We all know the Arctic ice caps are melting.  Statistics of destruction in far-off places have little relation to our daily lives, nor do they truly make an impact on our habits. Articles and news stories are released every week, outlining the deterioration of our planet’s ecosystems. Yet, this deluge of facts can be numbing for many of us. On the other hand, stories have the emotional wherewithal to truly change someone’s perception of their relationship with our planet. 

Here are our top five must-reads to help you reconnect with nature and rediscover, or illuminate for the first time, a desire to save the planet.

1. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants,  by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Robin Wall Kimmerer ‘s Braiding Sweetgrass is a love letter to the earth. Rarely do you find a book filled with scientific fact and natural history that reads so much like poetry.  Initially published by a small non-profit press in Minnesota in 2013, Braiding Sweetgrass only found its way onto the  New York Times bestsellers list in 2020. A full 7 years after it first went to print it entered at Number 14. As of today, Kimmerer’s book is #3 on that list. When asked why she thought her book was gaining popularity now, she told the New York Times,

“When we’re looking at things we cherish falling apart, when inequities and injustices are so apparent, people are looking for another way that we can be living. We need interdependence rather than independence, and Indigenous knowledge has a message of valuing connection, especially to the humble.”

8 years of people reading and sharing and falling in love with Kimmerer’s book has led to its current status as an international success. Call us naïvely optimistic, but we would like to think it represents an awakening within the general public. A shift towards the desire to find new ways of approaching and understand the world around us. 

2. All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, Edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson  and Katharine K. Wilkinson

The most recent book on the list only came out 6 months ago, in September 2020. It is a collection of powerhouse female environmentalists whose lyrical essays discuss the current state of the climate crisis. This book is a round table approach to unpacking individual nuances and overarching themes in the current climate movement from activists who are working tirelessly as we speak to save our planet. This book brings the academic format of an anthology of essays to a mainstream readership. 

3. The Overstory, by Richard Powers

The Overstory is a modern epic. We aren’t talking about the adjective epic (which this book is). We mean the noun epic, part of the genre that includes Homer’s Iliad and A Little LIfe – an unfashionable tome of a novel that tries to answer the bilious question: ‘Where did humanity go wrong?’

Richard Powers exerts immense intellectual and narrative stamina pursuing the answer to this question by exploring the lives of his nine, yes nine, main characters and their relationships to nature, more specifically trees. 17 species of American trees are mentioned in the first chapter alone.

Powers grapples fiercely with society’s self-imposed ignorance towards the reality of the climate crisis. One memorably blunt statement being:

Reefs blanch and wetlands dry. Things are going lost that have not yet been found. Forest larger than most countries turns to farmland. Look at the life around you; now delete half of what you see.’

As readers, we must reckon with these illuminances and what they highlight within our own lives and practices. This is not a happy book about the vague optimism of a ‘better future.’ Instead, it is a fatalistic reality check the trees may survive, but only if they can outlive the human race. A species that will inevitably meet its demise if it cannot resist its penchant for profit and ease at the sake of the planet. 

4. Underland: A Deep Time Journey, by Robert Macfarlane 

Robert Macfarlane is a world-renown environmental travel writer, think National Geographic in amicable and engaging prose. The latest book to encapsulate his missions worldwide takes us underground, exploring the caves, sinks, and glaciers literally and metaphysically across time and space. 10 feet below the earth’s crust is somewhere not many humans tend to find themselves, at least not while we are still part of this world. However, this is where Macfarlane travels and speaks from. Uncomfortable and claustrophobic, there is an urgency to this book even as it lays out in exquisite detail the path you will be lead on through the Underground. Prepare to squirm in your seat at the nail-biting expeditions and mind-blowing conclusions on humanity’s short role in the history of the earth.

5. H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald 

This autobiographical tale about Helen Macdonald’s journey taming a goshawk reads more like a psychological thriller than environmental literature. Helen has been in love with falconry from a young age. When her father dies suddenly, she throws herself into training one of the bigger and more violent birds of prey – the goshawk. Macdonald’s story breaks down the barriers humans have built up over time that separate us from the natural world. 

She reveals how the stereotypes surrounding nature were created to make us fearful of what we cannot control or don’t understand. Macdonald’s autobiography works to chip away at the imagined mystery of the wild and reveal the fantastic lessons that can be learned from animals about freedom and letting go.

Not only is this a very interesting and gripping window into the intimacies of training a bird of prey, it is also an important introspection on dealing with grief. This is not to say Macdonald recommends we  should all start buying hawks to get over our exes. Rather, H is for Hawk shows us  that by finding the things you still love and holding on tight, you can begin to loosen your grip on the things you’ve lost.