Below is a list of books that I have read and recommend (if I haven’t personally read them I indicate this). Many of these are available as audiobooks if you don’t have tons of time to read. I’ll add to the list as I read more and add comments about them. You may be able to find these at your local library, so always check there first before you buy. Libraries rock!
Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too
by Beth Terry
This book is from plastic-free authority and blogger Beth Terry’s myplasticfreelife.com. It’s a super-comprehensive how-to guide on getting plastic out of your life. Start with this book. Her website and book are the best places to start if you want to stop using and wasting so much plastic. She has solutions for many things but also teaches you how to think about dealing with plastic on a regular basis so that you can figure a solution even when there may not be an obvious replacement for a plastic item.
Life Without Plastic: The Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep Your Family and the Planet Healthy
by Chantal Plamondon and Jay Sinha
The authors of this book run lifewithoutplastic.com, an online store that focuses on plastic-free living. But the book offers many alternatives to plastic-free and non-toxic living beyond what they sell. In fact, this is a book that you should keep on the shelf for handy reference. The best parts of the book detailed the toxicity of certain plastics and chemicals that are part of our everyday lives. Those toxins affect our health, our children, and the environment. Finally, this book features an exhaustive and comprehensive list of sources to find plastic alternatives for so many items well as educational resources.
Say Goodbye to Plastic: A Survival Guide for Plastic-Free Living
by Sandra Ann Harris; foreword by Dianna Cohen
The author is the founder of EcoLunchbox but also a “Mother, Seeker, Environmentalist” as she describes herself in the book. She tells the story of how she came to establish her company because of a lack of options for children’s lunchboxes, and how the business developed from there. Harris offers a room-by-room guide on how to replace plastic items in your home once they need replacing. “I’m not going to ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself…As a busy mom with full-time employment, it has been critical that saying goodbye to plastic adds joy, ease, beauty, and value to my life – not guilt or stress.” She also notes that this is a process, not something you can transition to overnight. It’s a very practical guide, and I highly recommend this book. I also previously reviewed EcoLunchbox products if you’d like to read that.
Living Without Plastic: More Than 100 Easy Swaps for Home, Travel, Dining, Holidays, and Beyond
by Brigette Allen and Christine Wong
As the title suggests, this book offers more than 100 simple swaps for many disposable plastic items we use, organized into sections of our everyday lives: home, food & drink, health & beauty, travel, and special occasions. While this could be a great book for a beginner of the plastic-free lifestyle and includes a “30-Day Plastic Detox Program,” I learned a great deal and I’ve been striving for plastic-free for years. The photography used in the book is beautiful and this book could serve a double purpose as a coffee table book – and a great conversation starter! Finally, this book features an exhaustive and comprehensive list of sources to find plastic alternatives for so many items.
Plastic: A Toxic Love Story
by Susan Frienkel
This is the authority on the history of plastic. It is thoroughly researched and well cited. The history of plastic extends back into the late 19th century and its production exponentially increased after World War II. But plastic is made from petroleum and chemicals and is harmful to human and animal life, ecosystems, and the ocean. She calls out the corporations and politics that promote the use of plastics. But she calls on us to reduce our overdependence on plastic items and offers possible solutions. This should be a required read for all, so we become aware of the toxicity that consumes our daily lives and constantly threatens our health.
Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution
by Michiel Roscam Abbing
This book features excellent photographs and highlights all the major challenges, practices, and creative initiatives related to plastic and plastic pollution. It’s a great overview of those topics and visually provides a call to action.
Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain’s Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans
By Captain Charles Moore
This is the epic story of Captain Charles Moore’s 1997 sailing trip from Hawaii to California when he discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Moore had always loved the ocean and sailing but became an environmentalist after the discovery. He has worked with other environmentalists, scientists, and organizations to come up with solutions and to raise awareness about the worldwide plastic pollution catastrophe. This is an excellent book full of extensive research and scientific findings, and a must-read!
Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man’s Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science
by Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Eric Scigliano
Oceanographer Dr. Ebbesmeyer spent his life studying various aspects of the ocean for different companies. But his focus became drift patterns through the oceanic gyres across the planet. He is most known for studying the floating patterns of the container spills of plastic bath toys and Nike sneakers, but his contributions to ocean science are paramount. This book is well-cited, organized, and very well written – it almost read like a novel at some points and I had trouble putting it down. This is now one of my favorite books about the ocean.
Plastic Game Changer: How to Reduce Plastic in your Organization to Make a Difference to Plastic Pollution
by Amanda Keetley
This book was published in the UK, but it is still a good book to start with if you’re working for an organization that currently needs to know how and where to start. It’s also a quick read and offers several exceptional examples of companies that are leading the way in the battle against plastics.
The Future of Packaging: From Linear to Circular
by Tom Szaky
Tom Szaky is the founder of Terracycle, a company that makes products from waste that is generally unrecyclable. Overall, I liked this book and loved that fifteen industry leaders contributed essays to it. The selection of authors was excellent! I learned a ton about packaging, the packaging industry, and different models of packaging sustainability from this book. Corporations and companies need to do a lot more to prevent plastic waste. But consumers also have the power to convince those companies to change. Szaky wrote, “As consumers, we don’t give ourselves enough credit for how powerful we really are…View your purchases as having a direct impact on the goods and services companies choose to make.”
Paper or Plastic: Searching for Solutions to an Overpackaged World
by Daniel Imhoff
This was published in 2005 so it is slightly dated now. However, it does offer interesting history and case studies still relevant to the packaging industry. Additionally, Imhoff’s research is very well cited and led me to many other sources in my own research!
Garbage & Recycling
Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash
by Edward Humes
This is the best book I’ve found so far about the waste management system in the United States. It was so good that I donated my copy of it to a library so that others could read it. If you are interested in the waste crisis and how waste management works, this is a must-read!
The Waste Crisis: Landfills, Incinerators, and the Search for a Sustainable Future
by Hans Tammemagi
This book is slightly dated now as it was published in 1999 (please publish an updated version for us!). However, in textbook fashion, the author explains the entire system of our daily waste citing specific landfills, movements, and waste management problems. This book is must-read for those interested in waste management.
Reduce, Reuse, Reimagine: Sorting Out the Recycling System
by Beth Porter
This is the best book I’ve read on the recycling system in the United States. We are only recycling about 34% of waste and less than 10% of our plastic waste. It addresses in detail the logistical and economic issues within our recycling system. The author addresses the sociological and psychological aspects of waste removal and recycling. This book is well researched and cited, engaging, and offers many solutions for the future. If you want to know more about why recycling isn’t working, start with this book.
Can I Recycle This?: A Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single-Use Plastics
by Jennie Romer
This excellent book should be the go-to guide for recycling all types of items. Romer, an attorney and sustainability expert, offers scientific information about how plastics are both made and recycled. She provided contextual information and legal regulations about how recycling, waste management, and incineration work. The book is illustrated with colorful diagrams and visuals to enhance your understanding. Even someone who knows a lot about these topics will likely learn from it. If you want a concise, articulate book to better understand recycling and waste management, this is the book. Read my full review here.
Bottlemania: Big Business, Local Springs, and the Battle over America’s Drinking Water
by Elizabeth Royte
Published in 2009, this book examined the exponential growth of the bottled water industry and sales up to the late 2000s. The author surveyed Poland Springs in Maine where there is an actual natural spring. That company was bought out by Nestlé which owns several bottled water companies. Royte reviewed which waters are bottled from natural springs and which are purified tap water. She explained EPA water standards, how water is recycled in municipal systems, chemicals in tap and bottled water, the plastic used in water bottles, and the marketing behind bottled water. The big question still is, who owns our water? Is water a basic human right as the United Nations declared, or should we have to pay for it? This is truly a thought-provoking read about water and the information is still relevant today. Without water, we could not survive.
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
by Colin Beavan
This was a super impressive venture that the author and his wife endeavored. They went zero impact over the course of one year while living, working, and having a child in New York City. The goal was to as live environmentally friendly as possible, “but it was also about how one person…can become free from all the societal shoulds and find a path to meaning and purpose,” Beavan wrote. He also shares the research and environmental discoveries he made along the way. This is a truly inspiring story and one that all interested in environmental impact should read. A documentary about their journey is also available.
Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste
by Bea Johnson
The author of this book, Bea Johnson, began with a blog about how to go zero waste after her family did, and she is credited with inspiring the global zero waste movement. This book is also about minimalism, as she admonishes simplified living and fewer possessions to create zero waste which in turns saves money, time, and energy. “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (and only in that order) is my family’s secret to reducing our annual trash to a jar since 2008,” as quoted on her website.
The book includes how to refuse and reduce, how to remove the excess, and offers many DIY recipes for cooking, cleaning, makeup, etc. This is a book I actually keep on my shelf as it serves as my go-to reference book for those methods and recipes.
101 Ways to Go Zero Waste
by Kathryn Kellogg
This book was written by a genuine zero waster, who founded goingzerowaste.com. Kellogg provided 101 ideas on how to go zero waste and offered several tips within each idea. This book was full of great ideas, with some topics even I had not seen or thought about before. She provides many recipes for DIY cleaners, make-up, and bath products. I appreciated her honesty when she’d admit that sometimes there are no decent DIY replacements for certain things. In those situations, she offered tried and true advice on companies that produce low waste products. Kellogg’s biggest message was that reducing the amount of waste we produce is more important than striving for true zero waste – because that’s almost impossible in our current society.
Make Garbage Great: The Terracycle Family Guide to a Zero-Waste Lifestyle
by Tom Szaky and Albe Zakes
I genuinely enjoyed this book about TerraCycle’s story and how recycling works within the greater waste management system. One example: between 1960 and 2011, Americans exponentially increased their plastic waste from 400,000 tons to 32 million tons. Additionally, only 8% of that plastic is recycled. Those numbers are astounding! Everyone should read this book! The book also offers a ton of ideas on how to reuse, recycle, and upcycle materials. It also features DIY projects, like a plastic bottle bird feeder, using materials normally disposed of in the average household.
A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future
by Sir David Attenborough
This English broadcaster, writer, and naturalist has seen the world go through many changes over the course of his lifetime. Some of the most striking are the immense increases in the throwaway economy and the wastefulness of our lifestyles. Attenborough observed many climate and landscape changes and the loss of biodiversity over time. “I have been witness to this decline. A Life on Our Planet is my witness statement, and my vision for the future. It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake — and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right…We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited.” Though his accounts sometimes made me feel despair, he offered ideas for solutions and hope throughout. We can still save our own beautiful habitat and ourselves.
The Loneliest Polar Bear: A True Story of Survival and Peril on the Edge of a Warming World
by Kale Williams
This book examines the stories of polar bears living in zoos, specifically one named Nora that almost did not survive after being born at the Columbus Zoo. The author juxtaposes the tragic consequences of climate change and its effect on wild polar bears to that of captive polar bears. It “explores the fraught relationship humans have with the natural world, the exploitative and sinister causes of the environmental mess we find ourselves in, and how the fate of polar bears is not theirs alone.” I really enjoyed this book and recommend it.
No One is Too Small to Make a Difference
By Greta Thunberg
“In August 2018 a fifteen-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, decided not to go to school one day in order to protest the climate crisis. Her actions sparked a global movement, inspiring millions of students to go on strike for our planet, forcing governments to listen, and earning her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.” This is a collection of her speeches from addresses to the United Nations and Capitol Hill and climate strikes. It is inspiring to read (as well as listen) to her calls for change and her beratement of politicians who stand by and do nothing.
Our House Is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis
This book documents the struggles of one family’s battles with mental health disorders, while also becoming activists for the climate crisis. It was refreshing to read such an open, honest account of raising a family with these issues, and the struggle with the sometimes fine line of protecting your children and letting your children flourish in their own way. Greta ignited a worldwide rebellion through her school strikes for the climate. She is now a worldwide speaker and climate expert, and the book explains a lot about climate change and different perspectives regarding it. I got a lot out of this book!
Toxic and Poisonous Stuff
by Rachel Carson
This classic work is credited with launching the environmental movement. Carson wrote about the effects of various chemicals and pesticides on human, animal, and environmental health. She wrote, “How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind?” The most notorious chemical was the highly poisonous DDT, a chemical used for pesticides. Its toxicity was well documented but the information was scattered throughout the scientific literature. “It was Rachel Carson’s achievement to synthesize this knowledge into a single image that everyone, scientists and the general public alike, could easily understand,” Edward O. Wilson wrote in the afterword of this book. Carson “stirred an awakening of public environmental consciousness,” wrote her biographer, Linda Lear. She also did this during a time when the scientific world was male-dominated. Noting how her work changed how people viewed their relationship with nature, author Beth Porter wrote: “The interconnectedness that flows throughout Carson’s work is a sobering reminder of why we must approach problems through a systems-thinking lens. We can’t expect long-lasting, thoughtful solutions when we consider only one piece of a much larger, multifaceted system.” Originally published in 1962, the same types of problems and issues exist today. This is a must-read.
Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry
by Stacy Malkan
This book was life-changing for me – I really mean life-changing. I had no idea about the toxic ingredients in so many products that I used during my adolescence and through all of my adult life until I read this book in 2017. I immediately removed a ton of products containing toxic ingredients from our home after reading this research. The author is a co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and their work to advocate for safer ingredients. This book was also my introduction to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human health. Their goal is to is inform and educate people about toxic ingredients in make-up, shampoos, perfumes, household cleaners, food, tap water, pesticides, etc.
A Trust Betrayed: The Untold Story of Camp Lejeune and the Poisoning of Generations of Marines and Their Families
by Mike Magner
The North Carolina United States Marine Corps base’s water was toxic for decades and caused countless miscarriages, birth defects, birth deformities, long-term cancers, and cancer-related illnesses. All families who lived and worked at the base and drank, swam, or showered in the water were exposed to very high levels of industrial solvents trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE), benzenes, and other chemicals. Areas affected enlisted-family housing, barracks for unmarried service personnel, base administrative offices, schools, recreational areas, the base hospital, and even the child care center. From the publisher: “For two decades now, revelations have steadily emerged about pervasive contamination, associated clusters of illness and death among the Marine families stationed there, and military stonewalling and failure to act. Mike Magner’s chilling investigation creates a suspenseful narrative from the individual stories, scientific evidence, and smoldering sense of betrayal among those whose motto is undying fidelity. He also raises far-reaching and ominous questions about widespread contamination on US military bases worldwide.” This is a fascinating read.
Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life
by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
If you are new to minimalism or are interested in The Minimalists, start with this book. They also have a film. You can read about both in this post.
Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists
by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
This book is awesome and the best I’ve read by the Minimalists! It explains the minimalist mindset extremely well. It’s not just about getting rid of your stuff! The stuff gets in your way and prevents you from living your best life. Minimalism allows you the time, energy, and money to do what you really want to do in life. Read my full review!
Essential: Essays by The Minimalists
by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
This is a curated collection of essays from The Minimalists’ blog. The essays are organized into categories that explain each subject through the lens of minimalism. I really enjoyed reading it.
The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life
by Joshua Becker
Becker provides a how-to go minimalist guide in this book but also offers the why. He explains minimalism as a mindset, like the Minimalists, and not just an effort to declutter. This guide can help you get started, room by room while teaching you the reasons for letting go of items you don’t need or use.
The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own
by Joshua Becker
This book is about minimalism and finding happiness in a simpler lifestyle with less stuff, and more money for generosity from buying and spending less. The author tells his story and those of others who stumbled upon the concept of minimalism. He also provides ways to start getting rid of things.
Clutterfree with Kids: Change your thinking. Discover new habits. Free your home.
by Joshua Becker
I love this book, and I’ve read it twice now. Becker breaks down minimalism and provides an understanding of minimalism, but is not a how-to guide. Becker provides the thought process to guide you through going minimalist with children so that we can actually connect better with our children. “Don’t just declutter, de-own. It is better to own less than to organize more.” Less organizing, less cleaning, and less shopping equal more time with the people we love most. This book is a short read that will leave you ready to start clearing out the clutter!
Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More
by Courtney Carver
Carver writes about living better with less through minimalism and no debt. She focuses on listening to your heart and soul for a more meaningful life. This book really spoke to me, I highly recommend it. Be sure to check out her blog at bemorewithless.com/. She also started the minimalist fashion project called Project 333.
Project 333: The Minimalist Fashion Challenge That Proves Less Really is So Much More
by Courtney Carver
The author began this project several years ago after she went minimalist. I have been participating in Project 333 for a while and was thrilled when I found out Carver was publishing a book about it!
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World
by Cal Newport
While this book may not focus on the physical items bogging down our lives, it does fall in line with the chaos in our minds. How much of that chaos comes from digital sources, such as email, social media, and 24-hour news? On top of that, the information is concentrated on our smartphones, which makes for a constant stream of distraction, anxiety, and dissatisfaction. Newport calls this “mindless digital activity” and encourages you to stop being overwhelmed by constant notifications and updates. He provides strategies to disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with the inner self and the physical world. This book was imminent in my views of social media. I removed myself from Facebook and other social media sites. I decided to focus less on what others were doing and to stop comparing myself to others, which is one negative that social media encourages. I was also finding myself engaging in petty arguments with people I didn’t really know or care about – what a waste of time and energy, as author Sarah Knight (see below) would also say. This is a must-read if you’re feeling overwhelmed and have a desire to reclaim mental peace.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
by Marie Kondo
While this does not technically fall under minimalism, I feel like many of Marie Kondo’s approaches are useful in downsizing and beginning the path to minimalism. I say that because that’s how it’s worked for me!
Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up
by Marie Kondo
This is essentially a sequel to the previous book.
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter
by Margareta Magnusson
If you’re already a minimalist, you won’t need this book! The premise of this book is that as you age, you accumulate clutter, and you should clean it out before you pass on so that it does not become a burden on your loved ones. On the over-consumption of stuff, she wrote: “[It] will eventually destroy our planet – but it doesn’t have to destroy the relationship you have with whomever you leave behind.”
The book offered beautiful little nuggets related to minimalism. For example, she indicated that an added benefit of death cleaning is “thinking more about how to reuse, recycle and make your life simpler and a bit (or a lot) smaller. Living smaller is a relief.” It’s a cute and easy read.
Tiny House Living
The Tiny House Movement: Challenging Our Consumer Culture
by Tracey Harris
This book is an excellent overview of the tiny house movement, both from a physical standpoint and the mindset of challenging consumer culture. Many people want to work less in order to pursue their true interests; others seek to remain debt-free; some want to reduce their environmental impact; and often, it is a combination of these. “The transition relates not only to downsizing material goods but also requires a new understanding of what is meaningful and valuable in our lives,” wrote Harris. Consume less, spend less, hurt the environment less. Spend less on material possessions for large houses and spend that money on achieving experiences that are much more meaningful. “The tiny house movement can help us all gain a better understanding of how we can challenge societal inequalities and environmental degradation by advocating for more choice, not less, in the ways we are able to house ourselves.” I highly recommend this book if you are interested in the tiny house lifestyle, or even if you’re just curious about it! Read my post related to this book for more information.
Endangered Animals & Wildlife Issues
100 Heartbeats: The Race to Save Earth’s Most Endangered Species
by Jeff Corwin
A truly inspiring must-read about the sad state of Earth’s many beautiful species that are threatened and endangered. This is the best book I’ve read on the topic. Read my full review!
Living on the Edge: Amazing Relationships in the Natural World
by Jeff Corwin
An interesting read about animal species and Corwin’s experiences in different regions of the world. He’s a true advocate of all species and protector of the habitats. He has had several television shows over the years.
Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish
by John Hargrove
This book was difficult to put down. It was written by a respected former senior orca trainer who never intended to become a whistleblower but did by circumstance. After being on medical leave for injuries received over the years from working at SeaWorld, he decided that he could not return because he could no longer support or be a part of SeaWorld’s actions and mistreatment of the orcas. He grieves being with the whales but has become an orca advocate, first through the documentary Blackfish, and from there through many talks, interviews, and this book. This book made me mad, it made me cry, and it made me love these whales. Sadly, I will never be able to go to SeaWorld now that I’ve seen and read multiple accounts of animal and employee mistreatments, poor breeding actions, and greed on SeaWorld’s part.
National Geographic The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals
by Joel Sartore
This book is about the Photo Ark project, created by photographer Joel Sartore. His goal is to document all of the Earth’s species, especially those that we are endangered or close to extinction. The photographs are astonishing! Read my post about Sartore and check out his other books.
Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species
by Joel Sartore
Released in 2010, this was a photography book early into the Photo Ark project. This book features 80 images of animals, including two different turtle species from the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “Do we choose to save things that may contribute nothing to our bottom line? If money is all that matters, then we’re headed for a very poor world indeed. Can you imagine a planet without wolves? Without frogs? Without pollinating insects?”
National Geographic The Photo Ark Vanishing: The World’s Most Vulnerable Animals
by Joel Sartore
This is the newest book from the Photo Ark project. Just released in September 2019, the project is in its 15th year of photo-documenting the Earth’s creatures. Sartore wrote about the experience of photographing Nabire, one of the last Northern White Rhinos, who was sweet and patient during the photoshoot but died just a week after. The next time he saw her, she was taxidermied and in a museum exhibit. He felt heartbroken. Sartore posed rhetorical questions such as, “How hard must we be on our planet to cause even insects to vanish?” The photography is beautiful. “All animals, regardless of size or shape, are glorious. Each is a living work of art,” he wrote.
Birds of the Photo Ark
by Joel Sartore and Noah Strycker
The birds of the Photo Ark in this book gave me an even larger appreciation for these creatures. They are unique, beautiful, adaptable, and incredibly intelligent. There were dozens of birds I’d never heard of or read about, so I thoroughly enjoyed this photography book.
National Geographic Photo Ark Wonders: Celebrating Diversity in the Animal Kingdom
by Joel Sartore
National Geographic photographer has Joel Sartore has done it again, by publishing another beautiful book showing us portraits of animals that feature their shapes, patterns, and expressions. The Photo Ark continues to grow and document our world’s species before we lose more to extinction.
Of Orcas and Men: What Killer Whales Can Teach Us
by David Neiwert
This is the best book on orcas that I’ve read and I found it hard to put down at times. It covers both captive and wild orcas, their anatomy and physiology, habitats, lifestyles, culture, and challenges. “Benign and gentle, with their own languages and cultures, orcas’ amazing capacity for long-term memory and, arguably, compassion, makes the ugly story of the captive-orca industry especially damning. In Of Orcas and Men, a marvelously compelling mix of cultural history, environmental reporting, and scientific research, David Neiwert explores how this extraordinary species has come to capture our imaginations―and the catastrophic environmental consequences of that appeal.” If you are going to read just one book about orcas, read this one!
The Lost Whale: The True Story of an Orca Named Luna
by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm
This is the sad but heartwarming story of Luna the Orca, who lived in the waters of the Northwestern coast of the United States-Canadian border near Vancouver. Separated from his family at a young age for unknown reasons and living alone, Luna became famous because he tried to establish friendships with humans. But those relationships became controversial as government scientists struggled with figuring out if this was healthy for the whale. This account was written by two people who experienced it first hand while residing in the area. “Here was a creature who seemed to have a complete awareness of life, who used nothing that resembled our language, but who nevertheless could build social relationships that worked…Luna has never asked us for anything but friendship…But we think we know better. Once, trying to keep people away from him was a great idea, an experiment in tough love, to see if the starvation of solitude would push him toward home. But it didn’t work.” This book shows how humans and other mammals really aren’t that different in many ways. We all have emotions and the deep-rooted need for relationships.
The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures
by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence
Lawrence Anthony was the head of conservation at the Thula Thula animal reserve in Zululand, South Africa for more than a decade. From the publisher: “When he learned that there were only a handful of northern white rhinos left in the wild, living in an area of the Congo controlled by the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army, he was determined to save them from extinction…What followed was an extraordinary adventure, as Anthony headed into the jungle to ask the rebels to help protect the rhino. Sometimes funny, sometimes moving, and always exciting, The Last Rhinos tells the story of his fight to save these remarkable creatures.” The northern white rhino is now extinct in the wild. Only two females are living, under constant protection from poachers, in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy. This book was well-written, but Anthony’s story made me sad and brought me to tears many times. Besides the wild extinction of the northern white rhinos and the decline of elephants and other species, he also witnessed violence and death toward both humans and animals.
Coastal Areas & Habitat Destruction
Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias
by Serge Dedina
The author is the co-founder and Executive Director of WildCoast, an international non-profit that works to conserve coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife. Dedina is a life-long surfer and an eco-warrior; as well as a resident and authority on the Southern and Baja California coastlines. This book is a collection of articles outlining the work, activism, and research that he and others have initiated and participated in to make a difference in preserving the habitats, animals, and natural resources of the California coastline. The book is a call to action and it’s very inspiring! Read my full review here.
Shadows on the Gulf: A Journey through Our Last Great Wetland
by Rowan Jacobsen
This book centers around the 2010 BP oil spill, otherwise known as Deepwater Horizon. Jacobsen explained what happened and what led up to the explosion. But he offers an exploration of the great wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico. The author captures the true beauty of these wetlands but provides an overview of the human effects and devastation from the last half-century. The combination of oil exploration, drilling, lack of laws regulating oil companies’ practices, overfishing, climate change, the rise of sea level, and increasingly stronger storms have created a situation that is unlikely salvageable. There is hope, however, amongst people local to those areas. Jacobsen interviewed many locals and learned about issues not typically presented through common media outlets. Problems surrounding landscapes, tourism, irregular storm surges, oystering, and local culture are just a few of the issues covered. This book was difficult to put down and led me to research these topics more thoroughly while giving me a genuine appreciation for the geography of the wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Living Shore: Rediscovering a Lost World
by Rowan Jacobsen
Before reading this enthralling piece, I had no idea that oysters were so fascinating. I had trouble putting this book down. The author went on expeditions with scientists studying oysters, discussed different oyster species and geography, and explained the importance of oysters in human history. Life began in the ocean, and human history developed from living in coastal areas. The evolution and rapid growth of the human brain may have been tied to the high amounts of DHA (a type of omega-3 fat) in edible sea life. Today, though oyster beds are diminished from overconsumption, habitat restoration efforts could help restore our oceans and reverse some of the damage humans have caused.
Food, Vegetarianism & Veganism
by Jonathan Safran Foer
My friend and colleague recommended this book, saying that it was what made her become a vegan. While I knew some about the farmed animal and slaughterhouse businesses, I did not know the depth of the inhumane, unsanitary, and disgusting practices that are now normalized so that the western world can eat meat daily. This book is an investigative memoir and is well researched and well written. I recommend this to anyone who is curious about the truth of farmed animal practices.
Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating
by Jane Goodall with Gary McAvoy and Gail Hudson
Though this book was published in 2005, the information is just as relevant now as it was were then. Global agriculture and food production are not equitably supplying food to all populations, as much food is shipped to other countries to feed livestock or bought by large supermarket chains for those living in developed nations. Food production practices are harming human health, the environment, and wildlife habitats. She cites scientific studies that warned of a global pandemic, much like COVID-19, fifteen years before it happened. Goodall offers ways we can help make things better in every chapter. “Remember, every food purchase is a vote,” she wrote. She reminds us that any action we take, no matter how small, can make a difference. I highly recommend this book as it is true to its title: it offers hope.
Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World
by Michael Pollan
Renowned author and journalist on the social and cultural impacts of food, Pollan has written and narrated an Audible Original about caffeine. He explores the history of caffeine and the pursuit of it throughout the world. He examines the science behind caffeine addition and how this has altered the human brain. Pollan even experiments with breaking his own addiction to caffeine when he wrote this book. Humans now consume more than 2 billion cups per day worldwide and the pursuit of caffeine shows no sign of slowing, despite the environmental damage and human poverty coffee production creates. This is a fascinating audiobook!
Gardening & Composting
Square Foot Gardening: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More in Less Space
by Mel Bartholomew
This book is another I own and keep on my shelf, as it is my go-to reference book for gardening. I do not consider myself a natural at gardening, but the methods the author, Mel Bartholomew, puts forth do work and I grow a small garden every year. He offers a way to garden in small areas and use those spaces maximally, hence the title Square Foot Gardening. He’s been gardening and teaching others to garden this way since the 1970s.
Leaders & Companies
Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman
by Yvon Chouinard
This book, by Patagonia’s founder, had a profound impact on me. Chouinard did not set out to own a company, he was a climber and outdoors person who wanted to create better and more responsible gear for himself and his friends. This grew into a small business that eventually grew into what Patagonia is today: A large outdoor retailer that bases all its decisions on ethics, sustainability, and environmental responsibility. This company was a leader in personnel and human resource policy, health insurance, maternity and paternity leave, vacation, etc. Patagonia also established some of the earliest onsite childcare facilities to help working parents. I was truly impressed with Patagonia’s treatment of employees and their ethics surrounding the creation and manufacturing of their products. I did not know that a company with such high standards existed and it gave me hope that consumer culture will not destroy us. I hope it inspires other companies to follow suit. Further, Chouinard wrote about big picture environmental problems such as agriculture, fair trade, global warming, water conservation, organic farming, our disposable economy, and other problems contributing to environmental problems across the world.
Greenpeace Captain: My Adventures in Protecting the Future of Our Planet
by Peter Willcox
Have you ever wanted to know what it’s like to work for Greenpeace? If so, this book will fascinate you. From the publisher: “Peter Willcox has been a Captain for Greenpeace for over 30 years. He would never call himself a hero, but he is recognized on every ocean and continent for devoting his entire life to saving the planet. He has led the most compelling and dangerous Greenpeace actions to bring international attention to the destruction of our environment. From the globally televised imprisonment of his crew, the “Arctic 30,” by Russian Commandos to international conspiracies involving diamond smuggling, gun-trading and Al-Qaeda, Willcox has braved the unimaginable and triumphed. This is his story–which begins when he was a young man sailing with Pete Seeger and continues right up to his becoming the iconic environmentalist he is today. His daring adventures and courageous determination will inspire readers everywhere.”
The Textile & Clothing Industry
Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion
by Elizabeth L. Cline
In this book, Cline investigated and revealed fast fashion’s hidden toll on the environment and on garment workers worldwide. Many workers do not earn a living wage, some work in deplorable conditions, and others are exposed to dangerous chemicals and toxins. She explored our relationship with our clothes and the fashion industry, as well as where the clothes we donate or dispose of end up. She explained that we need to change our disposable attitude toward clothing by buying less, buying better quality, and repairing what we already own. This was an eye-opening piece!
The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good
by Elizabeth L. Cline
In Cline’s second book, she explores the current state of the textile and clothing industry, which is unsustainable. This book explains how we can change the way we shop so that we can stop supporting bad employment practices in other countries, create living wages for those workers, limit the environmental toll that the textile industry takes, and create less waste. We can all dress the way we want without causing so much harm, and this book provides the tools and guidelines. She also provides plenty of information on taking better care of our clothes by doing laundry better and by repairing clothing, and even offers detailed mending techniques in one of the chapters. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested but especially to anyone who is interested in being fashionable and sustainable!
Being Yourself & Living Your Best Life
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
by James Clear
I was first introduced to James Clear by listening to a podcast by The Minimalists, where they interviewed Clear. I loved this book! His concept of building small habits to create your best life is fascinating and most of the ideas are easy to incorporate into your busy life. “Build habits that reinforce your desired identity,” Clear wrote. If you want to be a writer, identify yourself as a writer. Then make time, even just a few minutes per day, to write. You will be able to build the habit from just those few daily minutes. If you’re struggling with finding time in your life for the things you really want to do, this is a must-read. I plan to listen to the audiobook again this year.
The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do
by Sarah Knight
This book is a great book if you are anti-conformity or are just tired of worrying about what people think of you. Don’t participate in mass-marketed materialism or use Styrofoam plastic take out containers just because everyone else does. Be plastic-free and weird!
You Do You: How to Be Who You Are and Use What You’ve Got to Get What You Want
by Sarah Knight
This book teaches you how to just be yourself, and not worry about what the neighbors think. We never put our garbage out anymore, because we don’t have much. But I think our neighbors suspect we are lazy or irresponsible, but we are doing we and achieving what we want. You Do You.
The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage
by Mel Robbins
I can’t say enough about how much I love Mel Robbins. If you need someone to teach you how to love yourself and be confident, especially if you’re a woman, then you need Mel Robbins. She’ll teach you all about building self-confidence, courage, and the power of you! She’s got several books and audiobooks (which she narrates herself), but this is the one I started with. Be sure to look up her TED Talks as well.
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story
by Dan Harris
The author of this book made changes to his life to reduce stress and anxiety while slightly increasing his satisfaction and happiness in life. But it took a panic attack on national television for him to realize he needed to seek help. He outlined his journey through the discovery of the practice of meditation. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Harris himself, and I recommend this book if you’re looking for a place to start.
Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood
by Karen Maezen Miller
I don’t usually have recommendations on parenting books because I feel that many of them can lead us astray. Those types of books have good intentions but I reached a point in early motherhood that I became anxious and stressed out with constantly worrying that I wasn’t being a good mommy. So I stopped reading parenting books, completely. However, my husband found this memoir and asked me to read it. I was skeptical at first but this was absolutely a worthwhile read. It offers straightforward practical advice on mothering that incorporates spirituality and meditation. As Amazon’s listing reads, “Miller explores how the daily challenges of parenthood can become the most profound spiritual journey of our lives.” Yeah, exactly. Thanks to the author for writing this book.
Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans
by Michaeleen Doucleff, PhD
Again, I don’t typically read or recommend parenting books, but this one is potentially life-changing! From the publisher: “When Dr. Michaeleen Doucleff becomes a mother, she examines the studies behind modern parenting guidance and finds the evidence frustratingly limited and often ineffective. Curious to learn about more effective parenting approaches, she visits a Maya village in the Yucatán Peninsula. There she encounters moms and dads who parent in a totally different way than we do—and raise extraordinarily kind, generous, and helpful children without yelling, nagging, or issuing timeouts. What else, Doucleff wonders, are Western parents missing out on? In Hunt, Gather, Parent, Doucleff sets out with her three-year-old daughter in tow to learn and practice parenting strategies from families in three of the world’s most venerable communities: Maya families in Mexico, Inuit families above the Arctic Circle, and Hadzabe families in Tanzania. She sees that these cultures don’t have the same problems with children that Western parents do. Most strikingly, parents build a relationship with young children that is vastly different from the one many Western parents develop—it’s built on cooperation instead of control, trust instead of fear, and personalized needs instead of standardized development milestones…[This book] helps us rethink the ways we relate to our children, and reveals a universal parenting paradigm adapted for American families.” I liked it so much, that I’ve read this book twice.