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On the Environment

Friday, July 05, 2013
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Summer Reading: 20 Books on the Environment

By Susanne Stahl

The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy team shares suggestions for summer reads that look at the environment from a variety of perspectives from the grasslands of South Dakota to the islands of the South Pacific, and including such classics as Moby Dick and Moby Duck. Happy reading!

Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West by Courtney White

I am spending the summer in Montana interviewing people to gage public perception of the grizzly bear delisting debate in the Yellowstone Ecosystem. Ranchers have figured prominently in my research as they are very much at the heart of the issue. One of the ranchers I spoke to recently suggested that I read Revolution on the Range to better understand the relationships between ranchers and conservationists and how they align on various levels.

--Breanna Lujan, YCELP Research Assistant

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

This compelling story follows scientist Dr. Marina Singh, who travels far into the Amazonian rainforest to find a missing researcher. During her journey, she encounters native tribes and must learn to live in their "harsh" realities. Despite the small hint of a love story, Patchett provides a powerful tale that has many of her readers weighing the prices of discovery and science.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost

Troost tells the story of his journey to a remote South Pacific island, where everything is the opposite of paradise. A friend sent me this book while I was doing research in a remote jungle of Costa Rica. During my months away, I missed the comforts of home and struggled to accept some of the downsides of living in such a wild and chaotic environment. Troost's encounters literally had me laughing out loud and helped me realize just how good things actually were.

-- Laura Johnson, YCELP Research Assistant

The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World by Daniel Yergin

The Quest tells the gripping story of the modern energy system.

-- Joanna Dafoe, YCELP Research Assistant

Joanna interviewed Daniel Yergin for the Center’s On the Environment podcast series this spring. You can listen to the episodes here and here.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

It’s important to understand the history of oil and its impacts on a large scale. The Quest is a good synthesis of the usually disparate areas of energy policy. Moby Dick is a fun way to look at how our civilization's relationship with oil goes back even further -- to the original "biofuel!" It's another epic quest about oil, just in an earlier century.

--Omar Malik, YCELP Research Assistant

Moby Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them by Donovan Hahn

Since Omar offered Moby Dick, I'll add Moby Duck by Donovan Hahn. This is the story of a container ship carrying thousands of rubber ducks (and other small rubber creatures) that lost its precious cargo in a storm. Years later rubber ducks started turning up all over the world. The author decided to track the ducks, which turns into a great story about how the oceans work, trash, crazy people, and quite a bit more.

I'll also recommend The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. This is the seminal work of urban planning last century and has some of the most intuitive analysis of how cities work that I've ever read. Some people claim that the book has a very narrow view of land use and planning, but I think the opposite is true. I think this book can teach a lot of lessons about urban as well as suburban, exurban and maybe even rural areas.

Last but not least, I recommend The Greatest Show on Earth or The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is brilliant and a great writer. Anybody interested in humankind or the environment should understand something about evolution, and these books both cover the topic well. The former is broader and more accessible, the latter is more technical and scientific and focused more specifically on genetic replication than broader questions about evolution.

--Josh Galperin, YCELP Associate Director

The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin

It’s a book about weather that reads like a thriller. In January 1888 a violent blizzard swept unexpectedly across the Northern Plains, killing hundreds of people – many of them children on their way home from school. The book tells the story of several pioneer families, entwined with the history of the Army Signal Corps weather service as well as the meteorology of the storm itself. It’s a book best read on the beach, in the sun, with winter a distant possibility.

Also, Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains  by Linda Hasselstrom

Linda Hasselstrom is a writer and rancher from South Dakota. Windbreak, first published in 1987, documents a year on her family’s working cattle ranch near Hermosa in the southwestern part of the state. “Ranch work, like most jobs, has it’s routine, it’s repetition,” she writes in the introduction. “Our drama comes with the cycles of nature; with the endless absorption with birth and death; with the lives of neighbors and friends; with the weather, which is a character in the story of our lives. Only the details vary.” And Hasselstrom – a poet – has a keen eye for detail. Her writing, whether it’s her essays or poems, is always a challenge to see better and notice more.

For more of her poetry, check out Bitter Creek Junction.

--Susanne Stahl, YCELP Program Coordinator

Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America by Jon Mooallem

In Wild Ones Mooallem wonders about our recent cultural history of looking at animals and how the animal imaginary contributes to our collective myths of wildness, extinction, and ourselves.

--Jason Schwartz, YCELP Research Assistant

Encounters with the Archdruid by James McPhee

Encounters chronicles McPhee’s trips into the American wilderness with the legendary conservationist, David Brower. The book is divided into three essays, each dedicated to contrasting Brower's ardent preservationism with the utilitarianisms of three philosophical adversaries. McPhee objectively imparts the opposing ethos of two conservation paradigms, providing a foundation for the reader to decide her own philosophy on the "appropriate" manner of human extraction and use of natural resources.

--Sara Kuebbing, Plant Ecologist and Ph.D. Candidate, University of Tennessee

I have so many on my reading list, but I'll narrow it down to five with different themes:

Pilgrim At Tinker Creek  by Annie Dillard

Slow Violence and The Environmentalism of the Poor by Rob Nixon

Taking Back Eden: Eight Environmental Cases That Changed the World by Oliver Houck

Flight Behvavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

--Marissa Knodel, YCELP Research Assistant

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