12 Nature Books to Read This Summer: CI Staff Picks

August marks the peak of summer vacation season for much of the Northern Hemisphere. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that people often flock to the outdoors — the beach, the mountains — to escape from everyday life.

beach in Anguilla

A beach on the island of Anguilla in the Caribbean. (© Philip Coblentz/Digital Vision)

Even if you don’t have a break coming up, books about the natural world can also provide a welcome respite. Inspired by last month’s summer reading lists from TreeHugger and Scientific American, I thought it would be fun to ask some of CI’s global staff for their nature-themed picks.

Here are some of their choices. I hope you like semicolons.

1. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (Barbara Kingsolver)

The basic premise is that the author (one of my all-time favorites!) and her family try to grow and produce all of their own food for a year, purchasing locally that which they can’t produce themselves. Her accounting of the journey couples delicious, seasonal recipes with anecdotes about the challenges and gifts inherent in becoming so inextricably tied with one’s own food web. Although I didn’t become a complete locavore after reading the book, it inspired me to shop the local farmers market during the growing season and pay closer attention at the grocery store to where my food comes from.

Marielle Canter Weikel, director of corporate freshwater strategies

2. Stanley: the Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer (Tim Jeal)

I bought this book because of my childhood fascination with 19-century explorers and naturalists. I purchased it while in Kenya last summer, and was immediately hooked by the fact that I had visited the eastern Africa lakes region were most of this explorations took place. Most importantly I was struck by Stanley’s bravery — crossing the continent on the Congo River in what is today the DRC. Reading this history, you will understand much better this complex region where CI works.

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, vice president and senior advisor for global policy

3. A Sand County Almanac (Aldo Leopold)

Whether you’re picking up Leopold for the first or the 10th time, this is a timeless collection filled with insights and wonder. Poetry masquerading as prose, Leopold’s writing blends lyrical descriptions of the rhythms of nature with profound insights into how humankind should relate to it. This book will help you reconnect to nature, whether your summer reading is by the ocean or in your living room.

Will Turner, chief scientist

4. The Monkey Wrench Gang (Edward Abbey)

Edward Abbey’s writing has the fingerprints of Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold all over it. While this book shares the same sincerity as his non-fiction book “Desert Solitaire,” its fictional exploration of the movement to develop the wild places in the American West shows to what length a small band of dissenters would go to protect nature. It’s a snapshot of the birth of the environmental movement in 20th-century America.

Kevin Connor, media manager

5. Tree Tales” series (Barbara Bash)

I’ve been reading Barbara Bash’s beautifully illustrated tree books with my kids. In each one she takes a tree (a baobab, a banyan, a saguaro cactus) and shows all of the ways it provides food and shelter for other species — not least of all people.

Andrew Kolb, senior director for strategic public outreach

6. Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think (Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler)

(This book is recommended by two of CI’s staff.)

The book provides a fresh take and optimistic vision of the opportunities associated with resolving the thorniest challenges faced by the global human community, many which CI also aspires to address.

Sebastian Troëng, managing director of Moore Center for Science and Oceans

Upbeat, stimulating read about the importance of human ingenuity in solving the world’s greatest environment and development challenges.

Jennifer Morris, executive vice president for Ecosystem Finance and Markets

7. The River Why (David James Duncan)

I love this book. It has a familiar theme: a young man leaving his family home to go fish, and in the process finding himself and finding nature, seeing the damage done by man to it and learning about the redemption nature can bring.

Malinda Gardiner, communications coordinator, Conservation South Africa

8. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (Chip Heath and Dan Heath)

A lot of work we do in the conservation and sustainability field is based on helping people change their behavior to create a long-term, positive effect on the environment. I think this book provides some excellent insight on how to make that change happen; it’s not just about presenting a logical argument, it’s also about providing an emotional appeal and a clear path to follow. After reading this book, you may just begin to use the terms “elephant” and “elephant rider” when looking at ways to instill behavior change.

Jason Philibotte, director of Hawaii Fish Trust

9. The Last Great Ape: A Journey Through Africa and a Fight for the Heart of the Continent(Ofir Drori and David McDannald)

I haven’t started reading it yet, but this book is at the top of my list to start soon. It documents the start of the impressive work of Ofir Drori (from LAGA, or the Last Great Ape Organization) to combat wildlife trafficking and corruption in Central Africa.

Heidi Ruffler, technical advisor, Africa + Madagascar Field Division

10. Flight Behavior (Barbara Kingsolver)

High on a hill in an economically depressed town of rural Appalachia, a forest targeted for industrial logging suddenly appears to be ablaze in an ethereal, almost supernatural glow. Initially, the townspeople seem mesmerized by this phenomenon — until they realize that the golden flame is actually a horde of wings from migrating monarch butterflies which have descended en masse on their trees, apparently as a result of deforestation and shifting weather patterns. This launches the town’s conservative people into unfamiliar conversations about climate change, science and the value of living vs. exploited natural capital. As the story develops, perceptions shift and local forests begin to seem more valuable standing than felled. This is a colorful story with subtle yet vivid messages about our changing climate and a community-based stewardship of Earth.

Kim McCabe, vice president of News + Publicity

11. The Illustrated Man (Ray Bradbury)

I hadn’t read Bradbury since high school. But a recent sci-fi bender reacquainted me with this set of 18 stories — and it’s remarkable how many of them are relevant to what I do. Whether he’s writing about astronauts on Venus, travelers fleeing nuclear war, or a time-traveling husband and wife, two themes always resonate: Our Earth is precious. And we must always stay vigilant against our own capacity to destroy it — and one another.

Chris Coletta, community manager

As for my pick? I’m looking forward to reading 12. “The Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds,” Jim Sterba’s exploration of the complicated relationship between urban sprawl and wildlife habitat in the United States.

Feel free to share your own book suggestions in the “comments” section of this blog!

Molly Bergen is the managing editor of Human Nature.


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