The best earth books

18 authors have picked their favorite books about earth and why they recommend each book.

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The Story of Earth

By Robert M. Hazen,

Book cover of The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet

Written with the clarity and zest of Bryson and McPhee, but with the added benefit that Hazen is a professional geologist. I like this book because of how Hazen takes the reader into the process of how a geologist works and thinks. Hazen’s specialty is mineralogy, and his main thesis—that living organisms and minerals evolved together with each shaping the other’s future—makes for a unique and thought-provoking take on the history of our planet. 


Who am I?

When I first crossed the American West nearly 4 decades ago in my ’67 Chevy, it changed my life. I had never imagined mountains built of contorted rock shoved miles into the sky, faults slashing like fresh scars across the landscape, and starkly beautiful deserts where people seemed an afterthought. After many happy years of researching and exploring the West with my geology students, I knew I wanted to tell the story to a larger audience. The result has been three books: Hard Road West, Rough-Hewn Land, and Surf, Sand, and Stone. 


I wrote...

Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains

By Keith Heyer Meldahl,

Book cover of Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains

What is my book about?

Unfold a map of North America, and the first thing to grab your eye is the bold shift between the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. In Rough-Hewn Land, Keith Meldahl takes readers on a 1000-mile-long field trip back through geologic time to explore America’s most spectacular and scientifically intriguing landscapes. He places us on the outcrops, rock hammer in hand, to examine the evidence for how these rough-hewn lands came to be. We see California and its gold assembled from pieces of old ocean floor and the relentless movements of the Earth’s tectonic plates. We witness the birth of the Rockies. And we investigate the violent earthquakes that continue to shape the land today. Into the West’s geologic story, Meldahl also weaves its human history, showing us how geologic forces have shaped human experience in the past and how they direct the fate of the West today.

Children's Encyclopedia of Earth

By Michael Allaby,

Book cover of Children's Encyclopedia of Earth

This book stands as one of the last great paper encyclopedias created for children in this day and age of digital searches, and that is what I love about it. As you leaf through its pages, it is reminiscent of turning the stone pages of our own planet’s 4.6 billion-year-old story, featuring the evolution of life, culminating in us! This beautifully illustrated and written encyclopedia presents the most up-to-date information about planet Earth in a style and format designed for children, but which will appeal to a wide range of readers. With hundreds of photographs, illustrations, diagrams, and maps, it presents an impressive overview of our globe—beginning with the history of the universe and ending with today's conservation issues. A truly spectacular reference. 


Who am I?

I‘m a Sydney-based exploration geologist and science writer, travelling the world in search of gold, exotic metals, gemstones, and the stories they have to tell — writing is my tool to bring alive ideas and concepts important to me, and my popular books include Rocks, Fossils and Dinosaurs; Natural Disasters; and Geologica. Working in the world's poorest regions has also sparked a strong humanitarian interest. I'm the founding president of FreeSchools World Literacy – Australia, a charity dedicated to education of underprivileged children, and towards which earnings from my writing go. It is my belief that education for all, not just a privileged few, is key to solving the world's problems. 


I wrote...

Rocks and Fossils: A Visual Guide

By Robert R. Coenraads,

Book cover of Rocks and Fossils: A Visual Guide

What is my book about?

Rocks and Fossils' predominantly pictorial treatment lures even newcomers to the subjects of geology and paleontology. Packed with glossy color photographs of rocks, fossils, and landscapes, this book is a beauty—including a series of double-page ancient-life artworks depicting creatures from different geologic time periods, from the Precambrian forward. I describe how plate tectonics works, how life evolved, how minerals, rocks, and fossils are formed, and even give clues that people on fossicking trips should look out for. I strive to inspire the readers’ imagination of the ancient landscapes that the exciting discovery of a fossil, mineral, or gemstone conjures. A science work suitable for all ages and schooling, and available in multiple languages.

Earth Abides

By George R. Stewart,

Book cover of Earth Abides

Global pandemics are far more enjoyable to read about than to live through. Probably the most influential novel about a pandemic is Earth Abides, written way back in 1949. The main character, Isherwood Williams, is bitten by a rattlesnake while out in the Sierra Nevada mountains in the west of the USA. After recovering from this, he returns to civilization only to discover that civilization no longer exists because a plague has spread across the world, killing much of the population. The initial chapters of this book are wonderfully evocative and terrifying. Though I must admit that I found the later chapters, when small bands of people try to rebuild society, a bit dull. That’s one of the odd things about this type of fiction – the worse things get, the more fun they are to read about!


Who am I?

“We had to put our money into bowls of vinegar,” my Aunty Mary once told me, “because they thought we’d infect them.” It’s hard to believe that this happened in living memory but in the early 1960s, smallpox came to the Rhondda valleys of South Wales where my family lived. Patients were put into a local isolation hospital. When people from the valleys went to the capital city, Cardiff, some shop-owners insisted that any coins were put into vinegar – a supposed ‘cure’ for the plague that dates back to the Middle Ages. Is it any wonder that I grew up with a fascination for the end of civilization as we know it?


I wrote...

The Snow: A Post-Apocalyptic Survival Thriller

By Huw Collingbourne,

Book cover of The Snow: A Post-Apocalyptic Survival Thriller

What is my book about?

It came with the snow. Overnight the world changed. Bodies lie unburied. Gangs of bestial semi-humans roam the streets hunting for prey. But for one man, the end was a new beginning. Snowbound, in an isolated cottage, Jonathan Richards wakes from illness to discover that the world he knew has gone. He sets out on a perilous journey across Britain, searching for safety – but finding only death, destruction, and danger.

The Snow takes you into a post-apocalyptic world where survival is the only goal. But survival at what cost?

Deep Time

By Riley Black,

Book cover of Deep Time: A journey through 4.5 billion years of our planet

This gorgeously illustrated coffee-table volume draws on Black’s expertise in science writing and paleontology. She begins with the Big Bang that created the universe 13.8 billion years ago, then moves in short chapters through milestones of the rise of life on Earth. Prehistoric plants harden into coal in the Carboniferous Period, 359 million years ago; dinosaurs roam the Morrison Formation of the western US, 156 million years ago; and small blobs of molten glass from Laos reveal a powerful meteorite impact 790,000 years ago. You’ll never see the timeline of life the same way again. 


Who am I?

I’m a science journalist in Colorado, living in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains that were raised by millions of years of mountain-building. I studied geology in college and now write about the earth and space sciences, primarily for the journal Nature. On reporting trips I’ve camped on floating Arctic sea ice and visited earthquake-ravaged mountains in Sichuan, China. But my favorite journey into deep time — the planet’s unfathomably long geologic history, as preserved in rocks — will always be a raft trip with scientists along a section of the Colorado River in Arizona.  


I wrote...

Island on Fire: The extraordinary story of Laki, the volcano that turned eighteenth-century Europe dark

By Alexandra Witze, Jeff Kanipe,

Book cover of Island on Fire: The extraordinary story of Laki, the volcano that turned eighteenth-century Europe dark

What is my book about?

The 1783-84 eruption of the Icelandic volcano Laki was one of history’s great natural disasters. For eight months it spewed a poisonous fog, killing people across Europe and triggering famine that may have helped spark the French Revolution. And yet few today know of this extraordinary eruption.

Island on Fire is the story not only of a volcano but also of the people whose lives it changed, such as the Icelandic pastor Jón Steingrímsson who witnessed Laki’s fury. It is the story, too, of modern volcanology and the history and potential of supervolcanoes around the world. And it looks at how the world might change today should Laki erupt again.

Storm Girl

By Linda Nicklin, Ramon Marett (illustrator),

Book cover of Storm Girl

I have written speculative fiction, and the protagonist, Angel, a feisty, courageous, enigmatic, curious survivor is placed into such a setting. Climate change, one of my personal concerns, has wreaked havoc with the geographical, and therefore the political world, as we know it. It deals with the way elites take what they see as the necessary action to continue their privileged lifestyles.

The author managed to make me empathize with almost all the characters on some level, regardless how selfish, wicked, good, generous, or courageous they may be. I encountered elderly heroes and heroines, resourceful individuals and communities, victims, self-serving demagogues, cruel leaders, uncaring servants, unquestioning followers, and a group of talented and determined resistance fighters bent on turning a terrifying world into a just and equable future.


Who am I?

I’ve been reading for 69 years, writing fiction for 43 years. I’ve read many more than 10,000 books. In my own writing, I begin with characters I create from combinations of traits and personalities I’ve met in life. I get to know them as friends. I then put them into the setting I’ve devised and given them free rein to develop the story. I know the destination, but the route is left to them. This involves much re-writing once the story is down on paper, but allows me to experience the excitement, concern, fear, love, and delights felt by the characters as I write the tale.


I wrote...

An Excess Of ...

By Stuart Aken,

Book cover of An Excess Of ...

What is my book about?

Six strangers escape a shipwreck and land on a deserted tropical island, isolated and without any means of contact with the outside world. From very different cultures and backgrounds, they must bury their differences and learn to cooperate if they are to survive. But passions, beliefs, superstitions, and developing relationships create a corrosive, divisive atmosphere laced with potential violence. Who will live to return to a world made unrecognizable by Covid and climate change?

The Star King

By Susan Grant,

Book cover of The Star King

The Star King is one of the first science fiction romances I read. It has everything I want in a space opera – politics, fast-paced action, danger, drama, angst, all mixed up with a great love story. I fell in love with the characters, especially the dishy alien alpha male. And I particularly like that the romance is between two mature people with life experience. 


Who am I?

For me, writing space opera was obvious because it's what I like to read. There's so much scope for human and non-human societies out there, complete with the history of how they were created, and the inevitable cut-and-thrust of politics. If the book also has a love story– where do I pay my money? I do like the science in my science fiction to be convincing, though. My background as a computer programmer helps with that and I'm often grateful for my history degree when coming up with convincing empires and events. 


I wrote...

The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy

By Greta van der Rol,

Book cover of The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy

What is my book about?

Brilliant systems engineer Allysha Marten takes a job on the mysterious planet Tisyphor, where a security guard wins her trust and her affection. Together, they uncover a plot that threatens to plunge the Galaxy into inter-species war. As they scramble to prevent the coming holocaust, Allysha is horrified to learn that her new lover is ex-Admiral Chaka Saahren, the man responsible for the death of her father, along with millions of other innocent civilians.

In a race against time, Saahren must convince Allysha to set aside her conflicted emotions about him to help him prevent the coming conflagration. And perhaps while he’s doing that, he’ll win back the only woman he’s ever loved.

Earth Logic

By Kate Fletcher,

Book cover of Earth Logic

Exploring an earth-centric view of business for the future, envisioning regenerative systems where fashion can support, rather than deplete our planet’s finite resources, this book challenges the concept of growth and offers real alternatives.

This book feels challenging, but is rooted in common sense, it may seem out there and unrealistic, but being about Earth it actually makes it feel not just possible but eminently doable.


Who am I?

I'm an internationally recognised opinion leader in sustainable fashion. My career started as a designer with the pioneering upcycling label From Somewhere, which I launched in 1997. My label’s designer collaborations include collections for Jigsaw, Speedo, and 4 best-selling capsule collections for Topshop. In 2006, I co-founded the British Fashion Council Initiative Estethica at London Fashion Week, which I curated until 2014. In 2013 I co-founded Fashion Revolution, a global campaign with participation in over 90 countries. I'm a regular keynote speaker and mentor, and Associate Visiting Professor at Middlesex University. My first book Loved Clothes Last is published by Penguin Life, Corbaccio Editore in Italy and in France by Edition Marabou.


I wrote...

Loved Clothes Last: How the Joy of Rewearing and Repairing Your Clothes Can Be a Revolutionary Act

By Orsola de Castro,

Book cover of Loved Clothes Last: How the Joy of Rewearing and Repairing Your Clothes Can Be a Revolutionary  Act

What is my book about?

On repairs and reparations: how keeping your clothes is a revolutionary act, and a powerful solution for today’s throwaway society. I wrote this book, and it contains my 20+ years of inside knowledge in the fashion industry.

Making changes starting from our wardrobes may seem like a small and insignificant first step, but from repairs can come the impetus for reparations, and broken clothes can be a metaphor for broken systems.

Chocky

By John Wyndham,

Book cover of Chocky

I first read Wyndham when staying at my grandmothers aged eleven during a long summer holiday. I devoured the books left there by my uncle, and Chocky was the one that ‘blew my mind’. The main character was a similar age to me at the time, and the thought that an alien could inhabit his mind was both scary and fascinating. I imagined what I would do if an alien had chosen me, and what I would do with the superpowers it might bring. I was halfway through writing my first book in 2010 when I suddenly realised it was this book that provided the inspiration—now that’s a sign of a good book. I re-read Chocky for the first time last year and found it evoked the memories of my late grandmother and my summers back in the 70s. 


Who am I?

From as early as I can remember, I've been fascinated by science and the supernatural. I guess it was the bookcases of my parents and relatives that stoked my imagination as a child. From books about mysteries of the universe, to stories of fairies, nymphs and banshees, all asked questions that I longed to know the answers to. It’s a habit I've maintained throughout my life, always investigating, always challenging my beliefs. I like to think this has given me the skills to write a good, fantasy story. While I create worlds, characters, and rules of magic based on a logic that’s believable, as the world my characters live in is very real to them.


I wrote...

Song of Echoes

By R.E. Palmer,

Book cover of Song of Echoes

What is my book about?

It's a traditional epic fantasy with a mystery element. Yes, there is the good verses evil, a magic system that can be as dangerous to those who wield the power as those it's used against, but not all is what it seems. And when a shocking discovery is made following a tragic act of treachery, old loyalties and beliefs are challenged, bringing the Five Realms to the brink of defeat.

The Clan of the Cave Bear

By Jean M. Auel,

Book cover of The Clan of the Cave Bear: Earth's Children, Book One

Although an older book, this is a well-written book (and series) that takes you through a prehistoric journey that really challenges you because there are no modern amenities to really aid our hero through her journey. Aside from that, she is challenged from a tender age already and has to fight to survive horrid circumstances starting when she is five years old. She is at a disadvantage against the people who adopt her, and later brutalize her. But there’s a strong resonance of independence and fighting spirit that the reader can connect with. 


Who am I?

My name is Toni Cox and I’m a German-born author currently residing in South Africa. I write Epic Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy, and Dystopian Urban fantasy. Aside from the fact that I passionately consume books in my genre, I have done extensive research for my own books and have come to be a champion of the genres I write in. I love to take the readers on their own adventure, something they can identify with and feel. Emotion is most important to me and readers should feel connected to the books they are reading.


I wrote...

Elemental Rising

By Toni Cox,

Book cover of Elemental Rising

What is my book about?

An epic fantasy that was written with adventure in mind, this book will immerse you into Maia’s world. A life elemental and elf, she is destined to lead her people to greatness, but a shadow befalls the land; an unknown threat is hovering on the horizon. With the appearance of the death elemental, Maia knows things are going to change forever. She must protect her human family who she accidentally brought into her world, protect her people and protect herself. 

The Planet in a Pebble

By Jan Zalasiewicz,

Book cover of The Planet in a Pebble: A Journey Into Earth's Deep History

I only ever picked up one year of geology in my first degree, but it was enough to send me off around the world in search of unusual rocks. Zalasiewicz, working on the pretty conceit of taking a single Welsh pebble, weighing about 50 grams, which will contain around a million million million million atoms, and then to see what we can learn of it, and its story.

This is totally accessible for the general reader, and full of quirky detail. Why not take an extremely long view of history, a 4.5-billion-year view?


Who am I?

A lot of the books I write are about science or history, and Mr Darwin just happened to be about both: it was a history of science, as science was in 1859. People say the world changed after Darwin published, The Origin of Species in 1859, but Origin was a symptom not a cause. My book is a history of science that looks at how the world was changing (and shrinking) in the year 1859, as new specimens, new materials, new technologies, and new ideas came into play.


I wrote...

Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World

By Peter Macinnis,

Book cover of Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World

What is my book about?

In 1859 Charles Darwin's revolutionary The Origin of Species was first published—but the book was just another example of the ferment and change happening in that year. In that year scientists peered through microscopes and discovered the workings of tiny organisms; technology made huge leaps and bounds as machines took on tasks with a speed and consistency never before seen; the concepts of time and distance were themselves challenged as telegraph cables, train lines, and steamships crisscrossed the globe; and everything was illuminated as powerful telescopes looked to the heavens and gas lamps lit the streets. Mr Darwin's incredible shrinking world takes readers back to this amazing and innovative year.

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