23 Must-Read Science Books About the Environment, Chosen by Earthwatch Scientists
The world is hunkered down in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. And while being housebound is perhaps a best-case scenario at a time when essential workers must risk their health on our behalf, people who are normally inclined to take action — like the Earthwatch volunteers whose expeditions have been canceled this spring and summer due to COVID-19 — can nevertheless find it frustrating to sit on the sidelines.
If you’re feeling a bit powerless or restless, there are still actions you can take in and around your home to support nature and help the environment. And immersing yourself in some of the best science books written about the environment can help you expand your horizons and stay engaged with the conservation movement, even while stuck in the downtime doldrums.
So we asked several Earthwatch scientists and staff to share their favorite scientific reads, especially those with an environmental focus, and explain the impact these volumes had on them. Here are their picks for some of the best science books to get you through quarantine.
Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
“I first read this book in high school, in the 1980s, and again every couple of years since then,” says Stan Rullman, Ph.D., director of research at Earthwatch. “Leopold’s poetic observations of the natural world have sparked many fields of ecological study —a large percentage confirming Leopold’s hypotheses—and have inspired many more students and ecologists to help figure out how nature works. It should be required reading for every student, teacher, politician, and voter.”
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
Rullman says this should be another mandatory read for politicians and economists, and maybe everyone else. “Though the current COVID-19 crisis is somewhat tangential to the climate crisis, what we are learning about how incredibly fragile our global Jenga-conomy is to disruptions should be a wake-up call for the looming elephant-in-the-china-shop calamity that our rapidly changing climate portends,” he says. “With passion and eloquence and a grounding in strong science, Naomi tells us we need to change our ways.”
How to Be a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery
“I was first introduced to Sy’s incredible writing when I picked up The Soul of an Octopus years ago,” says Alix Morris, Earthwatch’s director of communications. “I was riveted. The way she explores the consciousness of creatures is profound, reminding us how much we still have to learn about the world around us.”
In the opening of her book How to Be a Good Creature, Montgomery attributes her impressive career as a science writer and naturalist to Earthwatch, and details her first expedition following emus in the Australian Outback. “Sy shows us how much we can learn from creatures, how to see and hear the wild world in new ways, and how to better understand and appreciate our place in this universe. Combine this with a heavy dose of humor and poetic prose and you have yourself a fantastic read.”
Song of the Dodo or Spillover by David Quammen
“David Quammen has a knack for taking complex scientific concepts and melting them down and wordsmithing them back into a more accessible and understandable story,” Rullman says. “His approach to character development rivals the best novelists, yet his characters are usually vanguard scientists whose discoveries continue to push our understanding of how nature works.”
Song of the Dodo is perhaps Quammen’s most eloquent work, Rullman says, offering a look at “island biogeography and why insular ecosystems are prone to extinctions.” But Quammen’s 2012 book Spillover is another great choice given our present pandemic, he adds. “It explores several of the historic and emerging pandemics that arise from us releasing viruses, bacteria, parasites, etc., from the somewhat contained ecosystems where they evolved. The subtitle says it all: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.”