7 books directly related to environmental history 📚

All 7 environmental history books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World

By Charles C. Mann,

Book cover of The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World

Why this book?

Here is a double biography that every environmentalist should read. One of its subjects is William Vogt, a grim pessimist who thought the twentieth-century world was blundering toward self-destruction because of human industrial hubris. The other is Norman Borlaug, an optimistic plant scientist whose work with crop hybrids was central to the “green revolution” that massively increased world food supplies and diminished the danger of famine. Mann explains the internal logic of each man’s work, their strengths, and their weaknesses, and compels readers to question their own cherished assumptions about the environment, humanity, and the future.


Metropolitan Corridor: Railroads and the American Scene

By John R. Stilgoe,

Book cover of Metropolitan Corridor: Railroads and the American Scene

Why this book?

Railroads usually show up in American history books when they’re just getting started (1830), linking up the two coasts (1869), or going into catastrophic decline in competition with cars, trucks, and aircraft (the 1960s). Stilgoe, a professor of environmental design at Harvard, is much more interested in their long dominance from the 1860s to the 1950s and how they facilitated the development of American cities, the siting of power stations, the development of suburbs, and the rise of industrial parks. Nothing’s too humble and grimy to escape his notice. In one bravura passage, he even explains the truth behind the “Valley of Ashes” in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.


The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism

By Adam Ward Rome,

Book cover of The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism

Why this book?

Adam Rome examines an underappreciated topic in environmental history: the environmental costs of the ever-growing American suburbs. Mass migration to the suburbs coincided with the rise of the environmental movement. That convergence was followed by political controversy, and ultimately codes, regulations, and guidelines. Rome is a great storyteller who reveals important shifts in growth management and environmental policy. 


Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England

By William Cronon,

Book cover of Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England

Why this book?

When European colonists settled North America, they began to significantly alter the landscape in ways that were deeply ignorant of ecological health. Now, over 400 years later, that impact has not lessened. However, over that time, there have been significant ebbs and flows in the landscape relative to how it’s used (or not used). This fascinating book follows that trajectory as it explores the environmental history of New England. Even for those not familiar with this particular region, this book offers a unique window into how dynamic and fluid landscapes and ecosystems can be over the course of time.  


The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World

By Michael Pollan,

Book cover of The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World

Why this book?

Pollan sets out to explore the nature of four very human desires—sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control—through a quartet of plants that satisfy those very needs: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. What he gently imparts to his readers during the course of these investigations is that plants can muster a lot more resources, intelligence, and agency than most people ever imagined. 


American Environmental History: An Introduction

By Carolyn Merchant,

Book cover of American Environmental History: An Introduction

Why this book?

There are many general introductions to American environmental history. This one, by a pioneering leader in the field, is excellent. The comprehensive narrative provides a good mix of facts and interpretation, and Merchant provides as well a list of agencies, concepts, laws, and people, in addition to resource guides to print, film, video, archival, and electronic sources, plus bibliographies and essays on a variety of topics


Ecology Control and Economic Development in East African History: The Case of Tanganyika, 1850–1950 (Eastern African Studies)

By Helge Kjekshus,

Book cover of Ecology Control and Economic Development in East African History: The Case of Tanganyika, 1850–1950 (Eastern African Studies)

Why this book?

This pioneering book was one of the first to place the history of East Africa within the context of the environment. It has been used continuously for student teaching. The book puts people at the centre of events. It thus serves as a modification to nationalist history with its emphasis on leaders. Helge Kjekshus provides evidence to suggest that the nineteenth century was a period of relative prosperity with well-developed trade. He questions the view that warfare was pervasive and that the slave trade led to depopulation. He points to a balance between man and the environment. Helge Kjeskshus’s book has, for a long time, been the sole reference on environmental history in East Africa, with a focus on Tanganyika.