The best books about the environmental movement

1 authors have picked their favorite books about the environmental movement and why they recommend each book.

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Son of the Wilderness

By Linnie Marsh Wolfe,

Book cover of Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir

It won the Pulitzer Prize in biography. Wolfe interviewed many people who knew Muir, and rendered an account that can never be repeated. This was the first book about Muir to explore not only his life as a naturalist and activist, but also his role as a son, father and husband, as well as an inventor, farmer and lobbyist. The text is buoyant and breezy.


Who am I?

Kim Heacox has written 15 books, five of them published by National Geographic. He has twice won the National Outdoor Book Award (for his memoir, The Only Kayak, and his novel, Jimmy Bluefeather), and twice won the Lowell Thomas Award for excellence in travel journalism. He’s featured on Ken Burns’ film, The National Parks, America's Best Idea, and he’s spoken about John Muir on Public Radio International’s Living on Earth. He lives in Gustavus, Alaska (next to Glacier Bay Nat’l Park), a small town of 500 people reachable only by boat or plane.


I wrote...

John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America

By Kim Heacox,

Book cover of John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America

What is my book about?

John Muir, America’s foremost wild lands preservationist, lived a large life. He changed the maps of America, and how we see ourselves in the American landscape. Most people associate him with California’s Yosemite. But Muir made seven trips to Alaska over a 20-year period, 1879-99, during which he explored tidewater glaciers by foot and canoe, befriended indigenous Tlingits, and returned home with a renewed commitment to speak and act on behalf of wilderness and beauty – to protect every acre he could. In short, the glaciers of Alaska changed Muir, and Muir in turn changed America.

The Bulldozer in the Countryside

By Adam Ward Rome,

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

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. 


Who am I?

History is my passion as well as my profession. I love a good story! When I was teaching courses in environmental history and women’s history, I kept noticing the intriguing intersections, which inspired me to write Beyond Nature’s Housekeepers. Most of my work focuses on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (1877-1920) and includes two award-winning biographies, Fighting Bob La Follette and Belle La Follette Progressive Era Reformer. I’m also the co-editor of A Companion to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and have written dozens of op-eds and give public talks (some of which can be found in the C-SPAN online library and on YouTube). 


I wrote...

Beyond Nature's Housekeepers: American Women in Environmental History

By Nancy C. Unger,

Book cover of Beyond Nature's Housekeepers: American Women in Environmental History

What is my book about?

This is not a presentation of “Great Women in Environmental History.” It instead focuses on how and why men and women frequently responded differently to the environment and environmental issues throughout American History. I argue that these differences are based not only in physiology, but also in cultural beliefs and practices. For example, even though a campfire seems pretty darn gender-neutral, in the 1920s Boy Scouts were taught that it stood for the camaraderie of the battlefield, factory, and office. Girl Scouts, on the other hand, learned that fire represented hearth and home.

In this illustrated study, a finalist for the California Book Award, I trace women’s environmental attitudes and actions from the pre-Columbian period to the environmental justice movements of the present. 

The Young John Muir

By Steven J. Holmes,

Book cover of The Young John Muir: An Environmental Biography

Born in Scotland and raised in Wisconsin, Muir had many profound childhood experiences that shaped his radicalism, including his ability to see America through a different lens that gave him impartiality but also compassion. In short, Muir’s ability to question everything, even our modern notions of progress and what makes us happy, stems from his childhood and early manhood, which this book explores in perfect detail.


Who am I?

Kim Heacox has written 15 books, five of them published by National Geographic. He has twice won the National Outdoor Book Award (for his memoir, The Only Kayak, and his novel, Jimmy Bluefeather), and twice won the Lowell Thomas Award for excellence in travel journalism. He’s featured on Ken Burns’ film, The National Parks, America's Best Idea, and he’s spoken about John Muir on Public Radio International’s Living on Earth. He lives in Gustavus, Alaska (next to Glacier Bay Nat’l Park), a small town of 500 people reachable only by boat or plane.


I wrote...

John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America

By Kim Heacox,

Book cover of John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America

What is my book about?

John Muir, America’s foremost wild lands preservationist, lived a large life. He changed the maps of America, and how we see ourselves in the American landscape. Most people associate him with California’s Yosemite. But Muir made seven trips to Alaska over a 20-year period, 1879-99, during which he explored tidewater glaciers by foot and canoe, befriended indigenous Tlingits, and returned home with a renewed commitment to speak and act on behalf of wilderness and beauty – to protect every acre he could. In short, the glaciers of Alaska changed Muir, and Muir in turn changed America.

Stickeen

By John Muir,

Book cover of Stickeen: John Muir and the Brave Little Dog

When Muir made his second great canoe trip in Alaska, in 1880, one of his canoe-mates, a Presbyterian missionary, brought along a little terrier named Stickeen. At first, Muir didn’t like the dog. But later, the two spent a cold, wet day exploring a massive glacier, and barely survived. Muir called it the greatest of his many adventure stories. The illustrations in this book are exaggerated, but stunning. You can almost feel the cold, and the elation man and dog feel at the end as they become fast friends.


Who am I?

Kim Heacox has written 15 books, five of them published by National Geographic. He has twice won the National Outdoor Book Award (for his memoir, The Only Kayak, and his novel, Jimmy Bluefeather), and twice won the Lowell Thomas Award for excellence in travel journalism. He’s featured on Ken Burns’ film, The National Parks, America's Best Idea, and he’s spoken about John Muir on Public Radio International’s Living on Earth. He lives in Gustavus, Alaska (next to Glacier Bay Nat’l Park), a small town of 500 people reachable only by boat or plane.


I wrote...

John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America

By Kim Heacox,

Book cover of John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America

What is my book about?

John Muir, America’s foremost wild lands preservationist, lived a large life. He changed the maps of America, and how we see ourselves in the American landscape. Most people associate him with California’s Yosemite. But Muir made seven trips to Alaska over a 20-year period, 1879-99, during which he explored tidewater glaciers by foot and canoe, befriended indigenous Tlingits, and returned home with a renewed commitment to speak and act on behalf of wilderness and beauty – to protect every acre he could. In short, the glaciers of Alaska changed Muir, and Muir in turn changed America.

Whispering Alaska

By Brendan Jones,

Book cover of Whispering Alaska

Also environmentally themed (a town threatened by a giant clear-cutting lumber operation), Whispering Alaska is ultimately a family story of twin sisters coming to Alaska. I loved the way Jones depicts the vastly different twin girls: one compliant and friendly, the other withdrawn and driving her father nuts. Tolstoy famously said all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. Well, this family is struggling with the loss of the girl’s mother on top of trying to find their places in the rainy Southeast coastal town. Listed as “middle-grade” Y/A, it’s a great read for adults interested in Alaska too. 


Who am I?

I have lived in Alaska for forty years, working both as a construction worker and a college professor. I love Alaska, but not always the way it is depicted, particularly on reality TV. I hope the characters I create and the stories I tell will bring a more balanced view of everyday Alaskans, who are, after all, Americans too. The Hunger of Crows shows small-town Alaska through the eyes of four characters: two lifelong Alaskans, and two “from Outside” as we say here. Hopefully, it will provide a balanced view of this great place.


I wrote...

The Hunger of Crows

By Richard Chiappone,

Book cover of The Hunger of Crows

What is my book about?

Carla Merino, a divorced cocktail waitress with a penchant for picking guys up in the bars where she works in Phoenix, AZ hooks up with the wrong guy: Cosmo D’Angelo, a former CIA gunslinger. In D’Angelo’s bedroom Carla discovers something that could bring down the country’s most powerful and dangerous military contracting company and destroy its founder’s plans to run for President of the United States. Knowing D’Angelo and his organization will stop at nothing to get that secret back, Carla flees and drives north until she runs out of road in the small coastal town of Homer, Alaska, a remote, quiet place more than four thousand miles away. But is it far enough? 

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