The best books about pollution

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

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

The Lorax

By Dr. Seuss,

Book cover of The Lorax

I love the colorful illustrations and the silliness of Dr. Seuss books. This book delivers a positive message about our natural resources in a way all can understand. The message is taking responsibility for the problems we create. The seed represents hope for the future.

When I was a child, I went to see an outdoor screening of The Lorax at a local festival. I won a copy of the book and it’s been special to me ever since. I think it reinforced the idea that no matter how old you are, you can change things for the better. I also wanted to share something positive through my books.

I use color in the illustrations in my books because when I was a kid, I loved picture books and they were helpful when I was having difficulty with my learning disabilities and how others perceived me. I was ten years…

Who am I?

I often turned to my imagination when I was a child. Nobody Can Take My Happy Away was inspired by the times I was bullied. My peers teased me about my clothes, my teeth, my home, and how I talked. I wanted to hide from everyone, so I had fewer opportunities to make friends. Because I lived in my own head, I found acceptance in the world of make-believe. I read books about strange worlds with characters that thrived in their surroundings. Eventually, it didn’t matter if someone teased me at school. Reading these books helped me be myself. I found strength in being the odd one out.

I wrote...

Nobody Can Take My Happy Away

By Jessica Arnold,

Book cover of Nobody Can Take My Happy Away

What is my book about?

Emily is the new girl at school. She learns quickly that her first day at a new school isn’t going to go the way she expected. She gets teased about her appearance among other things. At first, Emily thinks that there is something wrong with her, and wonders if there is something she can fix about herself to get the other kids to stop teasing her.

She soon learns that the problem isn’t her, it’s them. Together with some new friends that she initially overlooks due to her worries, they bring about change at their school with confidence, communication, and teamwork. This is a book about the challenges a child faced in school, and how she was able to get her “happy” back.

A Civil Action

By Jonathan Harr,

Book cover of A Civil Action

This gripping true story of a water contamination lawsuit in Woburn, Massachusetts highlights the best our legal system can be. (Yes, I made an exception for non-fiction here, but only because it was assigned reading in law school. But it reads like a novel, I promise.) After her child is diagnosed with leukemia, Anne Anderson realizes the cancer cluster among her neighbors is caused by contamination of the town's water supply. She convinces a lawyer, Jan Schlichtmann, to take on the case when he discovers that several nearby factories are responsible for the pollution. In taking on the case against the deep pockets of the corporate defendants, Schlichtmann is nearly destroyed seeking justice for the town. (John Travolta stars in a great film adaptation of this book playing Schlichtmann.)

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.

Chattanooga Sludge

By Molly Bang,

Book cover of Chattanooga Sludge

This book is sadly out of print, but readers looking for a lavishly detailed and colorfully illustrated account of technology in the service of ecological restoration should hit the used book market and add this to their home libraries. It tells the story of John Todd, a scientist from Massachusetts who created  “Living Machines” that use biological processes to transform sewage into clean water. Meanwhile, down in Tennessee, factory pollution has turned Chattanooga Creek into a stream of sludge that poisons the land and sickens the residents. The city council invites Todd to visit, and Todd adapts his Living Machines to handle not just ordinary sewage, but toxic waste.

Bang’s illustrations bring the reader to the microscopic level and back again to show just how the ecological principles of the Living Machine work. We learn that success doesn’t come easily, and science alone will not fix every problem, but an…

Who am I?

I'm a historian of science who specializes in modern China. My professional life revolves around teaching history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and writing for academic audiences. But my not-so-secret dream has always been to write for children. I've been a regular visitor to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, where I've gorged on illustrated books for children. Encouraged by a chance meeting with a publisher’s representative attending an event at the Carle, I decided to distill my academic book, Red Revolution, Green Revolution: Scientific Farming in Socialist China, into a children’s story. I’m proud that my fans now include elementary-school students. (And at least one professional historian admitted he read the kids’ version first!)

I wrote...

Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong's Work for Sustainable Farming

By Sigrid Schmalzer, Melanie Linden Chan (illustrator),

Book cover of Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong's Work for Sustainable Farming

What is my book about?

Moth and Wasp tells the story of a real Chinese scientist, Pu Zhelong, through the eyes of a fictional village boy—a composite character I created from people I interviewed who grew up in China during the Mao era (1949-1976). Melanie Chan’s illustrations bring the narrator’s memories to life while incorporating traditional Chinese folk art and elements of the Chinese written language.

Pu Zhelong was an insect scientist committed to serving the people by finding environmentally friendly and affordable ways to control agricultural pests. He personified the best of Maoist science, combining Chinese knowledge rooted in the countryside and Western scientific learning from overseas. The villagers are initially skeptical of Professor Pu’s proposal to breed and release parasitic wasps, but the city-born scientist wins them over with his willingness to get his hands and feet dirty. The narrator admires Pu and even makes a contribution to the research. He discovers that a university scientist can be at home in the villages… and a village kid can go to the university and become a scientist himself. 

Silent Snow

By Marla Cone,

Book cover of Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic

This is a book whose relationship with toxic chemicals in the Arctic is much the same as the relationship Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring has with toxic chemicals down south. Ms. Cone does an expert job of documenting how these chemicals have gotten into the Arctic’s food web and affected wildlife as well as the Arctic’s Native peoples.

Who am I?

I’ve had a passion for northern places ever since I was a kid. I prefer locales that boast plenty of nature and not very many human beings. I’ve been to Greenland 15 times, but only once to Paris and never to Rome (Rome in New York State once). The more remote the locale, the better. Which is why I’ve only once been to Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, but several times to almost never visited villages in East Greenland.

I wrote...

At the End of the World: A True Story of Murder in the Arctic

By Lawrence Millman,

Book cover of At the End of the World: A True Story of Murder in the Arctic

What is my book about?

We live in a time when violence in the name of religion is commonplace. But it’s not just a contemporary phenomenon. In 1941, the remote Belcher Islands in Hudson Bay experienced nine killings by newly converted Inuit on the assumption that the victims were Satan. A putative God and a putative Jesus were the primary killers.

In addressing these murders, I couldn’t write about the past without writing about the present, so the book also addresses our current obsession with all things digital and argues that this obsession is not unlike a destructive religion. As people walk along now, they pay attention only to their iDevices, not the natural world.

Tracking Trash

By Loree Griffin Burns,

Book cover of Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion

Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer had a “wow” moment when thousands and thousands of Nike sneakers showed up on beaches in Seattle. I thought that was amazing too. Then he heard about rubber duckies, blue plastic turtles, hockey gloves, and lego pieces. This fascinating book reveals his unusual methods to study ocean currents and weather patterns by tracking floating items that fall from ships at sea. Amateur ocean observers help him all over the world and some are focused on dangerous abandoned fishing nets. Are you fascinated? Websites, a newsletter, and other programs are mentioned for those who might be inspired.  

Who am I?

I'm an award-winning, best-selling children’s author who writes about unexpected “wow” moments that stick with me. I look for books and articIes that take me on a deep journey into unknown environments. I aim for nonfiction that reads like a story with an emotional connection to new creatures with fascinating lifestyles. As a writer of dozens of books for children, I always learn much more that can go into each effort. Each book comes into a hazy focus after tons of research. The best “wow” details get woven into an incredible story full of surprise, joy, and admiration for those struggling to survive on our changing plant.  

I wrote...

Into the Sea

By Brenda Z. Guiberson,

Book cover of Into the Sea

What is my book about?

One day I went snorkeling and had a moment with a magnificent sea turtle. “Wow!” Where did she come from? What did she eat? What dangers did she face? I had so many questions and didn’t stop until I had answers. This led to a book about an endangered sea turtle that hatches on a sandy beach and finds ways to survive in the beautiful but dangerous ocean.  

One Plastic Bag

By Miranda Paul, Elizabeth Zunon (illustrator),

Book cover of One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

In Njau, Gambia, Isatou Ceesay was concerned by the way plastic bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. The bags created odor and disease, and also strangled gardens and animals. Isatou found a way to recycle the bags and transform her community. Readers will be inspired by her imagination and dedication, proving that a single person's actions really can make a difference in our world.

Who am I?

So often when things are going wrong in the world—war, natural disasters, pollution, poverty, disease—I feel really overwhelmed, and sometimes hopeless. That's when I seek out stories like these, about ordinary people (like me!) doing extraordinary, heroic things. It inspires me simply knowing these people exist, and it empowers me to do something—just one small act can snowball and generate terrific change. I, too, can help create goodness in the world by paying attention, giving my time and other resources, and joining with others. For every heartbreaking news story, there's a beautiful one waiting to happen. Every one of us has the potential to be a hero.

I wrote...

The Cat Man of Aleppo

By Irene Latham, Karim Shamsi-Basha, Yuko Shimizu (illustrator)

Book cover of The Cat Man of Aleppo

What is my book about?

The Caldecott Honor-winning true story of Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, who in the midst of the Syrian Civil War courageously offered safe haven to Aleppo's abandoned cats.

Alaa loves Aleppo, but when war comes, his neighbors flee to safety, leaving their many pets behind. Alaa decides to stay—he can make a difference by driving an ambulance, carrying the sick and wounded to safety. One day he hears hungry cats calling out to him on his way home. They are lonely and scared, just like him. He feeds and pets them to let them know they are loved. The next day more cats come, and then even more! With worldwide support via social media, Alaa creates a sanctuary to care for and keep the cats safe.

Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds

By Nick Albert,

Book cover of Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds: Living the Dream in Rural Ireland

As a doggy person, this sounded a fun book, an added attraction being that it is a memoir about moving overseas. The author, and his wife, Lesley, buy a property in a rural part of Ireland. Sounds simple enough, but having done the same ourselves, I guessed there might be challenges ahead. Nick skillfully draws the reader into his world. I felt as though I was alongside them as he describes the properties they visit and misadventures along the way. The anecdotes about their dogs are delightful. His descriptions conjure up pictures of a stunningly beautiful country filled with enchantingly quirky people. No wonder they quickly fall in love with it.

Nick’s sense of humour is infectious and wonderfully appealing. I finished wanting more. Luckily, through the success of this first book, he launched a series. I have read and loved each subsequent episode and look forward to his next…

Who am I?

Beth Haslam grew up on a farm in Wales and was mostly seen messing around with her beloved animals. When she and her husband, Jack, bought a second home in France, their lives changed forever. Computers and mobile phones swapped places with understanding French customs and wrestling with the local dialect. These days, Beth is occupied as never before raising and saving animals, writing, and embracing everything their corner of rural France has to offer. And she loves it!

I wrote...

Fat Dogs and French Estates, Part 1

By Beth Haslam,

Book cover of Fat Dogs and French Estates, Part 1

What is my book about?

Buying a country estate in France seemed such a simple thing to accomplish. When Beth, her irascible husband Jack, and their two fat dogs set off, little do they know that it will become such an extraordinary adventure. Surviving near-death experiences, they drive thousands of kilometres around French estates steeped in history and crazy aristocrats. Will they find their dream home, or return to Britain defeated?

The New Wilderness

By Diane Cook,

Book cover of The New Wilderness

What if, in some apocalyptic future, alienated from our place on the planet, we enforced the opposition between a wild nature that flourishes in human absence and the city that towers in our presence, allowing no trace of human impact in the last preserved wilderness on the planet? This is the premise of Cook’s gripping novel, one of the most beautiful and provocative I have ever read. Centering the nature we carry around in our animal bodies, whether in the city or the forest, Cook’s cautionary tale makes a compelling case for a new environmentalism that doesn’t cast human beings as spoilers only, but as themselves part of the wild.

Who am I?

I have always been both a nature lover and committed urbanite, and those twin passions have shaped my approach to history. My very first published writing (when I was ten years old) was an essay about a willow tree in an urban park I loved in Minneapolis, MN. Now, as a historian, I have written about guerrilla gardening in the shadow of the Berlin wall, forestry outside Detroit, and working-class foraging practices in the nineteenth century. My interest in urban nature remains not just academic, but personal. On weekends, you’ll find me mapping native and invasive species with my ten-year-old son along the River Rouge in Dearborn, MI.

I wrote...

Germany’s Urban Frontiers: Nature and History on the Edge of the Nineteenth-Century City

By Kristin Poling,

Book cover of Germany’s Urban Frontiers: Nature and History on the Edge of the Nineteenth-Century City

What is my book about?

In an era of transatlantic migration, Germans were fascinated by the myth of the frontier. Yet, for many, they were most likely to encounter frontier landscapes of new settlement and the taming of nature not in far-flung landscapes abroad, but on the edges of Germany’s many growing cities. From gardens, forests, marshes, and wastelands, Germans on the edge of the city confronted not only questions of planning and control, but also their own histories and futures as a community.

Germany’s Urban Frontiers tells their story, examining how nineteenth-century notions of progress, community, and nature shaped the changing spaces of German urban peripheries as the walls and boundaries that had so long defined central European cities disappeared.

There Is No Planet B

By Mike Berners-Lee,

Book cover of There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years

Rather than weaving a literary narrative, Berners-Lee's aim is to offer something more practically helpful: a handbook for climate action. It’s essentially the FAQs page to the climate crisis. What is Ocean Acidification and why does it matter? Should I fly? How could one crop save us over half a billion tonnes of CO2e? He‘s done the calculations so we don’t have to.  

Who am I?

I’m an environmental journalist (BBC, The Guardian, The Sunday Times) and book author, based in the UK. My interest lies in the intersection between human health, the environment, and climate crisis: the actions we can take that not only reduce climate change for future generations but also improve biodiversity, health, and wellbeing right now. That led to me write my first book, Clearing The Air, about air pollution. And I’m now writing my second book, The Last Drop, looking at how climate change is affecting the world’s water cycle and our access to freshwater. My best books list below maybe misses out on some obvious choices (Naomi Klein, Rachel Carson, etc) in favour of more recent books and authors deserving of a wider audience. 

I wrote...

Clearing The Air: The Beginning and the End Of Air Pollution

By Tim Smedley,

Book cover of Clearing The Air: The Beginning and the End Of Air Pollution

What is my book about?

Clearing The Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution is my journey to understand what air pollution is, and how it became a global public health crisis that kills some 7-10 million people globally each year. I was living in London, had just become a Dad, and a headline caught my eye on my commute home on the tube that read: “Oxford Street has worst diesel pollution on Earth”. This completely blindsided me, so I set out to answer four key questions: What is air pollution? What causes it? Why is it bad for our health? And – perhaps most importantly – what can we do about it?

My journey for the answers ultimately became this book, and took me to Delhi, Beijing, Paris, Helsinki, and, erm, Milton Keynes. I came across some shocking stories, but I also found optimism and solutions for how we can start clearing the air and see instant results. 

Hello from Renn Lake

By Michele Weber Hurwitz,

Book cover of Hello from Renn Lake

Aside from the fun coincidence that I share my surname with the lake in this book, I fell in love on page one because one of the narrators is actually the lake! Chapters alternate between Renn Lake and 12-year-old Annalise, whose family owns lakeside cabins. Annalise has always felt a special connection to this water. When a toxic algae bloom threatens Renn Lake, she and her friends fight to save it. I grew up on a lake in Washington State that became clogged with Eurasian Milfoil, a highly invasive plant affecting water quality, fish, and other things. Remembering what it felt like to see my local lake transform, and how powerless I felt to help it, I rooted for Annalise and her friends and felt hope for this new generation of activists.

Who am I?

I live in a town near a wildlife refuge. I frequently encounter wildlife, including turtles, in my neighborhood. Trouble at Turtle Pond was inspired by volunteer work my son and I did with a local conservation group, fostering endangered Blanding’s turtles. Although my previous books were mysteries set in other countries, I have become interested in the mysteries we can find in our own back yards and in other community spaces we share with nature. I love eco-fiction about kids who love animals, who are “nature detectives,” who have strong opinions, and who are working for the environment, recognizing that every small step makes a difference.

I wrote...

Trouble at Turtle Pond

By Diana Renn,

Book cover of Trouble at Turtle Pond

What is my book about?

Eleven-year-old Miles has moved to a neighborhood near a wildlife refuge, where nesting turtles are on the move. His neighbor, Pia, convinces him to join the Backyard Rangers, who are working to protect them. Miles and Pia discover clues to crimes against endangered Blanding’s turtles. Worse, a pair of foster turtle hatchlings in Pia’s care go missing at a town event. Suspecting poachers, the Backyard Rangers investigate suspects in town. But when Miles becomes a suspect himself, he has to convince his new friends he’s not who they think he is and stop the turtle crimes before more turtles – and people – get hurt.

Trouble at Turtle Pond is a friendship-centered eco-mystery about community science, activist kids, and the power of paying attention.

Or, view all 12 books about pollution

New book lists related to pollution

All book lists related to pollution

Bookshelves related to pollution