The best books for wisdom amid planetary uncertainty

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been engaged as a teacher of religion and ecology since the first Earth Day 50 years ago. That has entailed writing some prize-winning books, Earth Community, Earth Ethics (1996) and Earth-honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key (2013). Now I want to pass along distilled learnings to my grandchildren as they face a planet in tumult. The form—love letters—and the audience—future generations as represented by my grandkids—moves me to focus on effective communication of a highly personal sort to young people on matters vital to their lives. It’s a nice bookend near the end of my own life.

I wrote...

Book cover of The Planet You Inherit: Letters to My Grandchildren When Uncertainty's a Sure Thing

What is my book about?

Though it has not yet hit the news, Earth is undergoing an epochal shift that geologists and climate scientists describe as a shift from the Holocene (the Wholly Recent epoch) to the Anthropocene (The Age of the Human). Climate stability is giving way to climate volatility, mass uncertainty, and breathtaking extinction. 

While this book of love letters to our grandchildren never shrinks from piercing honesty about what is happening, the tone itself is tender, caring, empathic, and graced with good humor. Stories abound, always linked to meditations on the possibilities of human nature and its pitfalls in the face of climate calamity. The whole yields insight, courage, and hope.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of When Time Is Short: Finding Our Way in the Anthropocene

Larry L. Rasmussen Why did I love this book?

I am well aware of the threats to human society and the planet. I welcome anyone who understands them and has thought them through, then turns to sources of wisdom to guide us. Beal does all this and taps sources of wisdom readily available to us (in his case he draws on major biblical themes and does so with a critical eye for both their benefit and harm).

By Timothy Beal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When Time Is Short as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With faith, hope, and compassion, acclaimed religion scholar Timothy Beal shows us how to navigate the inevitabilities of the climate crisis and the very real—and very near—possibility of human extinction

What if it’s too late to save ourselves from climate crisis? When Time is Short is a meditation for what may be a finite human future that asks how we got here to help us imagine a different relationship to the natural world.

Modern capitalism, as it emerged, drew heavily upon the Christian belief in human exceptionalism and dominion over the planet, and these ideas still undergird our largely secular…

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

Larry L. Rasmussen Why did I love this book?

I have taught this book with four quite different constituencies ranging from graduate students to members of a church congregation to professionals doing continuing education. For all of them, this was their favorite reading because it intertwined science with spirit and story so as to show them the possibility of a different relationship of humans to the rest of the community of life.

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Why should I read it?

47 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 A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters

Larry L. Rasmussen Why did I love this book?

My own work, even in retirement, entails teaching and writing on changes in planetary systems that impact us dramatically (e.g., climate change). To engage students it is most helpful to have a highly engaging account of Earth’s own dramatic history over its 4.6. billion years. This book provides that in non-technical, jargon-free language that anyone of high school and college age, as well as older, easily understands.

By Henry Gee,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Royal Society's Science Book of the Year

"[A]n exuberant romp through evolution, like a modern-day Willy Wonka of genetic space. Gee’s grand tour enthusiastically details the narrative underlying life’s erratic and often whimsical exploration of biological form and function.” —Adrian Woolfson,The Washington Post

In the tradition of Richard Dawkins, Bill Bryson, and Simon Winchester—An entertaining and uniquely informed narration of Life's life story.

In the beginning, Earth was an inhospitably alien place—in constant chemical flux, covered with churning seas, crafting its landscape through incessant volcanic eruptions. Amid all this tumult and disaster, life began. The earliest living things were…

Book cover of Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul: Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening to What Our Souls Know and Healing the World

Larry L. Rasmussen Why did I love this book?

There is growing literature in both religious and secular circles about a needed sense of reverence for the Earth to counter an utterly utilitarian view that all life is present as resources for human use only. I commend Newell’s Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul to illustrate how a great tradition, Celtic spirituality, through its poetry, song, and way-of-life practices, draws deeply on the sense of the sacred that the soul knows and most people experience in some measure.

By John Philip Newell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Leading spiritual teacher John Philip Newell reveals how Celtic spirituality, listening to the sacred around us and inside of us, can help to heal the earth, overcome our conflicts and reconnect with ourselves.

Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul offers a new spiritual foundation for our lives, once centered on encouragement,guidance and hope for creating a better world.

Sharing the long hidden tradition of Celtic Christianity, explaining how this earth-based spirituality can help us rediscover the natural rhythms of life and deepen our spiritual
connection with God, with each other and with the earth.

Newell introduces some of Celtic Christianity's leading practitioners,…

Book cover of Of Modern Extraction: Experiments in Critical Petro-theology

Larry L. Rasmussen Why did I love this book?

This work is one in the series of Explorations in Theology, Gender, and Ecology. Its distinction is a deep dive into the religious, ecological and gender dimensions of the modern fossil-fuel extractive economy that has become destructive of nature’s economy and human well-being at the same time that it has captured our way of life. Rowe takes the reader into the gender and theological underpinnings of corporate capitalism, thereby contributing to an emerging field of study, the Energy Humanities. Of Modern Extraction is cutting-edge work by a lucid writer who rewards anyone patient enough to take on this vital but complex topic.

By Terra Schwerin Rowe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Of Modern Extraction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Predominant climate change narratives emphasize a global emissions problem, while diagnoses of environmental crises have long focused a modern loss of meaning, value, and enchantment in nature. Yet neither of these common portrayals of environmental emergency adequately account for the ways climate change is rooted in extractivisms that have been profoundly enchanted.

The proposed critical petro-theology analyzes the current energy driven climate crisis through critical gender, race, decolonial, and postsecular lenses. Both predominant narratives obscure the entanglements of bodies and energy: how energy concepts and practices have consistently delineated genres of humanity and how energy systems and technologies have shaped…

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Book cover of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

Ethan Chorin Author Of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Story-lover Middle East expert Curious Iconoclast Optimist

Ethan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Benghazi: A New History is a look back at the enigmatic 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, its long-tail causes, and devastating (and largely unexamined) consequences for US domestic politics and foreign policy. It contains information not found elsewhere, and is backed up by 40 pages of citations and interviews with more than 250 key protagonists, experts, and witnesses.

So far, the book is the main -- and only -- antidote to a slew of early partisan “Benghazi” polemics, and the first to put the attack in its longer term historical, political, and social context. If you want to understand some of the events that have shaped present-day America, from political polarization and the election of Donald Trump, to January 6, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russian expansionism, and the current Israel-Hamas war, I argue, you need to understand some of the twists and turns of America's most infamous "non-scandal, scandal.”

I was in Benghazi well before, during, and after the attack as a US diplomat and co-director of a medical NGO. I have written three books, and have been a contributor to The NYT, Foreign Affairs, Forbes, Salon, The Financial Times, Newsweek, and others.

By Ethan Chorin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On September 11, 2012, Al Qaeda proxies attacked and set fire to the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing a US Ambassador and three other Americans.  The attack launched one of the longest and most consequential 'scandals' in US history, only to disappear from public view once its political value was spent. 

Written in a highly engaging narrative style by one of a few Western experts on Libya, and decidely non-partisan, Benghazi!: A New History is the first to provide the full context for an event that divided, incited, and baffled most of America for more than three years, while silently reshaping…

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