The best books on environmentalists

3 authors have picked their favorite books about environmentalists and why they recommend each book.

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The Monkey Wrench Gang

By Edward Abbey,

Book cover of The Monkey Wrench Gang

This was one of the first radical activist books I ever read, as a teen in the 1980s, and it remains one of the most influential environmental novels, so much a part of our culture that the term “monkeywrench” took on its popular meaning from this book. The book’s characters use sabotage to damage development machinery threatening their beloved southwestern landscape. While the tactics of eco-terrorists may have fallen out of fashion, the book is undoubtedly an important piece of the activist lit lexicon. 


Who am I?

I began as an activist in high school, knocking on doors to enlist support for clean water and air, and more recently, for my favorite candidates for local, state, and federal office. Some of my most meaningful work was as a lawyer and volunteer on land conservation deals for an agricultural land trust. Fiction has an amazing power to recharge us and to shift our perspectives to imagine the world differently. My favorite books are always ones that teach me something interesting. My recent activism has been motivated by my frustration with our political process, including the 2010 Supreme Court case of Citizens United declaring corporations to be “persons” under the law.


I wrote...

The Third Way

By Aimee Hoben,

Book cover of The Third Way

What is my book about?

After losing her college scholarship, Arden Firth—with the help of Justin Kirish, a law student with a mysterious past—becomes the reluctant leader of a movement to ban corporations. South Dakota Ballot Initiative 99 is Arden’s last hope to save her grandmother’s farm from foreclosure; but as the movement grows, shadowy forces conspire to quash it, and Arden sees “99” begin to spiral out of her control. Charting the intersection between idealism, extremism, and forgiveness, The Third Way is the story of a young woman struggling with her own demons while trying to articulate a vision that could change the world.

The Boy Who Grew a Forest

By Sophia Gholz, Kayla Harren (illustrator),

Book cover of The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng

I am moved by how, in spite of his sadness and grief at the loss of his surrounding natural environment and the animals that lived there, Jadav decides to do something about it. He shows how, by taking one small step at a time, each of us has the ability to make a tremendous impact on improving our natural world. It gives me great hope that young readers will be inspired to care for our common home and restore our troubled planet, one plant at a time.

Who am I?

I’ve always enjoyed both gardening and children. As a former Virginia Master Gardener and Homeschool mom, and a current Lancaster National Wildlife Federation Habitat Steward, I now find myself encouraging others to look at gardening in a new light – not only as a way to decorate their yards, but also as a means to provide habitat for our diminishing wildlife population. I try to show how you can have both beauty and function at the same time and how much fun it is to engage children in this essential activity. I love books that show what a difference one person – even a young child – can make in the world.


I wrote...

Grandma Lisa's Humming, Buzzing, Chirping Garden

By Lisa Doseff,

Book cover of Grandma Lisa's Humming, Buzzing, Chirping Garden

What is my book about?

A Gentle Blueprint for Engaging Children in Creating an Enchanting Garden for Wildlife!

If you’re looking for inspiration to create a natural habitat of your own, or simply want to spark a love of nature in youngsters, join Grandma Lisa as she transforms her garden into a wildlife sanctuary with the help of her curious and eager grandchildren. Told in rhyme from a child’s perspective, children will enjoy learning about the benefits of native plants and insects, as well as important concepts such as host plants, food webs, and so much more. But be prepared…you just may find yourself pulling on your garden gloves, picking up a shovel, and heading outdoors to bring nature into the little piece of the planet where you live.

Desert Solitaire

By Edward Abbey,

Book cover of Desert Solitaire

I first fell in love with the Utah desert on a spring break camping trip while in college. Of course, we had to visit “the Maze” district of Canyonlands, where we spent a glorious week chasing the ghost of Edward Abbey. Few people have captured the wild spirit of this region as well as Abbey, the curmudgeonly ranger who valued wildness over just about anything else. Desert Solitaire is Abbey’s love story to the canyon country of Utah and a damning indictment of industrial tourism. This book should be on the reading list of anyone who wants to learn more about this special region and one of the most important environmental writers of the 20th century.


Who am I?

I love being outdoors and I’ve been fortunate to spend much of life under the open sky, both professionally and personally. Learning about the landscapes I’ve visited on my outdoor adventures or helped protect through my professional conservation and writing work is both fulfilling and inspiring. Skilled writers deepen my understanding of the diverse, intricate, and complicated natural world. Whether I’m reading to better understand the policies and histories that have shaped our public lands or about the adventurers who inspire me to get out there, I always find immense value and enjoyment when reading about the landscapes we share. 


I wrote...

Our National Forests: Stories from America's Most Important Public Lands

By Greg M. Peters,

Book cover of Our National Forests: Stories from America's Most Important Public Lands

What is my book about?

From the glaciated peaks of Alaska to the deserts of Arizona, America’s 193 million acres of National Forests are true treasures. Our National Forests: Stories from America’s Most Important Public Lands takes readers on a series of journeys through these often overlooked and misunderstood lands. Packed with gorgeous photography and engaging prose, Our National Forests highlights the people, histories, and policies that make these lands so special. 

Bright Green Lies

By Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, Max Wilbert

Book cover of Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do about It

Its central thesis is that the deficiencies and environmental harm of major efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are being ignored, so that the privileged and elite can continue to live in comfort and affluence. The authors present evidence that advocates for alternative energy such as wind and solar greatly overestimate the potential of these sources to replace fossil fuel energy. At the same time, the development of wind and solar power has harmful environmental impacts, including the mining necessary to obtain rare earth minerals, the decimation of wilderness both in the process of obtaining minerals, and widely implementing wind and solar installations. The undue optimism associated with these activities makes it unnecessary for those who are already privileged to consider adopting a much less consumptive lifestyle.


Who am I?

I have spent my career studying how we can make our world more nurturing for every person. We can build a society that ensures that every child has the skills, interests, values, and health habits they need to lead a productive life in caring relationships with others. I created Values to Action to make this a reality in communities around the world. We have more than 200 members across the country who are working together to reform our society so that it has less poverty, economic inequality, discrimination, and many more happy and thriving families. 


I wrote...

Rebooting Capitalism: How We Can Forge a Society That Works for Everyone

By Anthony Biglan,

Book cover of Rebooting Capitalism: How We Can Forge a Society That Works for Everyone

What is my book about?

This book explains how and why the US became the country with the highest level of child poverty and inequality and what we can do about it. It offers a vision and a road map for how we can create a society in which every person is respected.

A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety

By Sarah Jaquette Ray,

Book cover of A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet

Ray is a colleague and an environmental studies professor at Humboldt State University. After witnessing firsthand the rising emotional distress in her students, she was compelled to respond with empathy and supportive resources. She began to recognize that teaching about climate impacts was not enough, and perhaps it even contributes to the problems if the emotional responses are not addressed in tandem. Written primarily with Gen Z in mind, I find the perspectives and resources are useful for anyone experiencing eco-anxiety, and she incorporates strong and insightful social justice perspectives.

Who am I?

Some years ago, my eyes were opened to the severity of our climate crisis and it changed me forever. Since that pivotal time, I’ve turned my therapeutic training and clinical experience toward addressing the existential threat of our time. I recognize how we must unmask our deep psychological biases, many of which unconsciously bring harm to our lives and social structures. I pair this with emotional resiliency practices for these deep and sustained efforts. As a Climate Psychology educator and consultant, I enjoy interdisciplinary strategies where I can contribute transformative methods that help us reclaim dormant human capacities that equip us to usher in a more just and safer world.


I wrote...

Emotional Resiliency in the Era of Climate Change: A Clinician's Guide

By Leslie Davenport,

Book cover of Emotional Resiliency in the Era of Climate Change: A Clinician's Guide

What is my book about?

Although the physical devastation from climate change has long been recognized, only recently have the psychological impacts come into focus. While this book was written for the mental health field, it is extremely readable and useful to anyone wanting to understand the psychological underpinnings contributing to the current global crisis.

The book offers practical tools for dealing with the many expressions of climate dread, such as eco-anxiety and grief, along with ways to actively engage in the needed changes we can all be part of. The emotional intelligence and resilience strategies support a shift toward more just and regenerative systems rooted in an understanding of the interdependent nature of all life. The materials can be used by individuals, groups, and organizations.

Aldo Leopold

By Aldo Leopold,

Book cover of Aldo Leopold: A Sand County Almanac & Other Writings on Conservation and Ecology

I first read A Sand County Almanac in college, and it inspired me to think deeply about nature. In fact, it helped inspire my career. Aldo Leopold wrestled with our obligations to wild creatures and places arguably more seriously than any contemporary. This is the sort of book where you can open a random page, read a passage, and spend the rest of the afternoon mulling over the ideas, their implications, and the beauty of their expression. This volume collects not only his most famous book but dozens of articles and letters where you can see his mind evolving and changing. Leopold modeled an integrity and a curious mind at work that I try to emulate. I know I’m not alone. 


Who am I?

When I first started reading about wilderness, I accepted it as an obvious thing—a place without people. That lasted a short time before I realized the enormous historical complexity of such places. Rather than places without people, without history, without politics, “wilderness” became a laboratory of American society. I tried to capture that vibrancy in my book An Open Pit Visible from the Moon where I showed all the claims various people made on one wilderness area in the North Cascades. I'm a writer, historian, and former college professor who now calls the Skagit Valley of Washington home. As much as I enjoy studying wilderness, I prefer walking through it and noticing what it teaches.


I wrote...

An Open Pit Visible from the Moon: The Wilderness Act and the Fight to Protect Miners Ridge and the Public Interest

By Adam M. Sowards,

Book cover of An Open Pit Visible from the Moon: The Wilderness Act and the Fight to Protect Miners Ridge and the Public Interest

What is my book about?

In the mid-1960s, Kennecott Copper Corporation planned to develop an open-pit mine in the middle of a designated wilderness area in the North Cascades—something that was entirely legal. An Open Pit Visible from the Moon tells the story of why that mine does not exist today.

As a compromise, the Wilderness Act of 1964 allowed mining and prospecting in wilderness areas, but the effort to protect Miners Ridge tested to see if that compromise would stand. The book describes the scrappy activists who took on Kennecott—from students and local backpackers to a cabinet secretary and a Supreme Court justice—to insist that this wilderness should not have a big pit dug in its heart.

A Wild Love for the World

By Joanna Macy,

Book cover of A Wild Love for the World: Joanna Macy and the Work of Our Time

I was fortunate enough to see Joanna Macy speak at Spirit Rock with my mom back in 2015. She warned us away from the “ditches of paralysis and panic,” which were the exact things I found myself stuck in after completing my book in 2021. Macy is so many things—an activist, a translator of Rilke, a Buddhist scholar, a moving speaker, a mother, a teacher—and this book, created in celebration of her ninetieth birthday, is a lovely introduction to her writing and that of those she’s inspired. I felt so grateful to discover it and be reminded of something else Macy told us that day: that by tapping into our deeper “ecological selves” we can feel supported by this planet we belong to even as we work to save it.


Who am I?

I’ve been writing comics and graphic novels for over twenty years. Many of my stories feature superheroes you probably know: in 2000, for example, I became the first woman to launch and write a Batman comic series. Lately, though, I’ve been worrying that the framework of superhero stories—the idea that someone with uncommon power or skills will come to save us from a threat not of our own making—is inadequate in the face of global warming. The climate crisis is a problem we created, and can only address, together. I wrote Rewild to explore those concerns, and to call forth a new kind of hero: you. 


I wrote...

Rewild

By Devin Grayson, Yana Adamovic (illustrator), Sal Cipriano (illustrator)

Book cover of Rewild

What is my book about?

Rewild, an original graphic novel by acclaimed writer Devin Grayson and rising art star Yana Adamovic, is a contemporary fable about the climate crisis. Borrowing from the rich history of fairy tales and magic realism, the story sets two troubled young adults in a fictional New England city against a band of furious, pollution-ravaged fae intent on reconnecting humanity to the natural world. Lyrical, moving, and urgent, Rewild is one of the first graphic novels to venture into the burgeoning genre of Cli-Fi.

Ecotopia

By Ernest Callenbach,

Book cover of Ecotopia

Philosopher Ernest Callenbach’s novel originated the ecotopia genre as well as the term itself, pioneering many green ideas, even as basic as sustainability: Callenbach called it “steady-state society”, and imagined some of the radical forms it might take (they’re still radical, alas), weaving them together into a story that is occasionally cringe-worthy (in hindsight, you know) but nonetheless paints a compelling and informative picture of an alternative, thoroughly environmentalist society.

PS. Will Weston, the protagonist, is no relation... though that was my grandfather’s name...


Who am I?

Officially a professional philosopher, author of fifteen books and textbooks on a wide range of subjects including ethics, critical and creative thinking, social change, and teaching. Wikipedia calls them “unconventional”, but honestly I prefer the ad copy for my own modest ecotopian book, which calls me a philosophical provocateur. My green credentials start with growing up in the Wisconsin countryside under the distant influence of both Frank Lloyd Wright and Aldo Leopold; later, long wilderness trips intertwined with edgy environmental philosophizing (you need some real edges for that!); and over the last decade the endlessly consuming project of designing and building Common Ground Ecovillage in the Piedmont of North Carolina.


I wrote...

Mobilizing the Green Imagination: An Exuberant Manifesto

By Anthony Weston,

Book cover of Mobilizing the Green Imagination: An Exuberant Manifesto

What is my book about?

Beyond today’s desperate attempts to “green” the status quo could lie far more inventive and inviting ecological visions. Imagine cities that welcome the rising winds and waters. Imagine ways of building that keep us close to other creatures and the seasons and the stars, rather than cut us off from them. Decentralized work, artful infill and semi-self-sufficient small-scale communities can facilitate life in place – no more massive transportation infrastructure! No more trash, either: instead, many things can be “dematerialized”, others made to keep forever...  or to turn into fertilizer overnight. And why not a green space program? I believe that much of the reason for today’s unwillingness to recognize and respond to the ecological emergency is that many people cannot even begin to envision any kind of appealing or livable alternative world. What opens up if the possibilities turn out to be wonderful?

All the Wild That Remains

By David Gessner,

Book cover of All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West

The physical journey as a metaphor for personal growth and enlightenment is no better accomplished than in this book on the environment. Gessner takes two very different authors, Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey, and weaves their perspectives together as he embarks on his own trip through their worlds and through his own American West. Highly educational in a style that is lively and readable.

Who am I?

I grew up a fan of an evening news segment called “On the Road with Charles Kuralt.” Kuralt spotlighted upbeat, affirmative, sometimes nostalgic stories of people and places he discovered as he traveled across the American landscape. The charming stories he told were only part of the appeal; the freedom and adventure of being on the open road ignited a spark that continues to smolder. Some of my fondest memories from childhood are our annual family road trips, and I still jump at the chance to drive across the country.


I wrote...

The Open Road

By M.M. Holaday,

Book cover of The Open Road

What is my book about?

Set in the American West in the second half of the 19th century, Win, a wandering free-spirit, persuades his best friend to head west with him to see the frontier before it disappears. They meet Meg, the female embodiment of Win’s own inner conflict between place and restlessness. As the friends seek adventure and find love on the American frontier, there is irony in these adventurous souls looking for a place to call home.

On a Farther Shore

By William Souder,

Book cover of On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was one of the most popular nature writers in the country, and she could have had a great career if she had stopped there. But powerful new pesticides and insecticides were doing irreparable damage to America’s flora and fauna, and she could not sit by and watch this happen. Her full story is captured in William Souder’s comprehensive biography, The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson. Her courageous fight against the unconscionable contamination of the earth, while suffering from life-ending cancer, is a powerful story about a unique American heroine.


Who am I?

Albert Einstein famously said that he wanted to know God’s thoughts. At least for now, the best I can hope for is knowing the thoughts of monumental figures of science through the ages. In my short and very readable biographies, I focus on the aha! moments when Einstein, Darwin, Carson, Edison, Carver, and others had their epiphanies, when they not only envisioned how to break through longstanding barriers, but understood how to create the foundation for a better future. I believe we can all not only understand how they did it, but we can identify with these inspiring—and very humancreative acts.


I wrote...

The Day Albert Einstein Discovered Relativity

By Bryant Wieneke,

Book cover of The Day Albert Einstein Discovered Relativity

What is my book about?

Albert Einstein is living a quiet life in Switzerland with his wife and baby, but his mind is not quiet. He is haunted by the belief that there’s something terribly wrong in the world of physics. The Day Albert Einstein Discovered Relativity tells the gripping story of how this simple yet brilliant young man changed the world by recognizing the earth-shattering importance of a common event. No one has ever told the Einstein story in such a personal and insightful way.

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