The best books about ecological collapse

2 authors have picked their favorite books about ecological collapse and why they recommend each book.

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The End of Nature

By Bill McKibben,

Book cover of The End of Nature

McKibben is an American journalist, researcher, and founder of the environmental organization 350.org. His End of Nature is one of the first trade books to address climate change. Written in clear, accessible language, McKibben argues that nature has been thoroughly subjected to human forces that forever undermine traditional views of an environment set apart, pristine and original, from the things we have done to it. The biggest thing we’ve done is increase the average temperature above industrial norms, and this book is a classic framing of this issue. 

The End of Nature

By Bill McKibben,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the earliest warnings about climate change and one of environmentalism's lodestars

'Nature, we believe, takes forever. It moves with infinite slowness,' begins the first book to bring climate change to public attention.

Interweaving lyrical observations from his life in the Adirondack Mountains with insights from the emerging science, Bill McKibben sets out the central developments not only of the environmental crisis now facing us but also the terms of our response, from policy to the fundamental, philosophical shift in our relationship with the natural world which, he argues, could save us. A moving elegy to nature in its…


Who am I?

Climate Studies is a massive, cross-disciplinary field that exceeds the grasp of everyone involved, myself included. I start from my home discipline, philosophy, and follow the leads wherever they take me—a practice I learned from decades as a Freud scholar. The climate books I admire most are those that take this vast literature and synthesize the issues. This means I admire and respect the work being done by smart journalists like McKibben, Klein, and Wallace-Wells, who are perfect jumping-off points to thinking carefully about the future of life today. They are the ‘journalist-philosophers’ who are attempting these essential first drafts of history. Start with them and see where it all leads. 


I wrote...

The Democracy of Suffering: Life on the Edge of Catastrophe, Philosophy in the Anthropocene

By Todd Dufresne,

Book cover of The Democracy of Suffering: Life on the Edge of Catastrophe, Philosophy in the Anthropocene

What is my book about?

The Democracy of Suffering is one of a small but growing literature that deals with the philosophical implications of climate change. Most such books emphasize the ethics of climate change, above all our ethical obligations to future generations. But this is (probably) the only book to start from the history and epistemological implications of the “subject” in Western philosophy. As such it paints a picture of the philosophical past that helped cause climate change; the neoliberal present that ended in 2008; and the ‘future’ of our terraformed planet today. Dufresne asks and answers three very big questions: who caused this catastrophe, and what is it doing to human subjects now? And what is the ‘Anthropocene Condition’?

The Control of Nature

By John McPhee,

Book cover of The Control of Nature

In a series of long-form journalist pieces, McPhee visits places where human beings are at war with natural forces: the long attempt to control the course of the Mississippi River and its floods, Icelanders trying to control lava flows with hoses, and a system of hardened channels and containments for massive mud and debris flows pouring down from the mountains behind Los Angeles. McPhee is at the height of his powers in this book, with his acerbic wit allowing the heroic futility of these manipulations to speak for itself.

The Control of Nature

By John McPhee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Control of Nature as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Control of Nature is John McPhee's bestselling account of places where people are locked in combat with nature. Taking us deep into these contested territories, McPhee details the strageties and tactics through which people attempt to control nature. Most striking is his depiction of the main contestants: nature in complex and awesome guises, and those attempting to wrest control from her - stubborn, sometimes foolhardy, more often ingenious, and always arresting characters.


Who am I?

Jordan Fisher Smith spent 21 years as a park and wilderness ranger. He is the author of the ranger memoir Nature Noir, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of 2005 pick, and an Audubon Magazine Editor’s Choice. His second book Engineering Eden won a 2017 California Book Award and was longlisted for the 2016 PEN/E.O. Wilson Award for Literary Science Writing. He has also written for The New Yorker, Men’s Journal, Discover, and others and was a principal cast member and narrator of the film Under Our Skin, which was shortlisted for the 2010 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.


I wrote...

Engineering Eden: A Violent Death, a Federal Trial, and the Struggle to Restore Nature in Our National Parks

By Jordan Fisher Smith,

Book cover of Engineering Eden: A Violent Death, a Federal Trial, and the Struggle to Restore Nature in Our National Parks

What is my book about?

In the summer of 1972, 25-year-old Harry Walker hitchhiked away from his family’s Alabama farm to see America. Nineteen days later he was killed and partially eaten by an endangered grizzly bear at Yellowstone National Park. An environmental activist convinced Harry’s parents—simple dairy farmers who’d never even contested a traffic ticket—to sue the federal government for mismanagement of the grizzly that not only caused their son’s death, but threatened to drive the great bear to extinction in the 48 contiguous United States. When the case went to trial, two of the greatest wildlife biologists of the twentieth century testified against each other in what became a referendum on some of the most fundamental issues we face today in conserving nature:  When we have disrupted nature, how do we go about repairing it? How much should we try to control or manipulate it in order to heal it?

Odds Against Tomorrow

By Nathaniel Rich,

Book cover of Odds Against Tomorrow

Climate fiction, or “cli-fi” as it is now known, lets readers imagine the world about which scientists are warning, a world where climate-fueled extremes upend humanity’s everyday existence. This book tells the story of a Midwestern math whiz who studies “worst-case scenarios” for a living. When one of those scenarios collides with his own life, action, adventure, and love follow.

Odds Against Tomorrow

By Nathaniel Rich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Odds Against Tomorrow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York City, the near future: Mitchell Zukor works on the cutting edge of corporate irresponsibility, and business is booming. A gifted mathematician, he spends his days in Manhattan calculating worst-case scenarios for FutureWorld, a consulting firm that indemnifies corporations against potential disasters. As Mitchell immerses himself in the mathematics of catastrophe, he exchanges letters with Elsa Bruner - a college crush with an apocalyptic secret of her own - and becomes obsessed by a culture's fears. When his predictions culminate in a nightmarish crescendo, Mitchell realizes he is uniquely prepared to profit from the disaster. But at what cost?


Who am I?

I am a former white-collar crime federal prosecutor and California state court judge turned policymaker and author. Though I started in law, I joined the Department of Homeland Security mid-career where I ended up with an assignment that no one wanted: create the department’s first-ever climate adaptation plan. That experience showed me that climate change is a mounting risk affecting everything. I then joined President Barack Obama’s climate team in the White House, where I crafted policy to address catastrophic risks, including climate change and biological threats. Since then, I have become an author, media pundit, and frequent podcast guest, using my voice to call for action on climate.


I wrote...

The Fight for Climate After Covid-19

By Alice C. Hill,

Book cover of The Fight for Climate After Covid-19

What is my book about?

The Fight for Climate After COVID-19 draws on the troubled and uneven COVID-19 experience to illustrate the critical need to ramp up resilience rapidly and effectively on a global scale. Drawing on my years of working alongside public health and resilience experts crafting policy to build both pandemic and climate change preparedness, I expose parallels between the underutilized measures that governments should have taken to contain the spread of COVID-19—such as early action, cross-border planning, and bolstering emergency preparedness—and the steps leaders can take now to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Propaganda

By Edward Bernays,

Book cover of Propaganda

There’s no magic wand, no defensive armor, vaccine, or potion that can inoculate people against the influence of propaganda. But learning about propaganda is essential for people of all ages who want to hold on to their democracy in the face of threats. What will surprise you when you read this classic work, written in 1928, is how timely it remains. Bernays anticipates the rise of influencers and memes because he knows that people rely on thought leaders for most of their opinions and beliefs about the world. But the most important feature of this book is what he has to say about propaganda and democracy. Bernays convinces you that propaganda is not inherently evil, and he even makes the case that propaganda is necessary for democratic societies to flourish. 

Propaganda

By Edward Bernays,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Bernays’ honest and practical manual provides much insight into some of the most powerful and influential institutions of contemporary industrial state capitalist democracies.”—Noam Chomsky

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”—Edward Bernays

A seminal and controversial figure in the history of political thought and public relations, Edward Bernays (1891–1995), pioneered the scientific technique of shaping and manipulating public opinion, which he famously dubbed “engineering of…


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated with propaganda and persuasion since childhood. Growing up in Detroit, our family would watch both American and Canadian TV channels. The TV commercials shown on the American TV channels were noisier, nosier, zanier, and more intrusive than the more sedate and polite forms of persuasion on Canadian shows. Because advertising and propaganda are kissing cousins, I've always appreciated how they shape politics, journalism, entertainment, activism, education, and the arts. Propaganda's greatest (and most dangerous) power is its ability to both unify and divide people, and there's never been a more important time to look carefully at how propaganda is shaping our understanding of reality through the many screens in our lives.


I wrote...

Mind Over Media: Propaganda Education for a Digital Age

By Renee Hobbs,

Book cover of Mind Over Media: Propaganda Education for a Digital Age

What is my book about?

Students of all ages are surrounded by contemporary propaganda – and it now takes many forms as social media delivers highly customized, nonstop streams of entertainment, information, and persuasion. But educators can help students cope with the different kinds of propaganda – both beneficial and harmful – that can be found in news, advertising, movies, political campaigns, activism, and even education. This book offers a cornucopia of instructional strategies that help students analyze, resist, critique – and create propaganda. In the interplay of influence, propaganda is a strategic tool that shapes public opinion by using the power of language and images to appeal to the deepest hopes, fears, and dreams of people around the world. 

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