Your Ultimate Earth Day Book Guide
Dive into glaciers, fungi, jungles, deserts, and more
April 22 is Earth Day where we celebrate the beauty of our planet and the awe-inspiring geology that surrounds us. As an avid hiker, I’ve found myself drawn to earth science books, especially in the past couple years, to learn more about the beautiful places that I traverse.
My reading guide for this month is focused on books that provide insight to some of the greatest geological features of our planet, with a dash of evolution and a pinch of travel. I hope you enjoy.
A Natural History of the Future (2021)
A Natural History of the Future: What the Laws of Biology Tell Us about the Destiny of the Human Species by Rob Dunn is a rather unique book on this list with its focus on biological evolution, rather than the geology, but he provides a fascinating look into how human activity has altered the ways in which us and other biological life interacts with out planet. Dunn applies basic “laws” of biology, to explain the impacts of growing cities, deforestation, and mono-agriculture on species evolution, how climate variability will impact extinction, and what our arms race with antibiotics hold. It’s a fantastic read showing that even if we don’t live on, the planet will for a very, very long time. Read my full review here.
I saw my first glacier up close at Glacier National Park last year. They are truly awe-inspiring geological features. Unfortunately, however, they will nearly all be gone at at the park in the coming decades. In Meltdown: The Earth Without Glaciers Jorge Daniel Taillant explains how integral the worlds glacial systems are to our current planet ecosystems, and details the ways in which our lives will be impacted once they are gone. It seems this is an inevitable future rather than a possible one as we’ve nearly hit the “tipping point” at which runaway melting of glaciers and ice sheets, like Greenland, will occur. Meltdown is a great read and will fill your curiosity of all things glaciers. Read my full review here.
Symphony in C (2019)
Symphony in C: Carbon and the Evolution of (Almost) Everything by Robert M. Hazen tells the story of carbon – a ubiquitous element that is fundamental to life – through his founding and direction of the Deep Carbon Observatory project aimed at understanding how carbon cycles impact nearly everything on our planet. It’s a truly interdisciplinary project that is reflected in the diversity of earth science explored in the book. Hazen explains carbon across the four classical elements – earth, air, carbon, and fire. It’s a unique book but can be a bit dense at times.
When the Sahara Was Green (2021)
The Sahara is a fantastic place. Vast and unrelenting. But, like most places on earth, a journey through geological history can reveal just how much changes over deep time. In When the Sahara Was Green: How Our Greatest Desert Came to Be Martin Williams takes you on a journey from a time when the Sahara didn’t have it’s iconic dunes and was instead thriving with fauna, flora, and more recently, human activity. It’s a highly accessible earth science book detailing how the movement of the African continent northward, combined with the sheer size of the continent, contributed to the desertification that gave rise to the Sahara in the past few million years. Read my full review here.
Jungles may be one of the most fascinating places on the planet for evolutionary scientists. They are fantastically dense with biodiversity and give rise to wonderfully weird organisms – including us. Jungle: How Tropical Forests Shaped the World―and Us by Patrick Roberts not only dives into the evolution of jungles and their impact on the earth’s ecosystem, but also how jungles are truly the root of human evolution. Savanna ecosystems get all the attention in the human evolution sphere, popularized by the “savanna hypothesis” claiming that human bipedalism arose through migration to grasslands millions of years ago. But as Roberts shows, the jungles are where we became human. Jungle is a great book to learn a few new things about human evolution as well as this unique ecosystem. Read my full review here.
How the Mountains Grew (2021)
How the Mountains Grew: A New Geological History of North America by John Dvorak was one of my most anticipated books I’ve recently read. As a national parks enthusiast, I was thrilled to read how our beautiful country developed over time. How did the stunning Tetons come to be? What explains the geological wonders of the Colorado Plateau? Dvorak provides a highly comprehensive geological history of North America and teaches you everything you could ever want to know about the remarkable features that make North America so awe-inspiring. Read my full review here.
Entangled Life (2020)
When I first read Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake I was astounded. So much of the information Sheldrake presented was new to me. How fungi communicate, how fungi support entire forest ecosystems – absolutely mind-blowing information. Fungi truly represent a branch of life that questions concepts we take for granted, such as communication and intelligence. Much of the work presented here was pioneered by Suzanne Simard (who has a highly recommended memoir, Finding the Mother Tree) who discovered how fungi networks support forest ecosystems. If you know little about fungi except for the cremini mushrooms you throw in your pasta, pick up this beautiful book.
Leave Only Footprints (2020)
Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park by Conor Knighton is also a bit of a unique book on this list, focusing on the experience of some of the world’s most beautiful places, rather than the science of them. It’s also fitting because it’s National Parks Week! Leave Only Footprints is a quick memoir wherein Knighton describes his journey though all of the US’s stunning national parks. Rather than describing each one, the book is organized by key experiential features of them, such as “sound”. It’s an easy read that I’ve found useful as I’ve made my way through our National Parks (so far, just 11 with two more this summer).
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