It’s summertime again in the Northern Hemisphere, a season when millions of people journey to the nearest beach or mountain in search of a break from everyday life. It’s also a time that we all seem to read more — or, if nothing else, we talk about reading more. So why not combine these two forms of escape in one?
1. “The Drowned World“ (J.G.Ballard)
Ballard is a British novelist (actually born in Shanghai) who became famous with “Empire of the Sun.” “The Drowned World” is his first novel, and my personal favorite. He published it in 1962, when people did not talk much about climate change yet. The story takes place in the 21st century, when “fluctuations in solar radiation have caused the ice-caps to melt and the seas to rise. Global temperatures have climbed, and civilization has retreated to the Arctic and Antarctic circles. London is inundated by a primeval swamp, to which an expedition travels to record the flora and fauna of this new Triassic Age.”
I hope this science-fiction piece continues to be seen as science fiction in years to come; it reads incredibly plausible and realistic nowadays.
– Fabio Scarano, senior vice president of the Americas field division
2. “White Waters and Black” (Gordon MacCreagh)
A classic, and by far the most entertaining (non-scientific) account of scientific exploration I have read. The book describes a 1920s expedition to the Amazon, eloquently capturing the adventures and misadventures of a team of scientists, most of whom were laughably ill-prepared for the challenges ahead. It is an honest and hilarious reminder of the persisting rift between urban societies (academics included) and wild nature.
I believe this book is inspirational in reminding us of how little we still know about the Earth today, highlighting the importance of understanding and improving societal dependencies on wilderness.
– Trond Larsen, director of the Rapid Assessment Program
3. “Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey” (Jane Goodall)
This is a book dear to my heart, as it embodies the power of perseverance, strength of positivity, importance of science and, above all, a hope for conservation. I was lucky enough to meet Goodall recently and to thank her for her work for humans and animals alike.
– Emmeline Johansen, regional communications consultant, Asia-Pacific field division
In his essay “Night and Moonlight,” Henry David Thoreau describes a walk to acquaint himself with “another side of Nature”: the night sky. Even a naturalist like Thoreau at first deemed stars — or “jewels of the night” — not part of the “Nature” he so frequently spent time in, observed and wrote about.
Still today, it’s easy to segregate light pollution from other environmental issues, but the night sky is just as integral a member of the natural world as the honey bee, the rainforest and the coral reef.
Enter “The End of Night,” in which Paul Bogard blends natural and cultural history — and a helpful balance of scientific and anecdotal evidence — to explain how diminishing darkness around the world negatively effects human health and well-being and natural processes like the migration of birds, as well as how increased and inefficient use of artificial lighting wastes energy and resources. It’s an engaging, beautifully written and important read.
– Cassandra Kane, staff writer
5. “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants“ (Douglas Tallamy)
This is a truly fascinating read that can be done in whole or in parts. Tallamy explains how the choice of plants we use in our gardens can have a massive impact on nature and biodiversity. He makes a compelling case for use of native species in home gardens both large and small, and provides simple guidance for how we can enrich our gardens and our everyday lives.
– John Buchanan, senior director of agribusiness and food security
6. “Encounters with the Archdruid” (John McPhee)
One of my favorite all-time writers and one of the greatest all-time premises for a book. He pairs up David Brower, a passionate preservationist and former executive director of the Sierra Club, with some of his archrivals: a dam developer in the dry American southwest, a real estate developer in Florida. He then takes them out into the wilderness, on a rafting or camping trip, and documents their conversations.
– Rachel Neugarten, senior manager of conservation priority setting
7. “A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth” (Samantha Weinberg)
There are two subjects I adore: paleontology and the oceans. So when I learned about the coelacanth years ago I was utterly fascinated by this living fossil. I was enthralled when I got to see a specimen at the Smithsonian and when I learned that one of CI’s scientists, Mark Erdmann, had described another species of coelacanth in the late 1990s I cornered him at a workshop we were attending and demanded he tell me the story. He did, and he also recommended this book.
Weinberg’s telling of the “rediscovery” of the coelacanth is a scientific detective story. The excitement of discovery is matched by the charm with which she tells the individual stories of the people who sought to find this mysterious fish.
– Kevin Connor, media manager
As for me, I’m looking forward to reading 8. “The Death and Life of Monterey Bay: A Story of Revival.” Co-authored by Stephen R. Palumbi and Carolyn Sotka, this book examines how “extraordinary acts of ordinary people” helped revive this remarkable stretch of the Californian coastline, which is one of my favorite places on Earth.
Feel free to share your own favorite nature books — or the ones that are next on your list — in the comments below.
Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature.