8 Books That Will Change Your View of Nature (And Possibly Your Life!)
Aug 30, 2021
The Gaia Project has a passion for education and literacy, and that entrenches not only our mission, but our staff. We wanted to put together a few book recommendations consisting of books that have fundamentally changed our lives or enriched us in ways we never thought imaginable. They will take you on adventures, have you rediscovering that which you thought you knew, and give you insight into a perspective that will change the way you view the world around you. These books are based around ecology and our connection to nature. We look forward to hearing your feedback and some of your own favourite suggestions. Here are 8 Books That Will Change Your View of Nature (And Possibly Your Life!)
Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
This book is a true story about a young man who feels very disconnected from modern society and his family. He chooses to abandon his potential position in society and flees on an adventure that becomes thrilling, isolating, and ultimately dangerous. The main character, Chris, becomes consumed by his connection to the natural world as he distances his spirit from capitalism and corporate America. On his North American voyage he finds bliss in solitude, but as seen in his journals, slowly creeps into a less pleasant mental state while away from his routes.
The characters are very unique and at times enviable. This is a great read for youth or younger adults. There’s an attraction to the idea of escaping your expectations and projected role in society. I also love books with a companion movie, so you can watch after reading to see what someone else (director Sean Penn) visualized in the book.
The story takes a very harsh turn near the end. It can be hard to come to terms with the reality encompassed in this story of living in the wilderness. The book contains very fun and vivid descriptions of the American wilderness integrated into a few very heart warming personal connections throughout Chris’s journey. Many parts will make you want to get outdoors and explore what’s out there beyond the human developed world.
The Hidden Life of Trees -Peter Wohlleben
The Hidden Life of Trees offers a unique look at the interconnectedness of all living organisms. Although trees lack conscious thought, deep communities exist within a forest, and these communities can teach us many lessons about our own cultures, societies, and relationships.
What I found most interesting: The parallels between trees and human communities. A tree is much stronger when it is part of a forest, just like a person is much stronger when they are part of a community.
This book merges scientific fact with sociology and philosophy. An excellent, well-balanced combination!
Trees are social creatures, which was really astonishing to me. This book will challenge the way you perceive plants. Trees have evolved in similar ways to people and other social animals, though we don’t often view them this way.
I also loved the construction of this book – hardcover, easy reading, and comfortable to travel with or pop in a bag!
I would say that three books which always make it on to my “what should I read when it comes to ecology?’’ list: A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, Walden by Henry David Thoreau, and The Green Halo: A Bird’s-Eye View of Ecological Ethics by Erazim Kohak.
All of these books are based on environmental ethics, but approach it from very different backgrounds and strategies.
Leopold’s masterpiece A Sand County Almanac highlights the change in our experiences with the land as the year passes, and with Leopold being seen as the father of modern forestry allows readers to see what it looks and feels like to participate in returning to the land and inviting ecology into one’s’ life.
Leopold is a beautiful writer, and much like Walden can transport you to a beautiful field of prose and ethics, so does A Sand County Almanac. Personally, I recommend the version with a prelude by Barbara Kingsolver as it touches on relevant and current environmental work like that of Greta Thunberg. Leopold lets you drift in and out of his sunny afternoons in the ways only a grandfather can. Prepare to hug the book once you’ve finished reading it!
Walden is another environmental classic and is seeing a resurgence of readers as the “cottagecore” ecology/agrarian communities on Instagram and Tumblr discover his work for the first time. Thoreau presents a valuable take on how to enjoy nature and commune with it; much of this piece focuses on how nature makes us feel, how we exist within it, and how to embrace land-based simplicity. This is the most artistic of any of my suggestions, and I can’t recommend it enough for folks interested in poetry and prose, the whole thing reads as though the grass and trees are communicating with you directly.
That said, Thoreau has recently come under fire for concerns that his experiences with nature stemmed from his privileged cabin experiences in a community of similarly upper-class settlers, the neighbours which Walden omits in his writing to portray a more independent experience in nature. It is still a lovely read and can be easily loved over several Sunday mornings.
Lastly, The Green Halo: A Bird’s-Eye View of Ecological Ethics by Erazim Kohak is a must-have for anyone looking to go into the heavier reads of ecological ethics. This book was first introduced to me in my second-year environmental ethics course and I have loved it ever since.
Kohak is a rich academic read and provides both a history of science within the USSR and a history of environmentalism as a whole, while still presenting new theorems and ecological moral dilemmas. Kohak touches on eco-feminism, deep ecology, and the separations between science and environmental ethics, all with grace and near decadent vocabulary.
The Green Halo is one of those books where you could read it in an afternoon, or you could spend the better half of a year combing through it, cross-referencing it, and taking notes throughout. Each chapter brings new thinking, new stories, and new perspectives, albeit somewhat clinically, and is a breath of fresh air for those looking for academic writing about environmental sciences and ecological ethics without the onus of needing a BSc being placed upon them.
The Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution: 100 Ways to Build a Fossil-Free Future, Raise Empowered Kids, and Still Get a Good Night’s Sleep by Mary DeMocker
This book offers creative ways for parents (or any grownup!) to get their family involved in the fight against climate change and have fun in the process. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless when thinking about the future, but the author’s humour and approachable writing style put the reader at ease. The book consists of short chapters that can be read in any order, and the author provides a list of useful resources at the end of each one. While some suggestions might be above your comfort level, most actions are manageable and make good use of your time, even if you only have a few minutes a day. This book left me feeling energized and motivated to take action
Anna-Lee and Catherine
The man who planted trees – Jean Giono
AL: A little book about a man who plants trees. Simple, yet so beautiful.
I loved reading this little book because I felt so good after reading it. It’s a motivating and relevant story these days. A book that gives us a sense of well-being, even with some reference to world wars.
It took me a little while to understand the pace of the text, because it is written in French from
France. When I read this short book, I just couldn’t let it go, so I finished it in one evening. I have reread it because there were passages that left an indelible mark on me.
C: The Man Who Planted Trees is a book telling the story of Elzéard Bouffier, an old shepherd from Haute Provence who regenerates his region by planting hundreds of thousands of trees on his own.
This book is an ode to nature and the environment. What I come out with each of my reads is that a person’s actions can make a big difference. I appreciate the rhythm and the cyclical storytelling which allows the reader to see the importance of Elzéar Bouffier’s work over the years.
Although The Man Who Planted Trees is considered an important piece of children’s literature, I still believe that the vocabulary might be difficult for younger students to understand. On the other hand, there is no age to appreciate the achievement of the main character.
It is possible to discover the story thanks to the short film made in 1987 with the illustrations of Frédéric Back.
One of the books that struck me the most during my career as an environmental educator was Mal de Terre by Hubert Reeves.
The theories he supports in his book about the cosmos and the planet, like an organism with its various systems and organs working in harmony, have made me think about a more holistic and systemic view of our living environment. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not necessarily bedtime reading, but it’s very interesting and it opens the mind to a perspective that is outside the norm of our society.
The book was published in May 2003, but its content is still very current. Rereading it reminds me honestly why I do the work I do with young people.