Books for your 2011 reading list.
Monsanto, the world’s most influential agricultural corporation, has quite the rap sheet. As the makers of cancer-causing dioxin, banned PCBs and the potentially dangerous growth hormone rBST, it’s fair to say that the company’s so-called miracle products all too often end up becoming nightmares. In her book, based on a documentary of the same name, award-winning journalist Marie-Monique Robin examines Monsanto’s latest blessing-turned-curse, genetically modified seeds that can resist the company’s patented herbicide but have the unfortunate side effect of creating herbicide-resistant super weeds. Robin’s exposé of a company bent on food monopolization brings the issue of food rights to your kitchen table.
“The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements” by Sam Kean
Though thinking about the periodic table usually conjures up images of beakers, Bunsen burners and chalk dust — not exactly the most exciting items in life — science writer Sam Kean brings one of our crowning scientific achievements to the masses by stepping out of the lab and into the fascinating world of elements, unveiling tales of passion, betrayal and obsession along the way. From stories of truly mad scientists to laboratory pranksters, Kean’s treatment of that dull chart we were forced to memorize in high school will give readers a new appreciation for long-forgotten chemistry sets sitting in their basements. (Read our full-length review.
“Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet” by Bill McKibben
Say goodbye to the planet as we know it. Melting glaciers, acidic oceans, freakish weather events: These are all signs that we’re living on a new planet, a planet so fundamentally changed by excessive carbon emissions that it needs a new name, one that environmentalist Bill McKibben has dubbed “Eaarth.” In his latest book, McKibben examines how we’ll make our way through this uncharted territory by embracing local economies and small-scale agriculture, but not before first reminding us of all the environmental harm we’ve caused so far. It’s a new world, proclaims McKibben. This how-to guide provides hope that humanity can survive it. (Read our full-length review.
“Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization”by Steven Solomon
“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over,” Mark Twain once said. And fought we have. Author Steven Solomon examines the many ways that the flow of water has shaped world history, from the Roman Empire to the steam-powered rise of the Industrial Revolution. Today’s water crisis, which threatens everyone from Middle Eastern desert dwellers to California
farmers desperate to irrigate their crops, is urgent and often seemingly unsolvable, yet Solomon maintains a glass-half-full optimism about the world’s ability to meet today’s water challenges that is truly refreshing. (Watch a video interview with the author.
“Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World” by Stan Cox
In an ironic twist that may end in humanity’s demise, our desire for cooler spaces is creating warmer places. The culprit? Air conditioning, one of the mainstays of modern life, which science writer Stan Cox takes to task by documenting air conditioning’s insidious role in speeding up ozone depletion, increased greenhouse gas emissions and even the proliferation of the Republican party. Despite air conditioning’s ubiquitousness in American life, Cox convincingly argues that most of us could afford to pull the plug on indoor climate control every once in awhile, if only to protect the climate at large. (Read our full-length review.
“Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food” by Paul Greenberg
Order fish off a menu today and you’ll be just as likely to be presented with an animal of the wild as one born on a farm. The building of dams and rampant overfishing have brought wild fish populations to the brink of collapse, causing us to look for other ways of feeding our growing fish consumption through increased bioengineering and fish farming operations. This new reality — future generations may grow up never having eaten wild fish — is one that author and lifelong fisherman Paul Greenberg examines in captivating detail by tracing the history of four fish that dominate the menu today — salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna. You’ll never look at a smoked salmon entrée the same way again.
“The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival” by John Vaillant
Author John Vaillant’s real life tale of a Siberian tiger with a vendetta against poachers who want to kill it for its valuable body parts will enthrall wildlife and action enthusiasts from the beginning. Along the way, the author provides an unforgettable portrait of Russia’s Far East, where remote and desperate villagers are forced to hunt formidable foes with superior intelligence and power. The final showdown between man and beast will leave readers with a renewed appreciation for the beauty of the natural world and the fragility of life.
“Adventures Among Ants: A Global Safari With a Cast of Trillions” by Mark W. Moffett
Modern day explorer Mark Moffett, who has been called the “Indiana
Jones of entomology,” takes readers inside the hidden world of ants, complete with close-up photographs of ants in familiar roles like warriors and slave owners and fascinating stories of ants dominating their ecosystems in a way that’s eerily similar to humans. Truly a great read that will readers a new appreciation for these tiny creatures, this book provides real life evidence that a bug’s life is not so very different from our own.
“Arctic Sanctuary: Images of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge” with photography by Jeff Jones and essays by Laurie Hoyle
Most of us will never be fortunate enough to visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an expanse of federally protected area the size of South Carolina
that represents one of the last remaining wilderness areas. Fortunately, there are photographers like Jeff Jones, whose expert eye captures the beauty and majesty of this magnificent landscape through stunning, panoramic images of rocks suspended in river ice, mountains lining the horizon, majestic rivers, close-ups of frosted purple and dark pink flowers and wolverine tracks through willows. By the end of his book, fit for the coffee table of any wilderness warrior, one thing’s for sure — the Arctic refuge is an irreplaceable landscape that’s well worth protecting.
“The Fate of Nature: Rediscovering Our Ability to Rescue the Earth” by Charles Wohlforth
Can we humans surrender our greedy nature and embrace common humanity? Former L.A. Times Book Prize winner Charles Wohlforth answers this question with a resounding YES in his latest book, which explores humanity’s relationship with nature through the lens of his native Alaska
, a place of both immense beauty and colossal environmental harm spawned by human greed. Wohlforth’s philosophical arguments, which draw on the latest science and compelling stories of human altruism, is a must-read for anyone who believes that humans deserve a second chance in changing the way we think about the world and our place in it. (Read our full-length review.