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Browsing the Backlist: Six Quintessential Earth Day Reads

Happy Earth Day! Today we’ve selected a few backlist titles that inspire us to join in celebrating—and protecting—the environment. Some of these books encounter particular humans in nature, like Carol Ruckdeschel of Harlan’s Untamed, “an adventure story that artfully articulates the ferocities of nature and humanity” (Kirkus Reviews). Others theorize broadly on wildness: Pollan’s Second Nature is, according to The New York Times Book Review, “as delicious a meditation on one man’s relationship with the Earth as any you are likely to come upon.” No matter what you read today, we hope you’ll find yourself marveling at the remarkable mystery, power, and significance of the natural world.

Darwin’s Origin of Species / Janet Browne

No book has changed our conception of ourselves more than Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The idea that living things, including humans, gradually evolve through natural selection is still controversial today. In her illuminating history of On the Origin of Species, Janet Browne, Charles Darwin’s foremost biographer, shows why it can fairly claim to be the greatest science book ever published. Browne describes the long genesis of Darwin’s theories, from his early readings as a university student, to his debates with contemporaries and experiments in his garden.

Here on Earth / Tim Flannery

Credited with discovering more species than Darwin, praised for his “ability to take complex ideas and—seemingly effortlessly—make them accessible” (Sydney Morning Herald), Tim Flannery is one of Australia’s leading thinkers and writers. In Here on Earth, Flannery tells the fascinating story of the evolution of our own species, exploring several early human species before turning his attention to Homo sapiens. A great title for Earth Day, as well as a route into Flannery’s extensive oeuvre—we’ve published a number of great titles by the author, including works on extinct animals, climate change, and Australian history.

H is for Hawk / Helen Macdonald

Where would a list of Earth Day reading be without this “beautiful and nearly feral” (New York Times) title? Named a best book of the year by TIME, NPR, O, The Oprah Magazine, Vogue, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and many others, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer’s eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

Second Nature / Michael Pollan

Published in 2003, Second Nature is a new literary classic. Penned by Michael Pollan, one of our most important and beloved writers on modern man’s place in the natural world, the book captures the rhythms of our everyday engagement with the outdoors in all its glory and exasperation. With chapters ranging from a reconsideration of the Great American Lawn, a dispatch from one man’s war with a woodchuck, to an essay about the sexual politics of roses, Pollan writes a passionate and eloquent manifesto, not just for gardeners, but for environmentalists everywhere.

Untamed / Will Harlan

A combination of Henry David Thoreau and Jane Goodall, Carol Ruckdeschel is a self-taught scientist who becomes a tireless defender of sea turtles on Cumberland Island, a national park off the coast of Georgia. She eats road kill, wrestles alligators, rides horses bareback, and lives in a ramshackle cabin that she built herself. Will Harlan’s biography of Ruckdeschel explores what happens when a dirt-poor naturalist with only a high-school diploma tries to stop one of the wealthiest families in America. A vivid story of an American original standing her ground and fighting for what she believes in, no matter the cost.

World Made by Hand / James Howard Kunstler

In his critically-acclaimed 2006 title The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler observed that the terminal decline of oil production, combined with the perils of climate change, could put industrial civilization out of business. Later, Kunstler created the World Made by Hand series, an astonishing work of speculative fiction bringing to life the America he’d predicted as a celebrated social commentator. This title is the first of four, all books that convincingly weave timeless literary themes with the potential realities—both sobering and hopeful—of climate change and disaster.