6 Books to Read This Winter

Paradise Harbor, Antarctica

Paradise Harbor, Antarctica. (© Levi S. Norton)

January is a great time for reading.

Why? Maybe you’re still plugging away on your New Year’s resolution of self-improvement. Perhaps you (like me) feel like riding out frigid winter temperatures curled up next to a fire with a book. Or maybe you live in the Southern Hemisphere and want to withstand record heat waves by basking under a beach umbrella with a good read.

In any case, here are six more book recommendations from CI staff about nature and/or sustainable development. (This post is a follow-up to last August’s popular post, “12 Nature Books to Read This Summer: CI Staff Picks.”)

1.       My Green Manifesto: Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism (David Gessner)

Gessner explores what is needed to forge the drastic change in the way the environment is viewed and valued — and, as a result, fought for. I think the U.S. audience especially will find this book interesting, as Gessner does this while recounting a journey paddling down the Charles River in Boston with a colleague, Dan Driscoll, who had done remarkably well to restore a bit of “wild” along a river that runs through mostly dense urban areas.

I connect with this book as I also believe, as Gessner seems to posit, that people will fight for what they feel connected to, and that exposure to wild places is the easiest way to spark a connection.

– Curtis Bernard, technical manager of CI-Guyana

2.       Cambodia’s Curse: The modern history of a troubled land (Joel Brinkley)

Why?  Because we should think about the limits of what we can achieve under conditions of recalcitrant or inhospitable governance, and discuss strategy and workarounds.

– Les Kaufman, marine conservation fellow

3.       Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History(Penny Le Couteur)

Could the failure of Napoleon Bonaparte’s 1812 Russian campaign partially be attributed to the want of a button? Tin, which crumbles to powder at cold temperatures, was used in the buttons fastening the army’s coats, causing them to fall apart. If a different button had been used, would more of Napoleon’s army have survived the winter and continued expanding eastward?  

An account of 17 groups of molecules that have greatly influenced the course of history, this book is teeming with examples of how science and nature have shaped our past. The author reveals how chemical connections led to voyages of discovery, grand feats of engineering and even the foods we eat today.

– Grace Courter, social media coordinator

4.       The Art of Travel (Alain De Botton)

This book is a philosophical look at travel, the way we view nature, etc. I’ve given copies to three different CI staff now, and strongly recommend it.

– David Emmett, senior vice president for CI’s Asia Pacific field division

5.       When a Billion Chinese Jump(Jonathan Watts)

Watts wrote this book while he was the correspondent for The Guardian in China. It systematically breaks down the country into different geographies and does a beautiful job of highlighting the social and environmental issues in each region. What I like about Watts is that he never tries to force his opinions on you; rather, he lays down the facts and lets you come to your own conclusion. You also get the sense that most of what he is saying is the truth, as it is based on his own experience of backpacking through the vast country.

This is a must-read for anyone interested in China. I guarantee you will learn a lot and not see the world in the same way as before. Every word is gold.

– Lynn Tang, senior manager for partnerships and development for CI’s Asia-Pacific field division

Lastly, I’m currently reading 6. “The Worst Journey in the World,” Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s true account of the ill-fated 1910 British expedition to Antarctica led by Robert Falcon Scott. Often touted as one of the top adventure stories ever told, it is said to be an important precursor to modern travel writing — and an incredible record of what it was like to be among the first visitors to this stark, beautiful continent.

Happy reading — and please share your own book suggestions in the comments!

Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature. 

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