped our understanding of the causes of cancer. Not a conspiracy theory, this meticulously researched study carefully demonstrates how science is shaped by economic forces in ways that leave us without the information we need to lead healthier lives. This is no accident, since, as Proctor explains, ignorance doesn’t just happen, it is constructed: “Controversy can be engineered, ignorance and uncertainty can be manufactured, maintained, and disseminated.” In our rapidly transforming world, we need approaches to science that neither dismiss it nor assume that it is capturing everything it should, since it is shaped by politics and economics.

By Robert N. Proctor,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This brilliantly argued and researched book tells the story of how government regulatory agencies, scientists, trade associations, and environmentalists, have managed to obscure the issues and prevent concerted action. Explains why we still dont have straight answers to questions such as: Why do rates from some cancers appear to have risen and others fallen? and suggests how we might actually win the war on cancer.


Book cover of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

Stacy Alaimo Why did I love this book?

After diving into environmental justice, environmental health, cancer, and toxins, readers may desire more positive, healing, and affirmative modes of interconnecting with the natural world. Robin Wall Kimmerer, who recently won the McArthur genius grant, offers a beautiful gift in this multilayered, wonderfully readable work. She generously gives us “a braid of stories meant to heal our relationship with the world.” The book is woven from three strands, “indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and the story of an Anishinabekwe scientist trying to bring them together in service of what matters most.” When I taught this book in a college class, the students were moved, inspired, and transformed. They became more deeply connected with the plants all around us, seeking ways to be in relation, care, and give back. 

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Why should I read it?

43 authors picked Braiding Sweetgrass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Called the work of "a mesmerizing storyteller with deep compassion and memorable prose" (Publishers Weekly) and the book that, "anyone interested in natural history, botany, protecting nature, or Native American culture will love," by Library Journal, Braiding Sweetgrass is poised to be a classic of nature writing. As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take "us on a journey that is…


Book cover of Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals

Stacy Alaimo Why did I love this book?

Alexis Pauline Gumbs, a “queer, black feminist love evangelist and a marine mammal apprentice,” has created an exuberant book—impossible to categorize. Undrowned is everything—a dramatic account of marine mammals’ struggles, a meditation, a call for action, a manifesto, a workbook with activities. Referencing the middle passage as a Black feminist, Gumbs considers the enmeshment of breathing, drowning, and undrowning, looking to “marine mammal kindred” as “teachers, mentors, guides.” I was deeply moved by how this book passionately voices love for whales, dolphins, and seals. But this love isn’t sentimental—it is active. The chapters call readers to do things, such as “listen,” asking how can we “listen across species, across extinction, across harm?” I marvel at Gumbs’ fierce, unabashed love for marine mammals. Gumbs inspires me to take more risks for others.

By Alexis Pauline Gumbs,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Undrowned is a book-length meditation for social movements and our whole species based on the subversive and transformative guidance of marine mammals. Our aquatic cousins are queer, fierce, protective of each other, complex, shaped by conflict, and struggling to survive the extractive and militarized conditions our species has imposed on the ocean. Gumbs employs a brilliant mix of poetic sensibility and naturalist observation to show what they might teach us, producing not a specific agenda but an unfolding space for wondering and questioning. From the relationship between the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale and Gumbs’s Shinnecock and enslaved ancestors to…


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Bessie

By Linda Kass,

Book cover of Bessie

Linda Kass Author Of Bessie

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Bookstore owner Learner Reader Historical novelist Long distance cyclist

Linda's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

In the bigoted milieu of 1945, six days after the official end of World War II, Bess Myerson, the daughter of poor Russian immigrants living in the Bronx, remarkably rises to become Miss America, the first —and to date only— Jewish woman to do so. At stake is a $5,000 scholarship for the winner.

An intimate fictional portrait of Bess Myerson’s early life, Bessie reveals the transformation of the nearly six-foot-tall, self-deprecating yet talented preteen into an exemplar of beauty, a peripheral quality in her world. It is the unfamiliar secular society of pageantry she must choose to escape her roots as she searches for love and acceptance, eager to make her mark on the world.

Bessie

By Linda Kass,

What is this book about?

Just days after the close of World War II, Bess Myerson, the college-educated daughter of poor Russian Jewish immigrants living in the Bronx, is competing in the Miss America pageant. At stake: a $5,000 scholarship. The tension and excitement in Atlantic City's Warner Theatre is palpable, especially for traumatized Jews rooting for one of their own. So begins Bessie.


Drawing on biographical and historical sources, Bessie reimagines the early life of Bess Myerson, who, in 1945 at age twenty-one, remarkably rises to become one of the most famous women in America. This intimate fictional portrait reveals the transformation of the…


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