Ecology, Environment, Nature, Reading list

An Earth Day 2024 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 (and a few forthcoming ones!) from Chicago and our client publishers that help illuminate different aspects of our planet. From the first two books in Chicago’s new Earth Day series—Mark E. Hauber’s Bird Day: A Story of 24 Hours and 24 Avian Lives and Marty Crump’s Fall 2024 title Frog Day: A Story of 24 Hours and 24 Amphibian Lives, both illustrated by Tony Angell—to distributed titles exploring orchid pollination, the natural and cultural history of sloths, and even fiction and poetry that examine environmental challenges and their implications for communities, this rich collection of reading material will keep you going for all of Earth Month and beyond!

This Earth Day, we’re excited to offer an exclusive discount of 30% off the print editions of all of these books with promo code EARTHDAY30 on our website here!

From Chicago

The Next Supercontinent: Solving the Puzzle of a Future Pangea

Ross Mitchell

“Although Mitchell’s destination is the distant future, don’t be fooled. His book is as much a romp through the past as it is a look ahead, complete with references unique to the present. . . . Throughout the book, Mitchell’s clear explanations and carefully chosen images help make sense of even the most complicated concepts.”—Science News

Ocean Bestiary: Meeting Marine Life from Abalone to Orca to Zooplankton

Richard J. King

“Bestiaries of the past were ‘compendiums of beasts,’ both mythical and real. . . . . King has riffed off these anthologies in Ocean Bestiary. His vignettes cover not only biology but also literature, history, and firsthand accounts of the animal in question from fishers, divers, whalers, scientists, artists, and others, using a variety of sources, including rare manuscripts, oral histories, and scientific reports. Ocean Bestiary is an entertaining collection of info—accessible, engaging, and perfect for ocean enthusiasts and anyone who loves sharing trivia and anecdotes.”—Hakai

Life Sculpted: Tales of the Animals, Plants, and Fungi That Drill, Break, and Scrape to Shape the Earth

Anthony J. Martin

“For readers who are fascinated by living fossils such as bryozoans and horseshoe crabs, there is much to love between this book’s covers. . . . There are many eureka moments in Life Sculpted—and some truly beautiful ones. . . . The key takeaway of Life Sculpted, and ichnology more generally, is that geology is indistinguishable from biology. A prevailing theme in popular culture these days is that all life is connected. But what Martin implies is that it is not only biotic organisms that are interdependent, but the geological and chemical systems of the planet, too.”—Wall Street Journal

A Sense of Urgency: How the Climate Crisis Is Changing Rhetoric

Debra Hawhee

A Sense of Urgency presents four detailed analyses of emerging rhetorical responses to the impact of climate change. . . . But the introduction and conclusion go beyond the case studies by arguing that contemporary environmental concerns now exert pressure on rhetorical scholarship itself.”—Inside Higher Ed

Deep Water: From the Frilled Shark to the Dumbo Octopus and from the Continental Shelf to the Mariana Trench

Riley Black

Deep Water . . . spotlight[s] the organisms to be found at increasing depths, from goblin sharks to vampire shrimp to giant tube worms. . . . Filled with arresting diagrams and images, [it] convey[s] the magic of the deep sea in a form that should appeal to even the most confirmed landlubber.”—Natural History

Meetings with Remarkable Mushrooms: Forays with Fungi across Hemispheres

Alison Pouliot

Meetings with Remarkable Mushrooms is an information-packed, entertaining read that also has gorgeous color photos of fungi. Pouliot takes the reader on an adventure in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres . . . learning about these mysterious mycological wonders and the roles they play in our ecological systems.”—American Scientist

Who’s a Good Dog? And How to Be a Better Human

Jessica Pierce

“Bioethicist Pierce wants us to make the most of our nonhuman relationships. In Who’s a Good Dog?, she argues all dogs are good dogs, and shows how to better serve their innate dogginess.”—New Scientist, Best Non-fiction and Popular Science Books of 2023

Mountains of Fire: The Menace, Meaning, and Magic of Volcanoes

Clive Oppenheimer

“Oppenheimer recounts a life spent studying volcanoes up close. He is an extraordinary individual who somehow finds serenity in the chaos at a volcano’s crater. . . . A tale of gripping adventure, undertaken in the constant shadow of death by volcanic mishap, appalling weather, lawlessness, or warfare.”—New York Review of Books

A Book of Noises: Notes on the Auraculous

Caspar Henderson

“In A Book of Noises, the journalist Henderson takes a more eclectic and encyclopedic approach, presenting forty-eight short entries on noise broken into four categories. . . . His aim is to stir in readers a ‘sense of aliveness’ and a desire to pay attention to the ‘revelations in sound’ that might astonish and nourish our souls. . . . Henderson has great faith in the power of sound to transform.”—Washington Post

So Much Stuff: How Humans Discovered Tools, Invented Meaning, and Made More of Everything

Chip Colwell

“Colwell, too, argues that it’s time to rethink our ties to the material world. . . . In So Much Stuff, he seeks to explain how Homo sapiens went from knapping chert to ordering granite countertops. What happened, he asks, ‘that led our species from having nothing to needing everything?’ . . . Our special talent as a species is our ability to refashion raw materials—first rocks into tools, then, eventually, quartz into integrated circuits. We are, he suggests, Homo stuffensis, a creature ‘defined and made by our things.’ We should change our ways—we must change our ways—but this long history is against us.”—New Yorker

New Earth Histories: Geo-Cosmologies and the Making of the Modern World

Edited by Alison Bashford, Emily M. Kern, and Adam Bobbette, With a Foreword by Dipesh Chakrabarty

“The centrality of the ‘Anthopocene’ in recent public discussion of our planetary future has given new prominence to the history of the Earth sciences as a whole. Although scientific understanding of the Earth and its own history—‘geology’ in its traditional sense—developed mainly in the West, its ambitions have always been worldwide. This volume offers an impressive set of historical studies of the amazingly diverse ways in which human beings have sought to understand their terrestrial environment.”—Martin J. S. Rudwick, University of Cambridge

Journeys with Emperors: Tracking the World’s Most Extreme Penguin

Gerald L. Kooyman and Jim Mastro, With a Foreword by Jessica Ulrika Meir

“Informative sidebars, graphs, and charts explain technical terms in clear language. An annotated bibliography and gorgeous photos round out this treat of a book, which describes what it was like to live among emperor penguins and the challenges and rewards of research in the Antarctic. This book will have armchair travelers, penguin lovers, Antarctic enthusiasts, and science readers rejoicing.”—Booklist

Bird Day: A Story of 24 Hours and 24 Avian Lives

Mark E. Hauber, Illustrated by Tony Angell

“A delightful book by research ornithologist Hauber and illustrator Angell. From owls hunting at night to the common pochard resting with an eye open to spot predators in the daytime, this is a global, hour-by-hour account of individual bird lives.”—New Scientist

The Book of Snakes: A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred Species from around the World, Second Edition

Mark O’Shea

“O’Shea provides a rich introduction to the snake world, revealing that there are just over 3,700 living snake species known today and detailing the vagaries of skin shedding, venom delivery, and snake reproduction. Each of the species featured has a page devoted to it, with a map showing its location, information on its habits, plus color photographs of the snake itself. Flicking through the book reveals the amazing diversity of snakes—tiny acid-green Vinesnakes, vibrantly striped Rainbow Snakes and the ghost-like Japanese Aodaisho.”—Wall Street Journal, on the First Edition

The Greater Perfection: The Story of the Gardens at Les Quatre Vents

Francis H. Cabot, With Forewords by Marianne Cabot Welch, Laurie Olin, and Penelope Hobhouse

“The evolutions of that land under different hands interest Cabot almost as much as the evolutions he has brought about. Cabot is also delightfully candid about the range of sources that have influenced Les Quatre Vents. He is an unabashed bricoleur.”—New York Times

Botanical Icons: Critical Practices of Illustration in the Premodern Mediterranean

Andrew Griebeler

“A fascinating, thought-provoking, critical survey of plant illustration practices in the premodern Mediterranean. Griebeler takes his audience on a journey that forces one to reconsider conceptions (and misconceptions) of Mediterranean visual botanical knowledge that are at the root of the modern scientific depiction of plants. The rich, scholarly text, which provokes questions on every page, is supported and augmented by the use of many carefully selected comparative images from across Mediterranean cultures.”—Stephen A. Harris, University of Oxford

Interspecies Communication: Sound and Music beyond Humanity

Gavin Steingo

“This gripping and wide-ranging book explores how our efforts at communication with nonhumans tangle with complex questions of desire, affection, fear, and hope—all that lies beyond the domain of human reason. Eschewing the pastoral and accelerationist tendencies of posthumanism, Steingo’s method is focused squarely on the social injustices of modernity. His prose displays a restless critical mood that never fails to illuminate and provoke. An outstanding read.”—Michael Gallope, author of The Musician as Philosopher

Otherworldly Antarctica: Ice, Rock, and Wind at the Polar Extreme

Edmund Stump

“Explorer and geologist Stump went on his first research mission to Antarctica in 1970 and returned many times over the following decades. The new book Otherworldly Antarctica offers a selection of the photographs he took on these trips, capturing the ‘innumerable forms’ that ice can take. Icebergs that could have been carved by the sculptor Henry Moore glide through still waters; a meltwater pond refreezes, releasing a shimmer of dissolved gases; a crevasse seems to include every shade of blue. . . . Now in his seventies, he writes that if he ‘had one hour more to savor Antarctica,’ he’d be standing in a field of wind-carved snow ‘as far as the eye could see.’”—Wall Street Journal

The Well-Connected Animal: Social Networks and the Wondrous Complexity of Animal Societies

Lee Alan Dugatkin

“This fascinating, easy-to-read work describes the how, what, and why of animal behavior, much of which is remarkably similar to humans. A must-purchase, this book presents what is easily the most intriguing, thorough explanation of animal behavior ever produced.”—Library Journal (starred review)

The Three Ethologies: A Positive Vision for Rebuilding Human-Animal Relationships

Matthew Calarco

“Calarco develops a very strong argument for rethinking our relation to other species along with the land that, as Indigenous peoples teach, holds us in connection. This highly readable book for those with a philosophical bent clears the ground for a reinvention of social bonds for an interspecies ethics. Along with the argument, vignettes anchored in the author’s own experiences with a family of crows offer a glimpse of the beauty we might behold in learning to see-with other animals.”—Cynthia Willett, Emory University

Extinctions: From Dinosaurs to You

Charles Frankel

“This unnerving study from science writer Frankel contextualizes the current climate crisis by comparing it to the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. . . . This is an urgent wake-up call.”—Publishers Weekly

Solvable: How We Healed the Earth, and How We Can Do It Again

Susan Solomon

“A study of how successful campaigns to curb dangerous chemicals and pollution point to a way forward on climate change. [Solomon] has won acclaim for her four decades of work in her field, and in this book, she examines how a range of environmental crises have been addressed. . . . Solomon’s review of answers to big problems displays her expertise and optimism in a pragmatic, inspiring package.”—Kirkus Reviews

Frog Day: A Story of 24 Hours and 24 Amphibian Lives

Marty Crump, Illustrated by Tony Angell

Frog Day is packed with fact-filled vignettes spanning these spectacular amphibians’ global occurrence, sizes, appearances, habitats, behavior, and conservation status. Readers of this wonderful book will learn a lot about frogs, as well as why we should all be concerned for the plight of wild nature on our rapidly changing planet.”—Harry W. Greene, author of Tracks and Shadows

From Bodleian Library Publishing

A Splendour of Succulents & Cacti

Caroline Ball

In eighteenth-century Bavaria, a prosperous apothecary grew an “American aloe” that astounded all who saw it. This apothecary, Johann Wilhelm Weinmann, was the mastermind behind a groundbreaking book that included thousands of plants from all over the world, with descriptions of their individual characteristics and magnificent, specially commissioned color illustrations of each specimen. The succulents Weinmann featured are reproduced here in all their splendor.

From Brandeis University Press

One Planet, Many Worlds: The Climate Parallax

Dipesh Chakrabarty

“Thoughtful and gifted writing. . . . This book is a carefully curated and detailed philosophical tour through some of the most important issues of our time, and Chakrabarty does not rush: his attention is purposeful and revealing. I recommend this book to any readers who are ready for, and interested in, the kind of contemplative and complex political engagement that is needed to hold the tension of the global and the planetary.”—Environmental Philosophy

Environmental Futures: An International Literary Anthology

Edited by Caren Irr

“This book is a winner. There’s nothing like it currently available for readers and instructors—nothing even close. It provides a range of texts never before available in English and puts these in dialogue with ones which have been available.”—Imre Szeman, director of the Institute for Environment, Conservation and Sustainability, University of Toronto Scarborough

From Reaktion Books

Water Beings: From Nature Worship to the Environmental Crisis

Veronica Strang

“This beautifully crafted nonfiction [book] traces how humanity plunged from worshiping water to wreaking havoc on it. Strang’s study ranges from the ancient serpentine deities that represented the power of water as a bringer of life to today’s exploitation and pollution of our most precious resource.”—Sunday Post, Scotland


Oliver Southall

“The illustrations are a joy for art historians and bibliophiles as well as botanists. . . . There is of course plenty of sound botanical and ecological comment, but the way the author has embedded this in such a rich, cultural context and imaginatively chosen illustrations is very appealing. Forget mistletoe for a year and get (or give) Rowan this Christmas!”—Wild Flower Magazine

Wind: Nature and Culture

Louise M. Pryke

“Pryke surveys how air currents have factored into human history, myths, art, and entertainment. . . . There are plenty of stimulating tidbits.”—Publishers Weekly

Shells: A Natural and Cultural History

Fabio Moretzsohn, With Contributions by M. G. Harasewych

“Spanning both the history of science and visual culture, this book takes a broad approach to understanding humanity’s fascination with shells: from their use in architecture and jewellery, and their ritual or practical uses as tools and tokens, to the ways they have inspired artists across time.”—Apollo

Unearthing the Underworld: A Natural History of Rocks

Ken McNamara

“Earth scientist McNamara focuses on palaeontology and evolution. His appealing book about rocks and their lessons—illustrated with fine photographs of fossils—leaves aside igneous and metamorphic rocks, and the wonders of mineralogy. It concentrates instead on sedimentary rocks: mudstones, siltstones, sandstones and limestones, scattered over three-quarters of Earth’s surface in ‘endless piles.’ As he jokily advises: ‘Ignore rocks at your peril.'”—Nature


Dan Torre

“A wonderful collection of orchid miscellanea. It’s a very well-written, abundantly illustrated, fact-filled foray into the weird and wonderful world of the orchid family. Executed with impressive breadth and depth of knowledge, and respect and sensitivity for the ancient cultural associations between people and the plants, this is a wonderful book.”—Plant Cuttings

The Globe: How the Earth Became Round

James Hannam

“This fascinating chronicle by historian Hannam traces how humanity’s understanding of Earth’s shape has changed over millennia. . . . The trivia captivates (the prevailing view under China’s Han dynasty claimed ‘the sky was round and the Earth was square’), offering a globe-trotting tour of how a major scientific breakthrough made its way across the world. Readers will be enlightened.”—Publishers Weekly

Stones: A Material and Cultural History

Cally Oldershaw

“We start with geology, with the formation of the earth’s crust and its cooling and shifting over aeons. . . . The account moves from the use of stones as weapons and tools to their use in cooking and building. . . . There is so much in this book, as a compendium of stony lore. . . . The finest chapter is the last, and shortest, about people who collect stones. . . . Stones is packed with lapidary detail.”—Country Life

Enchanted Forests: The Poetic Construction of a World before Time

Boria Sax

“[A] fascinating meander through the rich woodlands of literature and visual art. . . . For some writers today, forests are communities of cooperative talking trees. Others see competitive individualism, each trunk a reminder of the Darwinian struggle for life. Forests are imagined as numbers, too: metric tons of carbon or cubic meters of timber. Sax reminds us that these symbols and projections change how we treat one another and the land. Implicit is the challenge to rethink our stories. Are we like medieval kings, taking the forest by right, or can we find narratives of reciprocity with forests and forest-dwelling cultures?”—Scientific American

The Beauty of the Flower: The Art and Science of Botanical Illustration

Stephen A. Harris

“Visually stunning and astonishing in scope, Harris’s The Beauty of the Flower is a history of botanical illustration that has all the makings of a classic. . . . The Beauty of the Flower will delight plant-lovers and scholars alike with its magnificent illustrations and captivating account of the history of botanical study.”—Foreword Reviews (starred review)


Kevin Butt

“This book has the basis of more than thirty-five years of scientific research by the author into earthworm ecology but is much more than that. . . . The whole book is an insight into the mysterious world of the remarkable but often underrated worm.”—Earth Society of Britain


Alan Rauch

“Rauch’s narrative traces naturalists’ descriptions of sloths through the years, marking a noted change in attitudes. In the nineteenth century, the discovery of fossilized remains of giant sloths created ‘a flurry of interest with respect to both the sloth family and to fossils in general.’ And as natural historians learned more about the physiology and behavior of the living creatures, the notion that they were somehow object lessons in the wages of sin began to fade. In recent years, their non-aggressive mode of existence appeals to green sensibilities, and they have been depicted in mass media as friendly counterparts to koalas and pandas (to whom they are not related).”—Natural History

Audubon as Artist: A New Look at The Birds of America

Roberta J. M. Olson

“Olson deftly sketches a lively portrait of the man, hard at work procuring specimens to depict; sketching birds from life and death; working late into the night by oil lamplight. She gives us his rich inner life as well, as he exults at praise and crashes when critics try to douse his flame. . . . Olson’s refreshing observations on possible influences on Audubon’s art are a special delight.”—Wall Street Journal

Saving the World: How Forests Inspired Global Efforts to Stop Climate Change

Brett M. Bennett and Gregory A. Barton

“You might imagine no one worried much about human impacts on the climate (particularly through deforestation) before the last thirty years. Not so! This elegant and meticulously researched history excavates a fascinating record of investigations into those critical themes, traversing effortlessly from the USA and Europe to India, Africa and South America. In so doing, it provides a timely and significant reflection on contemporary discussions about both the science and the politics of climate change.”—Sir Jonathon Porritt, cofounder of Forum for the Future and author of Hope in Hell

From Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Botany of the Kitchen Garden: The Science and Horticulture of our Favourite Crops

Hélèna Dove

“A deep dive into the science that underpins your veg plot from Kew’s head kitchen gardener, explaining why your fruit and veg behave the way they do.”—Gardens Illustrated

Things to Do with Plants: 50 Ways to Connect with the Botanical World

Emma Crawforth

Things to do with Plants offers a guide to the ways in which plants enhance our daily lives, from the essential functions of making our planet habitable, through meeting our basic needs, to inspiring our creativity. Crawforth provides insight into how we can interact with plants, including by using them to make perfumes or tea, reduce noise, improve office productivity, or even build a den. Her book shows us how to sustainably connect with the botanical richness around us.

Kew Pocketbooks: Trees

Kevin Martin

Trees are centers of biodiversity and essential in climate equilibrium. They have been crucial for humanity’s survival, and we have used them in a wide range of activities, from practical to spiritual ones. Printed on uncoated paper with a cloth and foil finish, this stunning book is a snapshot of the vast beauty and form that trees display around the world, showcased through forty paintings from the Kew archives—one of the most extensive botanical libraries in the world.

Demystifying Orchid Pollination: Stories of Sex, Lies and Obsession

Adam P. Karremans

This book explores the fascinating history of orchids and the means by which they reproduce. Karremans reveals orchids’ hidden secrets, highlights the key role of pollinators in securing the survival of these delicate plants, and provides past and present scientific knowledge that challenges common beliefs about orchid reproduction. Demystifying Orchid Pollination celebrates biodiversity while stressing the importance of further ecological study and advocating for increased conservation efforts and thorough research and development.

Gardening with Winter Plants

Tony Hall

In this book, Kew expert Hall has profiled over two hundred plant species and cultivars of all types that are perfectly suited to perform in the colder months. The book has tips on planting positions, plant combinations, and pruning advice to ensure success in gardens of all sizes. Gardening with Winter Plants includes a reference guide to flowering by month, plant colors, and fragrance, as well as information on plants that will attract wildlife.

From the University of Wales Press

Plants Matter: Exploring the Becomings of Plants and People

Edited by Luci Attala and Louise Steel

“What if plants were people who sense, discover, remember and decide just as people do? Who communicate amongst themselves, whose kith and kin are spread about, rooted in relations of filiation and descent, who breathe the wind and thirst for water? If only we humans could attend to what plants have to teach us, how much we could learn! Read this book, and find out for yourself.”—Tim Ingold, emeritus professor of social anthropology, University of Aberdeen

Return to My Trees: Notes from the Welsh Woodlands

Matthew Yeomans

“Walking thirty-six miles through the Welsh countryside, [Yeomans] considers a proposed new national forest, which is designed to help tackle climate change, boost biodiversity and promote nature tourism.”—New York Times

Shaping the Wild: Wisdom from a Welsh Hill Farm

David Elias, With a Foreword by Iolo Williams

“A must-read for anyone interested in how governments, businesses and individuals can alter the landscape, Shaping the Wild is a realistic reflection of the difficult problem of ecological protection. At its core, it asks a fundamental question: how do you do the right thing, when you don’t know what the right thing is?”—Buzz Magazine

All of these Earth Day books are available from our website or from your favorite bookseller.