A good book is always a welcome gift, but which one? The possibilities are endless and choosing the right one can be overwhelming. Why not consider a green book with topics related to the environment, climate, or sustainability?
The ever-growing selection of green-themed reads is extraordinary and expansive. These books hold the potential to change minds and can transform the reader’s perception of our world. In fact, research has shown the persuasive powers of story-telling as a medium for personalizing the abstract concept of climate change.
So this year put a green book or two (or more!) on your gift list. Your gift recipients will enjoy them and you might change some minds in the process!
A Green Book That Informs and Empowers
Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have, By Tatiana Schlossberg
With any climate-related book, there’s always a risk of terrifying the prospective greenie with apocalyptic accounts of a burning planet. Only too often, the response is eco-lit for the mainstream reader that dilutes the stark reality of our changing world, lulling the reader with quick-fix, feel-good solutions, commonly involving the purchase of a new collection of mason jars or reusable straws.
Tatiana Schlossberg, a former New York Times science journalist, deftly navigates these potential pitfalls in her award-winning book, Inconspicuous Consumption; an entertaining, yet thoroughly comprehensive examination of humanity’s mark on the planet. Through her analysis of four areas — technology, food, fashion, and fossil fuels — Schlossberg reveals humans’ deep interconnections with our environment and how that relationship impacts the planet through climate change.
Schlossberg offers a message of hope by empowering readers to exercise their power as voters and consumers. As Arimeta Diop of Vanity Fair attests, Inconspicuous Consumption is “a compelling — and illuminating — look at how our daily habits impact the environment.”
An Established Green Classic
A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold
There are so many green classics that pop to mind (Silent Spring, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, The End of Nature, to name a few), but if you must pick one as a meaningful gift, it’s A Sand County Almanac. What captivates is Leopold’s ability, through beautiful prose, to establish our indelible connection with and within nature.
Originally published in 1949, A Sand County Almanac is equal parts an informative, structured almanac and an informal, entertaining anecdotal piece written by celebrated conservationist and scientist Aldo Leopold. Leopold, also a philosopher, addresses his own grateful attitudes towards nature and the relationship between America and its land—in addition to looking at the ethical issues concerning conservationism. The author’s main plea, as summarized in a New York Times review: “that the basis of successful conservation was to extend to nature the ethical sense of responsibility that humans extend to each other,” was a novel attitude that is now a fundamental underpinning of the environmental movement.
A Green Book Destined to Become a Classic
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert
I find myself endlessly referring back toThe Sixth Extinction, a densely packed, immensely readable tome on our current, human-caused, phase of extinction. The enormity of Kolbert’s message creeps up on the reader and it isn’t until the end that one finds onself utterly devastated by the enormity of our extinction crisis.
Utilizing historical studies, modern research, and thorough collaborations with authors and scientists, Elizabeth Kolbert formulates her take on the next and sixth phase of mass extinction. In her 2006 article in The New Yorker, Kolbert wrote that “of the many species that have existed on earth—estimates run as high as fifty billion—more than ninety-nine percent have disappeared.” The sixth extinction will continue that trend, this time focusing mainly on the massive loss of flora and fauna species.
The Boston Globe called the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “surprisingly breezy, entirely engrossing, and frequently entertaining,” all while alerting the reader to the very daunting truth of mass extinction.
For the Fiction Lover
Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver
Named 2012’s “Best Book of the Year” by USA Today and the Washington Post, Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver is a beautifully wrought, dramatic novel about a bored young housewife whose accidental discovery changes her life as well as the lives of those around her.
Dellarobia Turnbow is a discontented mother and wife living in Appalachia, who, while on her way to beginning an affair, stumbles across millions of monarch butterflies in a valley. Her discovery plummets Turnbow into a competitive world of “religious leaders, climate scientists, environmentalists, politicians,” while simultaneously enlightening the reader to the paramount issues of climate change.
National Public Radio’s review lauds Flight Behavior as a novel that “extols the ecstasy of passionate engagement — with people, ideas and the environment,” and praises its gentle, elegant honesty.
For the Tree Hugger (Also Fiction)
The Overstory, by Richard Powers
The Overstory is one of my favorite works of fiction, particularly for its ability to transform my perception of trees and the vital role they play as inspiration for human activism. This compelling epic weaves together tales and characters in a dramatic vision of our future (and past). The book follows nine main characters, eight of whom follow paths that lead to environmental activism. Although their arguments and methods differ, these characters all call for the dire need for change.
Barbara Kingsolver at The New York Times writes about Powers’s prose: “Using the tools of story, he pulls readers heart-first into a perspective so much longer-lived and more subtly developed than the human purview that we gain glimpses of a vast, primordial sensibility while watching our own kind get whittled down to size.”
The Overstory is a must-read for its stunning prose and intense narrative, earning this green book numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the William Dean Howells Medal, and a spot on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year. It is a beautifully written, deeply insightful, and important work not only in environmental fiction but in fiction as a whole.
For the Climate Activist on Your Gift List
Our House Is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis, by Greta Thunberg
Our House Is on Fire, written by climate activist Greta Thunberg and her family, describes the personal, turned global, story of Thunberg’s Asperger diagnosis and how she transformed her life into one devoted to climate action. Greta and her family describe — in readable and succinct prose that’s peppered with humor and climate facts — how they found help for Greta and supported her journey towards activism.
David Mitchell, in The Guardian, writes, “everyone with an interest in the future of the planet should read this book. It is a clear-headed diagnosis. It is a glimpse of a saner world. It is fertile with hope.”
A Green Book to Offer Hope
Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to Climate Change, by Tim Flannery
In his book Atmosphere of Hope, Tim Flannery treads the line between attainable suggestions for a better environment and being realistic about our current climate crisis.
Flannery skyrocketed to success in 2005 with his #1 bestseller, The Weathermakers, and now offers an updated list of climate effects and how to counteract them, including a focus on government and corporate responsibility. Author Elizabeth Kolbert says about the book, “Thoughtful, candid and—yes—ultimately upbeat, Atmosphere of Hope could not be more timely. It is just the book the world needs right now.”
A Coffee Table Book That’s Gorgeous and Green
The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, by Douglas Tallamy and Rick Darke
The Living Landscape is both a gorgeous coffee table book — filled with stunning photos of wildlife and nature — and an instructive guide for designing a beautiful, environmentally-friendly home garden. This book “offers beauty on many levels, provides outdoor rooms and turf areas for children and pets, incorporates fragrance and edible plants, and provides cover, shelter, and sustenance for wildlife.” Tallamy and Darke focus on native plants, functional living spaces, and realistic flora choices designed for the novice gardener,
Anne Raver at the NYT says that these “two giants of the natural gardening world…have collaborated on their best work yet” in The Living Landscape.
A Green Book That’s Guaranteed to Entertain
I’ve read A Walk in the Woods multiple times — by myself, and to my sons, who, as young boys delighted in the humor and (somewhat) raunchy language peppered throughout Bryson’s emotional account of his trek on the Appalachian Trail.
Bryson introduces us to entertaining characters—animal and otherwise—and mixes a deep appreciation for nature with a laugh-out-loud commentary on the ridiculousness of everything he encounters. Barnes & Noble Reads writes that, in addition to being full of facts and engaging material, Bryson’s “wry account of the many pitfalls he encounters and errors in judgment he makes at every step will give outdoorsy people a good chuckle, while giving indoorsy people some very useful tips.”
Now a movie starring Robert Redford, Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods is charming and hilarious and truly a great read for anyone, even if you think you don’t like hiking.
For Your Budding Eco-Kid
Exodus, by Julie Bertagna
Julie Bertagna’s dystopian novel, Exodus, takes place in the year 2099 when global warming has caused ocean levels to rise and submerge island after island. 15-year-old Mara and her community must flee their sinking island by boat, undertaking a harrowing journey towards metropolitan cities built on top of sunken islands.
Simply starting a new life isn’t easy, and Mara and her family need to be resourceful and clever about finding their way onto the island to start a new life. Exodus is an exciting tale packed with adventure and information, and a must-read for the young environmentalist looking to be inspired.
Exodus is a green book for the teenager on your gift list. The quintessential green book for all ages? The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss! For more book suggestions, including children’s green books for all ages, visit Green That Life’s Best Environmental Books page.