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The Green Life: 7 Literary Basics for Environmentalists

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August 23, 2013

7 Literary Basics for Environmentalists

BookshelfYou wrapped up the Song of Fire and Ice series and can't bring yourself to read Fifty Shades of Grey. Why not indulge your green side, and learn something in the process? One of our Top 10 Cool Schools, UC-Santa Barbara, places such a high premium on the intersection of literature and the environment that it currently offers more than 30 undergraduate courses about the topic. For long-term research the university is your best bet, but if school is out reach, stock your shelf with these basics to get started.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Filled with both meditative, literary beauty and broad philosophical concepts, Thoreau used Walden to connect the personal to the environment. A product of Thoreau's stay in a self-built cabin near Massachusetts' Walden Pond, the book remains a touchstone for environmentalists.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Whether you're similar to Rachel Carson or not, the author's masterpiece is essential reading. Thoreau and Muir use gorgeous language to articulate their love for the environment, but Silent Spring takes a sharper approach, raising an alarm by highlighting the dangers of pesticides and other harmful substances. There's a reason the 1962 book helped to jumpstart the modern environmental movement.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

The environmental movement has evolved a great deal since Melville published Moby-Dick in 1851. Though the book's primarily focuses on other philosophical tenets, modern readings acknowledge an ecological interpretation. Captain Ahab's quest for revenge against an animal that only acted out of self-defense has clear ties to modern debates about animal cruelty and environmental destruction.

Our National Parks by John Muir

In addition to being a consummate outdoorsman and a fairly important figure in the Sierra Club's history, John Muir was an excellent writer. His works recall a poignant form of American nostalgia while continuing to make a case for for respecting our surroundings. No environmentalist should be without Our National Parks, Muir's 1901 tribute and argument for the American wilderness.

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

OK, The Lorax is a kid's book. And, yes, Dr. Seuss wasn't actually a doctor. But does a more straightforward, moving homage to the environmental cause exist? With simple words and illustrations, Seuss compellingly outlines the necessity of ecological awareness, conservation, and awesome trees.

The Colors of Nature by Alison H. Deming and Lauret E. Savoy (ed.)

This 2011 anthology of nature and environmental writing captures a wide variety of views. Compiled by Alison Deming, a nature writer, and Lauret Savoy, a geologist, the collection includes essays by dozens of writers from varied disciplinary and cultural backgrounds. The result is a poignant work that brings new concepts of intersectionality to the realm of environmental writing. The Colors of Nature outlines a social roadmap for environmentalism's future.

The Big Picture by David Suzuki

For more current environmental views, read some of David Suzuki's work. The Canadian academic and environmentalist has produced some of the best literature on the topic in recent years, providing information but also constructive steps forward. In 2009's The Big Picture, Suzuki identifies ways to reconcile modern economics with ecology — and also explains why we might need to start eating jellyfish for dinner.

Eric01_SMEric Brown is an editorial intern at Sierra. An Eagle Scout who has hiked in Denali National Park and kayaked down the Snake River, Eric thinks the world is worth saving, even if it has given him his fair share of sunburns. In the fall, he will be a senior at Northwestern University's Medill School, where he enjoys writing about music and editing for North by Northwestern.


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