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2019’s Best Books About the Environment, So Far

2019’s Best Books About the Environment, So Far

Happy first day of spring! Depending on where you are in the world, you may see trees blooming or flowers shooting up in your garden. Or, if you’re in Chicago, you might see a whole lot of gray. But even here in the Windy City we know that spring weather is just around the corner. And that means more time spent outside. To celebrate, here are some of the best books about the environment to come out this year (and it’s only March!).

Let me say right off the bat that some of these are not “easy” reads. Some, like David Wallace-Wells’s The Uninhabitable Earth or Gary Fuller’s The Invisible Killer, are downright terrifying. But that’s the world we live in. Climate change is no longer a future threat–it’s here now. And environmental pollution is everywhere.

The list isn’t all doom and gloom, however. Bruce Berger’s A Desert Harvest includes some of the finest and most lyrical nature writing I’ve read in years. And others, like Jennifer K. Ladino’s Memorials Matter, offer unique takes on environmental writing that offer fascinating cultural analyses alongside commentary on the natural world.

What all of these books have in common are great writing and vital stories to tell.

Sudden Spring: Stories of Adaptation in a Climate-Changed South
By Rick Van Noy
University of Georgia Press
Published January 15, 2019

“By highlighting stories of people and places adapting to the impacts of a warmer climate, Van Noy shows us what communities in the South are doing to become more climate resilient and to survive a slow deluge of environmental challenges.”

Memorials Matter: Emotion, Environment and Public Memory at American Historical Sites
By Jennifer K. Ladino
University of Nevada Press
Published February 6, 2019

“In Memorials Matter, author Jennifer Ladino investigates the natural and physical environments of seven diverse National Park Service (NPS) sites in the American West and how they influence emotions about historical conflict and national identity.”

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming
By David Wallace-Wells
Tim Duggan Books
February 19, 2019

“In his travelogue of our near future, David Wallace-Wells brings into stark relief the climate troubles that await—food shortages, refugee emergencies, and other crises that will reshape the globe. But the world will be remade by warming in more profound ways as well, transforming our politics, our culture, our relationship to technology, and our sense of history. It will be all-encompassing, shaping and distorting nearly every aspect of human life as it is lived today.”

The Breath of a Whale: The Science and Spirit of Pacific Ocean Giants
By Leigh Calvez
Sasquatch Books
Published February 26, 2019

“The author invites the reader onto a small research catamaran maneuvering among 100-foot long blue whales off the coast of California; or to join the task of monitoring patterns of humpback whale movements at the ocean surface: tail throwflipper slapfluke up, or blow. To experience whales is breathtaking. To understand their lives deepens our connection with the natural world.”

The Absent Hand: Reimagining Our American Landscape
By Suzannah Lessard
March 12, 2019

“This intriguing hybrid will remind some of W. G. Sebald’s work and others of Rebecca Solnit’s, but it is Lessard’s singular talent to combine this profound book-length mosaic—a blend of historical travelogue, reportorial probing, philosophical meditation, and prose poem—into a work of unique
genius, as she describes and reimagines our landscapes.”

Landfill: Notes on Gull Watching and Trash Picking in the Anthropocene
By Tim Dee
Chelsea Green Publishing
Published March 12, 2019

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“Landfill is the original and compelling story of how in the Anthropocene we have learned about the natural world, named and catalogued it, and then colonized it, planted it, or filled it with our junk. While most other birds have gone in the opposite direction, hiding away from us, some vanishing forever, gulls continue to tell us how the wild can share our world. For these reasons Landfill is the nature book for our times, groundbreaking and genre-bending.”

A Desert Harvest: New and Selected Essays 
By Bruce Berger
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
March 12, 2018

“Occupying a space between traditional nature writing, memoir, journalism, and prose poetry, Bruce Berger’s essays are beautiful, subtle, and haunting meditations on the landscape and culture of the American Southwest.”

The Invisible Killer: The Rising Global Threat of Air Pollution- and How We Can Fight Back
By Gary Fuller
Melville House Books
March 19, 2018

The Invisible Killer will introduce you to the incredible individuals whose groundbreaking research paved the way to today’s understanding of air pollution, often at their own detriment. Gary Fuller’s global story examines devastating incidents from London’s Great Smog to Norway’s acid rain; Los Angeles’s traffic problem to wood-burning damage in New Zealand.”

Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West
By Heather Hansman
University of Chicago Press
March 19, 2019

“The Green River, the most significant tributary of the Colorado River, runs 730 miles from the glaciers of Wyoming to the desert canyons of Utah. Stopped up by dams, slaked off by irrigation, and dried up by cities, the Green is crucial, overused, and at risk, now more than ever. Fights over the river’s water, and what’s going to happen to it in the future, are longstanding, intractable, and only getting worse as the West gets hotter and drier and more people depend on the river with each passing year. As a former raft guide and an environmental reporter, Heather Hansman knew these fights were happening, but she felt driven to see them from a different perspective—from the river itself.”

View Comments (3)
  • Thank you for this list! I teach a course called “Journalism Around the World” each year, and try to assign books by international writers – any chance of a parallel list of books by writers/from publishers outside the US? I’m hoping to teach next fall’s seminar with an environmental focus and would love to feature recent work. All suggestions are welcome!

  • Thanks for the wonderful list. I have already read Downriver which is now available and found it highly informative and beautifully written.

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