Ecology, Environment, Nature, Reading list, Science

An Earth Day 2022 Reading List

University Presses like Chicago are committed to making available works that not only keep us informed but also help us to better understand the world and climate around us. To celebrate Earth Day, we have put together a reading list of recent books from Chicago and our client publishers that help illuminate different aspects of our planet.

For these and other inspiring recent and upcoming Earth Day titles, please visit our shop at

Animals’ Best Friends: Putting Compassion to Work for Animals in Captivity and in the Wild

Barbara J. King / (Chicago)

“King’s Animals’ Best Friends is the most comprehensive exploration I’ve read of the complex relationship between the human and nonhuman, full of great insights and practical information.” Jeff VanderMeer, New York Times Book Review, “By the Book”

The Porch: Meditations on the Edge of Nature

Charlie Hailey / (Chicago)

The Porch is a poignant and multi-sensory feast in the grand tradition of wilderness writing by the likes of Henry David Thoreau and John Muir—told from an architectural perspective. . . . [A] tangible sense of the power of porches—even through words—in delivering a deep sense of mindfulness and connection with the natural world.” Architect Magazine

Extraordinary Orchids

Sandra Knapp, Foreword by Mark W. Chase / (Chicago)

“Meticulously researched—as one would expect from Knapp, a senior research botanist at the Natural History Museum—this book is also lavishly brought to life with an abundance of artwork by a roll call of great botanical illustrators. . . . Full of captivating surprises and interesting information about this immense, diverse family of flowering plants.” BBC Wildlife

Nature Fast and Nature Slow: How Life Works, from Fractions of a Second to Billions of Years

Nicholas P. Money / (Reaktion Books)

“This is a lovely concept, a cosmic zoom of biology, where the zoom is not in space but in time. Each chapter looks at biological actions that occur in a particular timeframe, starting with those that occur in a fraction of a second and running up to billions of years.”

What Kind of Ancestor Do You Want to Be?  

John Hausdoerffer, Brooke Parry Hecht, Melissa K. Nelson, and Katherine Kassouf Cummings / (Chicago)

“A wonderfully unclassifiable book, What Kind of Ancestor Do You Want to Be? challenges us to live not just for tomorrow, or for our children, but for many generations in the future. Featuring interviews with and essays by thinkers from across social disciplines—anthropologists, environmental activists, Indigenous leaders, sociologists, and more.” Book Culture Blog

Terrible Beauty: Elephant – Human – Ivory

Stiftung Humboldt Forum Im Berliner Schloss / (Hirmer Publishers)

Piano keys. Chess pieces. Jewelry. Ivory has been in high demand for centuries and across cultures—but at great cost to the elephants from which it comes. What sort of material is ivory? How has it been used in the past and the present? And what can we do today to protect the world’s largest land mammals from poachers? This lavishly illustrated volume traces the cultural history of ivory as a decorative object and the cause of elephants’ decades-long place on the endangered species list. The book approaches its subject critically and asks what exactly our responsibility is when dealing with ivory as a beautiful material with cruel origins. 

The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis

Amitav Ghosh / (Chicago)

“Illuminating. . . . [Ghosh] wants us to reckon with broader structures of power, involving ‘the physical subjugation of people and territory,’ and, crucially, the ‘idea of conquest, as a process of extraction.’ The world-as-resource perspective not only depletes our environment of the raw materials we seek; it ultimately depletes it of meaning.” New Yorker

Strange Bright Blooms: A History of Cut Flowers

Randy Malamud / (Reaktion Books)

“Examining all things floral from paintings, fashion and pressed flowers to decorative church hats and flower power, this generously illustrated book takes cuttings from one aspect of the human urge to tame and curate nature.” Apollo

Climate Ghosts: Migratory Species in the Anthropocene

Nancy Langston / (Brandeis University Press)

“Langston brings her readers a profound message of both warning and encouragement to action, of the potential for tragedy and the potential for renewal. While what has already happened cannot be changed, what happens next can be; but to act wisely, an understanding of these species in and of themselves as well as their existence in their environment must be achieved. Climate Ghosts is clearly a step towards such knowledge.” Well-read Naturalist

Tropical Arctic: Lost Plants, Future Climates, and the Discovery of Ancient Greenland

Jennifer C. McElwain, Marlene Hill Donnelly, and Ian J. Glasspool / (Chicago)

Tropical Arctic recreates a collapsing ecosystem 200 million years ago in words and visuals that are detailed and beautiful. . . . Warning that humans have become ‘a geological-scale force acting on our entire Earth System,’ this timely book is engrossing as it relays the dangers of exceeding the limits of plant and animal resilience and overheating an already too hot Earth.” Foreword Reviews

We Are All Whalers: The Plight of Whales and Our Responsibility

Michael J. Moore / (Chicago)

“Moore, a marine scientist and veterinarian, makes a compelling argument that whales’ survival depends on each of us—not just on those who venture out on ships, hunting whales for meat and blubber. It’s sobering to grapple with the ways we might unwittingly contribute to the mammals’ demise, like by eating commercially caught seafood. But Moore also offers reason to be hopeful, including new technologies for ropeless fishing.” Washington Post

The Other Dark Matter: The Science and Business of Turning Waste into Wealth and Health

Lina Zeldovich / (Chicago)

The Other Dark Matter does not shy from the enormity of the problems, yet suggests solutions are achievable, at scales from individuals to entire countries. Paced quickly with prose enlivened by the author’s on-location reporting and personal experiences, the book is far from a grim slog through the world’s sewers—it’s more like an exciting tour in a biogas-powered balloon.” Salon

Avian Illuminations: A Cultural History of Birds

Boria Sax / (Reaktion Books)

“Sax believes ‘these interconnections are so profound . . . that a world without birds would effectively mean the end of humankind, even if we continued to pass on some approximation of our DNA.’ To this end, he draws on a rich assemblage of examples from ornithology, history, folklore, literature, popular culture, and graphic arts to weave together what he calls his ‘bird’s nest’ of facts, stories, myths, and images.” Times Literary Supplement

Naturally Brilliant Colour

Andrew Parker / (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)

“Incredible. . . . This new technology is an example of bio-inspiration, art and science combined; producing the brightest colors found in nature such as those seen in hummingbirds, birds of paradise, tropical fish, and butterflies. Not only are they mesmerizingly beautiful but they have the potential to replace pigments which cannot always be sourced sustainably or ethically. This would be major advance for an industry striving hard to create products which are both commercial, beautiful, and planet friendly.”

Fascinating Shells: An Introduction to 121 of the World’s Most Wonderful Mollusks

Andreia Salvador / (Chicago)

“Beautifully illustrated with photographs of mollusk shells held by the Natural History Museum in London, this appealing book educates and inspires simply by showing and telling us about the animals that created these stunning works of art. Who ever thought that a person could learn so much about natural history and evolution, about human culture and human nature by learning about mollusk shells?” GrrlScientist, Forbes

Power in the Wild: The Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Ways Animals Strive for Control over Others

Lee Alan Dugatkin / (Chicago)

“Timely and fascinating. . . . Dugatkin’s book is great food for thought regarding the nature of power, equality, and equity, the origins of justice and the origins of sociality in animals—including our own species.” Nature Ecology & Evolution