“The spiral tendency of vegetation infects education also. Our books approach very slowly the things we most wish to know.”

–Emerson, “Beauty”

Each of the books on the list below, in its own way, enacts a deliberate and sustained effort to understand the changing flow of phenomena both within our selves and in the world around us.

The books, written by different kinds of people—enthusiastic amateurs, educators and academics, students, artists, farmers, professional scientists from around the world, explore natural history (of trees, moss, weeds, corn), human history (how and what we eat, population growth, agriculture, urban planning), and the sciences, (ecology, genetics and systematics, physics, evolutionary biology). Some of the books on the list advocate for social or political change. Others invite us to change how we see the world by bringing to our attention the complexities of physical processes—from the biology of digestion to the evolutionary process of life. These are real books—engaging, interesting, provocative, challenging—of nonfiction, fiction, poetry, essays, manifestos, philosophy, description, humor, and critical analysis.

Mendenhall glacier, Juneau, Alaska

Mendenhall glacier, Juneau, Alaska

The book list is designed to offer you the freedom to choose what you will read, and where you will begin your semester of thinking and writing about wildness. Of course with the freedom to choose comes responsibility: you will need to exercise your ability to respond: to find your own way to become engaged, interested, provoked, challenged by the book you choose to read.

Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle (1839) Travel memoir and scientific field journals from Darwin’s experiences on the HMS Beagle between 1831-36 focused on biology, geology and anthropology

Henry David Thoreau, Walden; Or Life in the Woods (1854) An account of two years, two months, and two days in a cabin near Walden Pond that speculates on philosophy, literature, as well as the meaning and purpose of human life

Charles Darwin, Origin of Species (1859) Proposes the scientific theory that species were not created independently but evolved from past species through the process of descent with modification

George Perkins Marsh, Man and Nature (1864) Links deforestation and loss of soil fertility in Mediterranean to North American environment arguing that human impacts on natural resources are neither negligible or benign

Mary Austin, The Land of Little Rain (1903) Fourteen essays on the natural and cultural history of the landscape between California’s Sierra Nevada mountains and the Mojave desert focused on plant and animal life as well as farmers, miners, and Paiute Indians

John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra (1911) Sixteen essays by nature writer and preservationist on the natural and geological history of Yosemite and environs including Muir’s observations on glaciers, trees, animals and insects

Willa Cather, O Pioneers! (1913) Novel that chronicles the life of Swedish immigrants on the prairies in Nebraska at the turn of the twentieth century with a particular focus on the protagonist Alexandra Bergson who inherits the family farm

John Muir, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf (1916) Travelogue of Muir’s 1867 walk from Louisville, Kentucky south through Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Cuba in the aftermath of America’s Civil War

Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod (1928) Stories from a year spent in a tiny house on Cape Cod’s great beach, on a dune between ocean and dunes and marsh that chronicle the cycles of the natural world

Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac (1949) Non-fiction essays by an ecologist and forester that describes the landscape around Sauk County, Wisconsin, and that articulate what Leopold called the “land ethic”

Loren Eisley, The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature (1959) Scientifically-oriented meditations on natural and human history by an anthropologist

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962) A nonfiction book encouraging responsible and carefully managed use of pesticides use and documenting the effects of pesticide use on animals and humans that questions the assumptions and practices of a technologically engineered and controlled nature

Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden (1964) A study of the transition wrought by industrialization through the image of the machine’s intrusion on the pastoral landscape in the nineteenth-century literature of North America and the conflict between the promises of rural life and the productivity, wealth, and power

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (1968) Experiences and reflections of a park ranger at Arches National Monument on the author’s love of wild places, his passionate (and playful) critique of commonplace attitudes toward nature in society and the modern industrial state, and a lyrical defense of the slick-rock canyonland country surrounding Moab, Utah

Roderick F. Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (1967; rev. ed. 2001) A historian’s account of the idea wilderness that traces how nature was valued for its use to nature as  possessing intrinsic value entirely on its own with a focus on the popularization of wilderness, from the nineteenth to the twentieth century

Gary Snyder, Turtle Island (1969) Poems and essays that explore the possibility of transformation through a rediscovery of North America drawing on indigenous mythology and life practices

Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (1969) Paul and Anne Ehrlich make a case for the link between rapid demographic growth to mass starvation and social unrest

Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (1969) Reflections on the sustainability of human life by an architect, engineer, geometrician, cartographer, philosopher, futurist, and inventor of the geodesic dome that explore the freedoms of man to make choices as we chart a new relationship to the our day-to-day lives and the cosmos

John Mcphee, Encounters with the Archdruid (1971) Three narrative essays featuring environmentalist David Brower and his antagonists: Charles Park, a mineral engineer, Charles Frazier, a real estate developer, and Floyd Dominy, then the commissioner of the United States Bureau of Reclamation

Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, eds., The Limits to Growth (1972) Compiles quantitative evidence using computer models of changes in population, food production, and pollution to examine poverty, environmental degradation, weakening institutions, urban sprawl, and increasing indifference to traditional values and to argue for the limits of growth as a model for human life

E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (1973) An economist outlines the economy in four parts: “The Modern World,” “Resources,” “The Third World,” and “Organization and Ownership”

Lewis Thomas, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974) A collection of twenty-nine essays originally published in the New England Journal of Medicine between 1971-73 that explore the inextricable interconnections between nature and humankind and that propose some of the ways we might understand our place in the natural order

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) Literary reflections on nature, awareness and religion set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, near Roanoke, Virginia from the perspective of an unnamed narrator who lives along Tinker Creek

Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) Novel chronicling the ecological saboteurs “Seldom Seen” Smith, a Mormon river guide, Doc Sarvis, a surgeon, Bonnie Abbzug, a young woman from Brooklyn, and a Green Beret veteran, George Hayduke, who form a group dedicated to the destruction of what they see as a system destroying the beauty and sanctity of the American Southwest in an effort to preserve wilderness, wild spaces and ecosystems

John McPhee, Coming into the Country (1976) A series of extended essays on the geographical, cultural, and ecological complexities (and curiosities) of Alaska and the people (bush pilots, prospectors, back-to-the-land settlers, politicians, and businesspeople) who have a stake in the future of this vast territory

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (1977) A series of fierce and elegantly argued essays on the practices and assumptions of modern agriculture that together comprise an extended argument about modern life and its loss of community, devaluation of work, and destruction of nature

Masanobu Fukuoka, The One Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming (1978) A practical and philosophical manifesto about farming, eating, and the limits of human knowledge and a spiritual memoir about faith in the wholeness and balance of the natural world

James Lovelock, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (1979. Revised with a new preface 2000) Nonfiction exploration of the hypothesis that the earth’s physical, chemical and biological systems work together like a living organism

Wendell Berry, Standing by Words (1980) Essays concerned with the art of living in a place and the poetic practice of devotion to the relation between imagination, language and place

Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point: Science Society and the Rising Culture (1984) A physicist accounts for the history of science and economics and the inherited contradictions in the predominant paradigms that are no longer sustainable if we seek to resolve fundamental social problems

Patricia Nelson Limerick, Desert Passages: Encounters with the American Deserts (1985) A study of the meaning and significance of the desert in North American literary and cultural history

Ursula LeGuin, Always Coming Home (1985) A post-apocalyptic / science fiction story centered around the life and culture of the “Kesh” people recounted by a narrator, Stone Telling, the child of a Valley woman and a Condor man, that explores the possible futures of humankind

Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (1986) A natural history of the Arctic and its inhabitants—narwhals, polar bears, beluga whales, musk oxen, and caribou—between Davis Strait and Bering Strait that draws on the life-ways of native people and archeologists, biologists and geologists studying the Arctic

Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces (1986) A book of essays about life on moving to a small farm in Wyoming after the death of the author’s partner focused on the people and landscape of the West as well as the culture of ranching, sheep herding, and rodeos

The World Commission on Environment and Development Our Common Future (1987) Also known as the Brundtland Report, Our Common Future is the foundation for future work, including the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development/Earth Summit convened in Rio de Janeiro in June of 1992

Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development (1989) Explores the inextricable connections among ecological crises, colonialism, and the oppression of women through the ways rural Indian women experience and perceive the causes and effects of ecological destruction, and proposes an alternative to accepted third-world development policies

John McPhee, The Control of Nature (1989) Three essays on human attempts to manage the natural world: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to divert the flow of the Mississippi River into a tributary, the Atchafalaya, for flood control; the Civil Defense Council of Iceland seeking to contain a lava flow from a volcanic eruption on the island of Heimaey; and efforts by the Los Angeles County Flood Control District to protect Los Angeles hillside homes from boulders in the San Gabriel Mountains of California

Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild: Essays (1990. Revised edition with Preface 2010) Nine essays by a poet and philosopher—the beat poet and dharma bum—that offer a handbook on living an intellectually, imaginatively and morally engaged life

Thomas Berry, The Dream of Earth (1990) A cultural historian articulates an alternative to anthropocentric approaches to the natural world that are caught in closed cycle of production and consumption and that fail to imagine the human as more than national, ethnic, religious or economic groups

Linda Hogan, Mean Spirit (1990) This novel tells the story of Oklahoma during the oil boom of the early 1920s and the violent fate of the Osage Indians as white men attempt to steal the oil-rich land from the native people

Richard Nelson, The Island Within (1990) A memoir by a cultural anthropologist that explores the natural and cultural history of a Pacific island in Haida Strait that touches on geology, marine life, wildlife, and native Koyukon life ways

Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses (1990)
Nonfiction exploration of five senses (smell, touch, taste, hearing, vision) and synesthesia that draws on the science of how the different senses work and the cultural history of our sensual life

Barry Lopez, The Rediscovery of North America (1990)
Originally delivered in 1990 as the Thomas D. Clarke Lectures, this book considers the legacy of colonization—from the atrocities of Spanish conquistadors to the ongoing pillage of our lands and water—and proposes an alternative ethic to break from this destructive and unsustainable trajectory

Charles Bergman, Wild Echoes: Encounters with the Most Endangered Animals in North America (1990. Revised edition in 2003) Describes encounters with nine of North America’s most endangered species, from the last remaining California condors to manatees and panthers in Florida to a dusky seaside sparrow, and examines the efforts of people involved in saving animals from extinction

Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (1992) This nonfiction memoir by a Utah poet and naturalist considers the interrelations between personal tragedy and natural history—a chronicle of a mother dying of cancer (most likely because of exposure to the fallout of atomic bomb tests in the 1950s) and the rise of Great Salt Lake in 1983 that threatened the habitat of herons, owls, and snowy egrets

Wallace Stegner, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West (1992)
The adventures (both in nature and in the politics) of ethnologist and geologist John Wesley Powell who explored the Colorado River, and the Grand Canyon and who envisioned the dangers economic exploitation in the American West

Linda Hogan, Solar Storms (1994) A novel the story of a seventeen-year-old girl who returns to an island town in the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada to rediscover herself, her heritage, and the destruction of a way of life as a hydroelectric dam project floods the land that defines her

Gary Paul Nabhan and Stephen Trimble, The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places (1994) Essays about childhood experiences in nature by two fathers and naturalists that make a case for children’s need for direct contact with nature

Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time (1994) A science writer tells the story of Peter and Rosemary Grant whose twenty years of research show how natural selection is a process that can unfold in rapid and observable ways

Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability (1994) An argument for reform of the current economic system by demanding that businesses in developed countries reduce their consumption of energy and resources by eighty percent in the next fifty years and that the culture of business change to accommodate the real world, the natural world

Bessie Head, When Rain Clouds Gather (1995) A posthumously published novel set in rural Botswana that tells the story of a political refugee from South Africa, Makhaya, and his struggles to balance traditional farming methods with modern techniques with villagers of his adopted home

T. C. Boyle, Friend of the Earth (1995) A satiric dystopian novel set in 2025 that imagines the world transformed by global climate change and the greenhouse effect

Rick Bass, The Book of Yaak (1996) An argument to save the ecosystem of the Yaak Valley in northwestern Montana that involves the struggle to work with a diverse groups of loggers, hunters, and other residents

John Krakauer, Into the Wild (1996) Nonfiction account of Christopher Johnson McCandless who left school and traveled through the American west on a quest to find himself and reconnect with wilderness and the wild

Jack Turner, The Abstract Wild (1996) These eight polemical essays argue that the search for a closer connection to the natural world has become more often than not a quest for an abstraction (such as “wilderness”) rather than lived experience of a place over time and too often mediated by anthropomorphic language that leads to ecological ignorance

David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (1997) Explores the interactions (and dependencies) of the human mind on the natural environment through a range of sources, including shamans in Nepal and sorcerers in Indonesia, the philosophy of phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Balinese shamans and Apache storytellers, as well as his own experiences as a sleight-of-hand magician

Richard Nelson, Heart and Blood: Living With Deer in America (1997) A study of the natural history of deer in North America; the place of the animal in wild, suburban, and urban landscapes; and human strategies for controlling the population of deer through relocation, sterilization, and hunting

Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible (1998) A novel narrated by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, an evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959 that recounts three decades living in postcolonial Africa

Sandra Steingraber, Living Downstream: A Scientist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment (1998) Nonfiction by a poet, biologist, and cancer survivor investigates the links between cancer and environmental toxins

David Quammen Wild Thoughts from Wild Places (1998)
A collection of engaging and lively short essays from Outside magazine focused on science, natural history and other topics such as the physics water, beetles, supercoyotes, and the lives of naturalists Charles Darwin and Gilbert White

Sue Hubell, A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them (1998)
A nonfiction guide to beekeeping that is about the fascinating intersections between the lives of humans and the lives of bees.

T. C. Boyle, The Tortilla Curtain (2000) A novel set in California that juxtaposes the stories of a pair of wealthy while suburbanites and a pair of illegal immigrants from Mexico

Shepard Krech, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (2000) Description and analysis of the American myth of the ecological Indian using archaeological, oral, and written records argues that native people altered their environments, responded to climatic changes, adjusted to times of feast and famine, and adapted to the economic changes as Europeans colonized the continent

Mary Oliver, The Leaf and the Cloud (2000) A book-length poem that takes up the meaning and purpose of human life and the pleasures and mystery of living in the world

Janisse Ray, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (2000) A memoir about growing up in rural Georgia and learning about and defending the remaining longleaf pine ecosystem

Jane Jacobs, The Nature of Economies (2001) Dialogues about the relationships between economics and ecology, including the phenomena of business cycles, animal husbandry, habitat destruction, the implications of standardization and monopoly, and competition in nature, that explore what it might mean means to interact, understand one another and dwell safely and without causing harm in the world

Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World (2001) Four human desires—sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control—are explored in four essays on the plants that satisfy those desires: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato

Sandra Steingraber, Having Faith (2003) Nonfiction exploration of the ecology of motherhood that reveals the extent to which industrial poisons now present in amniotic fluid and the toxic contamination of breast milk threaten each crucial stage of infant development

Robert Michael Pyle, The Tangled Bank: Writings from Orion (2003) A collection of short essays from the “Tangled Bank” column that appeared in fifty-two consecutive issues of Orion and Orion Afield magazines that exemplifies Charles Darwin’s insight at the end of the Origin of Species that the elements of a stream-side bank, and by extension all of the living world, are endlessly interesting and ever evolving

Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses (2003) Nonfiction essays on the biology of mosses and through scientific and indigenous ways of knowing that will engage aspiring bryologists and anyone interested in natural and cultural history

Margaret Atwood, Oryx & Crake (2003) A science fiction novel set in a near-future world on a planet devastated by bio-experimentation

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder (2005) Considers the decrease of nature in the lives of children in relation to trends such as the rise in obesity, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and depression

Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side on the All-American Meal (2005) Explores how the fast food industry has changed the landscape of America, increased the gap between rich and poor, devastated human health, and transformed the global system of food production and distribution

Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus (2005) Examines findings in science, history, and archaeology to refresh our understanding (and challenge much of our common knowledge) of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492

Julie Cruikshank, Do Glaciers Listen? Local Knowledge, Colonial Encounters, and Social Imagination (2005) Explores natural and cultural history of glaciers in the St Elias ranges of Alaska, the Yukon Territory and British Columbia through indigenous oral traditions, early traveler’s journals and the work of geophysical scientists

Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe (2006) An account of the scientific evidence of climate change and the challenges of citizens and governments in addressing the ongoing changes (and lossses) in the biosphere resulting from human activity

Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006) Nonfiction essays that trace four meals back to their origins: a McDonald’s lunch, a Whole Foods lunch, a meal with ingredients from a Virginia farm, and a meal the author foraged and hunted

Tom Wessels, The Myth of Progress (2006) An ecologist makes the case that economic expansion and inefficient use of natural resources cut against the grain of the fundamental laws that govern all natural systems

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World (2007) Nonfiction account of the good and the bad of microbes that are, in the most literal sense, us, and the effects of our approach to the microbiome in drug resistance and infection

Edward O. Wilson, In Search of Nature (2007) Collected essays about the search for knowledge of the natural world and the imperative of scientific knowledge to preserve biodiversity and guide human life

Michael Pollan, Second Nature (2007) Essays organized around the author’s experiences in his Connecticut garden, including a battle with a woodchuck, a missive on the American obsession with lawns, and the sexual politics of roses, that together make a case for rethinking our relationship with nature

Sylvia Earle, The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One (2010) What can we do to take care of the blue world that takes care of us? A scientist explores why the ocean matters and how the invisible life of the marine environment is inseparable from the fate of humankind in an age of environmental crisis

Oliver Sacks, The Mind’s Eye (2010) Case studies that explore how people represent the world in three dimensions and the ways the human brain creates ways of perceiving when people lose the ability to speak, the capacity to recognize faces, the sense of three-dimensional space, the ability to read, or a sense of sight

Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (2010) In a sequel to his 1989 book The End of Nature the author argues that the earth is melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning so that we are living on a new planet, still recognizable but fundamentally different, that we may as well call Eaarth

Colin Beavan, No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process (2010) An account of the author and his family living in an apartment in Greenwich village and attempting to live without producing any environmental impact

Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (2011) A “biography” of cancer that traces the history of human understandings of the disease

Kathleen Moore Dean, Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril (2011) An anthology of eighty theologians, business leaders, elected officials, scientists, activists and nature writers exploring the ethical values, moral guidance, and principled reasons for doing the right thing for our planet, its animals, its plants, and its people

Sandra Steingraber, Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis (2011) A scientist and poet makes the case that children today face an environment more threatening to their health than any generation in history and that, consequently, the environmental crisis is a crisis of family life

Christopher McDougal, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen  (2011) Nonfiction account that draws on the cultural history of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners, to argue that we have all evolved to run

Rob Dunn, The wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today (2011) An ecological story about how humans evolved with parasites and pathogens and the paradoxical efforts since at least Pasteur to cleanse the body of the microorganisms inhabiting the human body

Gary Paul Nabhan, Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine (2011) This book of nonfiction begins with the example of Soviet botanist Nikolay Vavilov collecting hundreds of thousands of seeds to guard against widespread hunger and describes the author’s own expeditions to a diverse range of agricultural landscapes and the cultures that cultivate them to explore the threats to our food supply

Andrew Solomon, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (2012) Drawing on forty thousand pages of interview transcripts with more than three hundred families, this book explores the nature of difference though the lives of parents whose children are different from themselves

E.O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth (2013) Biologist and entomologist argues for an understanding the biological origin of social and psychological interactions

Daniel Chamovitz, What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses (2013) The science of what the author calls the inner life of plants and an exploration of the genetic relations between animals and plants

Mary Roach, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (2013) A nonfiction book by a science writer interested in the curiosities and mysteries of the human body, in this case the path of food the esophagus to the stomach and into the bowels, large and small intestine and the anus

David Epstein, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance (2013) Explores the science of athleticism and the relationship between genetics, athletic performance, and conventional wisdom about success in sport

Rebecca Solnit, The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness (2014) Twenty-nine nonfiction essays that explore how phenomena “often treated separately–ecology, democracy, culture, storytelling, urban design, individual life stories and collective endeavors–coexist” by an author preoccupied with democracy and justice and popular power and particular places, including New Orleans and Antarctica, California and Iceland, Japan and Mexico

Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014) In thirteen chapters each focused on a different species a journalist chronicles what George Cuvier first called in 1796 “espèces perdues” (lost species) to share the excitement and horrors of mass extinction

(Last updated January 10, 2015)