Good Green Reads By Josh Stephens
Sierra asked leading professors to describe essential environmental books--and why they love them.
Song for the Blue Ocean by Carl Safina
Bob Francis, University of Washington: It allows me to establish the message that it's the spring of the earth and the heat of the sun that makes oceanic life possible and so diverse. Safina is a masterful writer who is truly interdisciplinary--a scientist and an artist.
Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez
Scott Slovic, University of Nevada at Reno: Lopez lays bare the processes by which people think about relationships and formulate values in all landscapes. He explores how the human mind finds meaning in nature, in different cultures, and in faraway places through a beautiful braiding of narrative and expository prose.
David Copland Morris, University of Washington at Tacoma: Lopez deftly blends indigenous, scientific, and personal perspectives on the character of a region so dramatically different from the temperate zone where most of his readers have formed their perceptions of reality. He is especially illuminating on what the adaptations of indigenous peoples to the Arctic can tell us about the broader meanings of sustainability.
Encounters With the Archdruid by John McPhee
Steve Polasky, University of Minnesota: The book chronicles three encounters between David Brower, former head of the Sierra Club, and a series of protagonists: a mineral geologist, a resort developer, and a former commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. The encounters raise fundamental questions: How do people and nature interact? How should they interact? Is human activity sustainable? These issues come alive in the exchanges between the main characters in natural places.
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
John Petersen, Oberlin College: Alienation, climate change, energy dependence, industrialization, transportation, biodiversity, ecological ethics--all these issues are evident in the food system. The Omnivores Dilemma stimulates students to think very deeply about their own relationship with the natural world and with other people.
Melanie Haupt, University of Texas at Austin: The book is a great starting point for understanding and taking ownership of the legislation affecting the food we eat (i.e., the Farm Bill) and the global implications of that fast-food mainstay, the Big Mac. My students complain that their newfound knowledge severely limits their food choices on and around campus, but my hope is that they will take that knowledge and use it to effect change.
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Ann Ronald, University of Nevada at Reno: Before Desert Solitaire, few creative writers explored contemporary issues of the natural world. Since its publication, thousands of authors have begun looking at their own personal surroundings and examining the environmental problems of their communities, regions, countries, and continents. Abbey deserves full credit for showing them the way.
Jim Brewster, University of North Carolina at Wilmington: In a time when environmentalism has become a "feel good" issue, it is important to hear another point of view. Abbey is an out-and-out critic of those who despoil nature, and even though he's not religious himself, he likens developers to those who would invade the most sacred of sanctuaries. We would not allow such awful intrusions in our cathedrals. So we should do all in preserving the sanctity of nature.
Sound of Mountain Waterby Wallace Stegner
Chad Wriglesworth, University of Iowa: Stegner's essays are literary-historical markers that guide readers through specific deserts, dams, canyons, and cities of the West. But the writing is also personal, held together by honest reflections on ways geography shapes our concepts of community, conservation, and spirituality. Forty years after its publication, this remains a timely and important book.