Earth Day Reading List, 2020 edition

Happy Earth Day, everyone! Earlier today Stephanie posted her Earth Day reading list, and it inspired me to do the same. I love reading books spanning diverse topics, so I do end up reading some books with environmental themes every year. If you’re interested in adding some environmentally-themed books to your TBR, these are my recommendations:

Through the Arc of the Rainforest by Karen Tei Yamashita (1991). This wonderfully weird magical realism novel explores how corporate greed results in the destruction of the environment, and how even well-intentioned people may be complicit. My only caveat about this book is that I read it quite a while ago (in 2010 or 2011, maybe); although it stuck with me at the time, I’m not sure if it still holds up today.

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf (2015). This book is a biography of the almost-forgotten Prussian scientist, Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt laid out the groundwork for the branch of science that we now know as ecology, and he identified the negative effects of industrialization on the environment in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s. Although the book is a bit dense, it gives a fair and nuanced account of a fascinating scientist whose ideas were a century ahead of his time.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (2016). A crossover from Stephanie’s list, this is Dr. Hope Jahren’s memoir about trying to “make it” as a female science professor in academia. In addition to being a compelling memoir, this book is full of beautifully accessible science writing. One of my favorite passages in this book is the chapter about how seeds have staggeringly low odds of germinating in the wild, but grow easily under artificial conditions in a laboratory. Jahren writes about this: in the right place, under the right conditions, you can finally stretch out into what you’re supposed to be.

Spineless by Juli Berwald (2017). Part science non-fiction and part memoir, Spineless follows Dr. Juli Berwald on her quest to answer the question: how will climate change impact jellyfish populations? The answer, it turns out, is so complex that Berwald wrote an entire book about it. But it is a really interesting and well-written book, and the science is explained in an accessible way.

Weather by Jenny Offill (2020). This literary fiction novel is more focused on coping with the anxiety of an uncertain world than on climate change or the environment – but it captures that uncertainty so well! It is also gorgeously written, and shows the narrator’s anxieties in a wonderfully intimate way. It’s also fresh in my mind, since it just advanced to the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist yesterday.


Some other Earth-Day-appropriate books on my TBR that I hope to get to soon are:

  • I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong (2016) – science non-fiction exploring the benefits that microbes bring to the environment
  • The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See (2019) – a historical fiction novel about a collective of female divers on Jeju Island, South Korea
  • The Story of More by Hope Jahren (2020) – a compassionate exploration of “how we got to climate change and where to go from here”

Author: Hannah Celeste

Hi! I'm Hannah, a book-blogger from the Northeastern United States. I enjoy reading many genres, cooking and baking, doing yoga, and spending time with my two cats.

16 thoughts on “Earth Day Reading List, 2020 edition”

  1. The Invention of Nature sounds great! I’ve also heard good things about ‘Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness’ by Peter Godfrey Smith (although I’ve not read it myself), so that might be another good ‘Earth Day’ one to check out. Enjoyed reading all these recommendations! – Carly

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  2. Lab Girls sounds interesting, and I Contain Multitudes is on my TBR! This looks like a great list. If I may ask, do you have a degree in science, or perhaps an environmental advocate? 🙂 I became curious because these books seem quite specific in subject matter.

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  3. I own a copy of Lab Girl but have not yet read it. I remember the author doing an interview on NPR during which she said that some scientists and readers with a lot of science knowledge were giving her crap for not using more specific terminology. Jaren explained that her goal was to make the book accessible, not a textbook, so breaking down some terms to a more basic and yet largely accurate phrase was what she chose to do. I plan to read Weather soon. I would also recommend Limber by Angela Pelster. It’s all about trees and is a wonderful crossover of creative nonfiction and science. https://grabthelapels.com/2016/03/21/limber/

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  4. “basic and yet largely accurate” is exactly how I’d describe the writing in Lab Girl! Jarren was also really open about her experiences trying to become a tenured professor. My experience in academia was that people glamorize burning yourself out and spending unhealthy amounts of time at work as “hard work” and “passion” and “commitment.” Jarren describes having to do this, but she doesn’t glamorize it, which I really appreciated.

    Also, Limber sounds wonderful! Adding to my TBR 🙂

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  5. I like the sound of Lab Girl! 😊 I also have The Island of Sea Women on my TBR – I hope to get to it in May. My husband has I Contain Multitudes (he reads a lot of nonfiction). I might steal it from him. 😁

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    1. I’ll be excited to see what you think of The Island of Sea Women – I hope you like it! And haha! I don’t think it counts as “stealing” if it’s from your husband who lives in the same place as you ^__^

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