This is an absolutely superb list of books that will fascinate you, give you topics for endless thought or discussion, and are also simply great reads. Those I haven’t already read are high up on my “to be read” list. Highly recommended.
BuzzFeed Books recently asked Goodreads about books on climate change and the environment — both fiction and nonfiction — that its users have loved. Here are 17 of the highest-rated and most popular titles.
1. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein’s provocative book unveils the myths surrounding the climate change debate and explores how the “free market” is holding us back from important changes.
Promising review: “Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything is absolutely essential for understanding, confronting, and meeting the challenges of the 21st century. […] I am very inspired by this book and I cannot wait for others to read it and react to it.” —Chris
2. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
Merchants of Doubt follows a group of high-level scientists and advisers who have purposefully misled the public, denying evidence of climate change in an effort to placate corporate and political interests.
Promising review: “Exceptional. Put this book at the very top of your reading list. The authors provide a clear, stunning, and engaging history of how a handful of scientists were able to keep doubt alive during every occasion in which scientific evidence threatened to cut into a corporation’s profit or a politician’s proposed policy.” —Charlene
Earl Swift provides a thorough, intimate look at the small, tight-knit community of Tangier Island, Virginia — and how that community is responding to its destruction by the effects of climate change.
Promising review: “A well-told story about the watermen of the Chesapeake Bay and the blue crabs and oysters that sustain them. Swift does a remarkable job of explaining the character of the families and their community on this remote island. He paints a vivid portrait of the perils they face from their work — and from climate change, although, despite acknowledging the incessant shrinking of their island, they do not accept the notion of sea level rise. Recommended for anyone with an interest in the Bay and the historic watermen who live there.” —Paul Goldberg
4. Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas
In Six Degrees, Mark Lynas sketches out what the real, tangible effects of our planet’s warming will be, degree by degree — from the loss of coral reefs and mountain glaciers to, ultimately at 6 degrees, the elimination of most life.
Promising review: “This is the most frightening book I’ve ever read. I mean that as a resounding endorsement. […] It should be required reading for anyone who thinks they have an opinion on climate change. It is happening and it is terrifying. […] Lynas reminds us repeatedly that it’s not too late to do something about it. Let’s listen to him.” —D.J. Cockburn
5. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkableby Amitav Ghosh
Prominent novelist Amitav Ghosh interrogates our seeming inability to fully grasp or reckon with the scope of climate change, looking specifically at the dearth of examinations of its repercussions in literary fiction.
Promising review: “If I had to suggest to anyone a single book about climate change, it would be The Great Derangement. I have never read someone so succinctly, eloquently, and urgently explain the roots — capitalism and imperialism — of the climate crisis, and how those roots grow up into the forest of our culture/popular imagination. […] Ghosh confirms my worst fears — i.e. that the politics of the spectacle have no power to end the systems that perpetuate climate crisis — with a clear, moral force. Then, once I was enwrapped in his brilliant and devastating blanket of prose, Ghosh also managed to insert a tiny, tiny bit of hope.” —Easton Smith
6. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan
Dan Egan examines the ongoing threats against the Great Lakes — which hold 20% of the world’s supply of fresh water — and the catastrophic effects of their destruction.
Promising review: “If you care about the environment and sustainability, you must read this book. Even if you live thousands of miles away from these North American freshwater marvels, this book makes the case why we should all care about the impacts of invasive species, eutrophication, and the larger issues of climate change and access to fresh water. An unparalleled work of reportage and science writing.” —Lauren
7. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
In its long, long history, our planet has experienced five periods of mass extinction, each of which dramatically decreased the diversity of life. Elizabeth Kolbert contemplates the idea of a sixth extinction — the result of climate change — and the ways in which human beings are responsible for changing life on earth in a way no other species has.
Promising review: “The writing style is fluent and coherent, and the combination of the topics to give a holistic view before the tragic conclusion was suspenseful (yes, although it is non-fiction) and very well done. […] This is more than a science book. It’s also a cautionary tale. It’s bringing context to what we’ve done to the world so far, and what we’ll probably continue doing to it, and what the outcome will likely be. It therefore also provides the answer for an alternative. A very important book that I wish more people would read.” —Trish
Tim Flannery pulls no punches in this call to arms, explaining not only the history and likely future of climate change, but also specific actions we can take to improve our dangerous reality.
Promising review: “A well written, scientifically-based description of climate change. Flannery writes beautifully, keeping the reader engaged as he explains some of the science, uncertainties and dangers of climate change. Definitely a nice way to digest the info if you’re a non-scientist. A nice reminder to scientists on how to communicate the science to others.” —Jenwah
9. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben argues we’ve already created a new, irreversibly changed planet in Eaarth — one that’s “recognizable but fundamentally different.” Now, he explains, our survival depends on our ability to change our own actions — the actions that led to the already present destruction.
Promising review: “[Eaarth is] an excellent, comprehensive look at the damage we are causing to our planet. The author goes into detail about how things are changing here on Earth due purely to the actions of mankind, and as a result, we are now living on a planet different from the one we evolved on; he calls this ‘new’ planet ‘Eaarth.’ In all the reading I have done about conservation, climate change, anthropogenic changes, and the like, this is the first thing I’ve read that has gathered all of that information and data and then some in one (well-written) place.” —g-na
Published as a tie-in with the groundbreaking documentary, An Inconvenient Truthpresents high-level climate change research in accessible charts, graphs, and illustrations, as well as incorporating personal anecdotes.
Promising review: “Good, solid data on climate change in a digestible narrative. Most of the data is not news, especially if you’ve been following environmental issues and research. It’s nice to have all that data organized, compiled and illustrated with solid visuals.” —Hazy A.
11. The Overstory by Richard Powers
Spanning centuries and continents, The Overstory follows a group of seeming strangers — a scientist, an artist, a Vietnam War vet, among others — who’ve each been deeply affected by a tree at some point in their life, and who are drawn eventually to the same place, a final stand for the last acres of virgin forest in the world.
Promising review: “Brilliant, slow, and meditative. It made me evaluate my ideas about sustainability, wood, and trees and how I can be a better person in the world.” —Spencer Orey
12. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Dellarobia Turnbow, having grown restless in her life as a farm wife who got pregnant young, finds new excitement in the possibility of an affair. But when she sneaks out to meet for a tryst she discovers a valley which hides a lake of fire. News of the phenomenon spreads throughout and beyond the community, sparking awe, bewilderment, curiosity, and fear in all those who witness it.
Promising review: “This book is about global warming without being all about global warming. Somehow Kingsolver, a biologist herself, has woven the frightening and undeniable crisis of global warming into a beautiful coming-of-age story about a woman whose teenage-hood was cut short by pregnancy and early marriage, but who is finally learning to find her real self.” —Janet
13. Clade by James Bradley
Clade travels into an apocalyptic future, tracking the destruction of the planet through the eyes of one family over the course of three generations — beginning with one couple, and a scientist overwhelmed by his frustration over the fact that no one seems to understand the changing climate as the threat that it is.
Promising review: “This is a very human telling of how people and families try to cope in the face of existential threat through love, art, science, and wonder. It is also ultimately a very optimistic tale in a context of horror and the nature of human existence in a timeless universe. Highly recommended.” —Christopher Wright
14. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Colorado River is dwindling and the people of the American Southwest are in constant fight over water shares. Angel Velasquez is known as a “water knife” — a for-hire hitman who cuts off the water supply to impoverished communities and directs it instead to wealthy clients trying to maintain their luxurious lifestyles. When Angel sets off to investigate a rumored new source of water, he meets an investigative journalist and a young refugee, and together the unlikely group fall into a life-threatening situation.
Promising review: “Bacigalupi does everything well: characterization, world structure, action sequences. They are all meticulous. The Water Knife may appeal to the imagination of a population that is still struggling with the undeniable idea of global warming. Yet it is the human struggles that make this book work.” —Marvin
15. Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta
Earth’s landscape — geographic and political — has shifted irrevocably because of climate change, and much of the world is in the midst of water wars. Scandinavia is occupied by a state called New Qian; here, 17-year-old Noria Kaitio is following in the footsteps of her greatly respected father and training to be a tea master. The role comes with much responsibility, including knowledge of the locations of secret water sources — knowledge that quickly puts Noria’s life at risk.
Promising review: “While it tells the heartbreaking story of how humans have destroyed their own world, Memory of Water remains the story of a young girl who has the power to make a difference. Symbolic of the cleansing, ever-changing properties of water, Noria’s actions and her choices are what drive the story. It is a beautiful, thought-provoking tale.” —Kathleen
16. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Snowman, formerly known as Jimmy, might be the last human being alive. Struggling to survive in the lonely aftermath of a worldwide plague, he begins a journey through the wilderness that was once a city, mourning the loss of his best friend Crake, and surrounded by a new breed of humans — the remnants of corporate-run genetic engineering gone awry.
Promising review: “I could go on and on about the relentlessly inventive elements of this book and how it eventually touches at the emotional core and tugs at the heartstrings. It leaves me in an unusually pensive frame of mind. Any book that can do that deserves the highest recommendation.” —Apatt
17. Tentacle by Rita Indiana
In a post-apocalyptic Santo Domingo, a young humble maid named Acilde Figueroa discovers she’s able to travel back in time — and that a prophecy calls for her to do so and save the world by saving the ocean. With the help of a sacred anemone, she sets off on a mission that tackles issues of climate change, technology, queerness, colonialism, and Acilde’s own gender identity.
Promising review: “There’s nothing straightforward or derivative of this trippy, timely tale of saving the Caribbean from environmental collapse. Incorporating Afro-Caribbean religious traditions, literalizing the concept of gender-fluidity, and masterfully manipulating verb tenses to tell its story of personalities split across time and bodies, the prose is absolutely mesmerizing and weaves a story that I can’t imagine being told as powerfully or cohesively in any other medium than the novel.” —Sean Kottke
Comprising seven novellas from Lauren Groff, Jess Walter, Jane Smiley, and more, the Warmer collection tells stories about life in the midst of climate change, blending the personal and the public, the political and the environmental.
Promising review: “It’s less about the end of the world and more about how we go on in the face of overwhelming anxiety and odds. What we do when there’s nothing left, and the ways we can do that, small and large and wonderful.” —Brendan M., about The Way the World Ends
Read or listen to the collection at Amazon.