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A Summer Reading List on Earth

It’s that time of year. Lie on the beach, jump on a plane to an exotic place, or just settle in on the chaise in the back yard — with a good book. Slow down, read, learn, enjoy.

Barbara Buell
June 27, 2016
Cold drink next to a stack of books

Based on recommendations from some of our faculty and teaching staff, here is a (non-exhaustive) list of books about Earth’s beauty, its resources, and its challenges that you may want to catch up on this summer – or recommend as inspiration to a young person interested in the sciences. Read on and, not surprisingly, you will find some Stanford and Stanford Earth connections.

Tipping Point For Planet Earth book cover

Tipping Point for Planet Earth: How close are we to the edge?

by Anthony Barnosky and Liz Hadly

Anthony Barnosky and Liz Hadly, a Stanford environmental biology professor, present a call to action about our planet’s failing life support systems.

Thomas Dunne Books, 2016

Prodical Summer book cover

Prodigal Summer

by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver’s fifth novel addresses the struggle between humans and the natural world. Set in Appalachia, the book focuses on three stories of human love, as well as the ecological damage caused by herbicides, ethical questions about raising tobacco, and the endangered condition of subsistence farming.

Harper Perennial, 2001

Lentil Underground book cover

Lentil Underground: Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America

by Liz Carlisle

Stanford Earth lecturer Liz Carlisle tells the story of a little known group of renegade farmers who defied corporate agribusiness by launching a unique sustainable farm-to-table food movement.

Avery, 2015

The Big Ratchet book cover

Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis

by Ruth DeFries

Columbia professor and MacArthur fellow Ruth DeFries explains the innovations that have taken us from foragers on the savannahs to producers of 3000 calories of food daily for 7 billion people. The Big Ratchet came with 20th century technologies like fossil fuels, plant breeding, and nitrogen fertilizers that drove population and food production. She helps us understand how we reached this point in history -- and how we might survive it.

Basic Books, 2014

The Sixth Extinction book cover

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert

Journalist Elizabeth Kolbert wrote this New York Times best seller which weaves science, historical context, and tales from the field to build a case that the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth is already underway.

Picador, 2015

Painting At The Edge Of The World book cover

Painting at the Edge of the World:  The watercolors of Tony Foster

by Tony Foster

Watercolorist Tony Foster camps for days and creates huge paintings of geologically compelling formations: canyons, volcanoes, mountains, and more. Foster combines his art with inspiring stories that make interdisciplinary Earth science and art connections. His paintings also are on view at the Foster Art and Wilderness Foundation in Palo Alto through December 2016.

Venture Press, 2008

Game Changers book cover

Game Changers: Energy on the Move

by George Shultz and Robert Armstrong

Former Secretary of State and Hoover Institution Distinguished Fellow George Shultz and Robert Armstrong describe energy innovations that will transform our future: natural gas from shale, solar photovoltaics, grid-scale electricity storage, electric cars, and LED lighting. They also show how extreme energy reliability demands put the U.S. military in the lead of energy innovation.

Hoover Institution Press, 2014

Angel of Repose book cover

Angle of Repose

by Wallace Stegner

This novel is Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story of personal, historical, and geographic discovery. In 1998, Modern Library ranked it one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

Doubleday, 1971

Earth Remains Forever book cover

The Earth Remains Forever

by Rob Jackson

Stanford Earth professor Rob Jackson argues that we're at a crucial turning point in environmental history, where choices we make now will determine the future quality of life. Laying out the scientific facts in plain language, he shows how population growth and resource consumption have caused problems from ozone depletion to global warming, habitat destruction, and biodiversity loss. But he also highlights ongoing solutions. His message is not that we've already failed, but that we can succeed.

University of Texas Press, 2002

The Song Of The Dodo book cover

Song of the Dodo

by David Quammen

David Quammen takes readers through the ideas and experiments of naturalists of the last two centuries. He tracks the subject of island biogeography, which encompasses the origin and extinction of all species. He shows us the nature of evolution and extinction, and helps the reader understand the monumental diversity of our planet, and the importance of preserving its wild landscapes, animals, and plants.

Scribner, 1997

Silent Spring book cover

Silent Spring

by Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson wrote the seminal book on ecology that triggered the Earth movement in the 1960s.

Houghton Mifflin, 2002 (originally published 1962)

The Botany Of Desire book cover

Botany of Desire

by Michael Pollan

Food expert and New York Times best seller Michael Pollan shows how people and domesticated plants have formed a reciprocal relationship. He links four fundamental human desires―sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control―with the plants that satisfy them.

Random House, 2002

Beyond Smoke and Mirrors book cover

Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy (second edition)

by Burton Richter

A Nobel Prize winning Stanford physicist and former director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Burton Richter surveys the evidence for climate change and available energy sources. The San Francisco Chronicle called his book "a model of rational discourse in this time of inflammatory arguments."

Cambridge University Press, 2014

Science As A Contact Sport book cover

Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate

by Stephen Schneider

Called a “climate warrior” by the New York Times, Stanford biologist Stephen Schneider was part of the Nobel Prize–winning team that shared the accolade with Al Gore in 2007 (along with Stanford Earth dean Pam Matson). Schneider, who was a major voice in the political and scientific climate discussion until his death in 2010, gives an insider’s look at 30 years of climate science, history, and debate in this book.

National Geographic, 2009

A Land In Motion book cover

A Land in Motion: California's San Andreas Fault

by Michael Collier

Photographer and writer Michael Collier, a Stanford Earth MS graduate in structural geology, beautifully illustrates this book about California’s big fault with photographs from the air and ground. He writes about some of the geologists who have spent parts of their careers studying it.

University of California Press, 1999

Planet Ocean book cover

Planet Ocean:  A story of life, sea and dancing to the fossil record

by Ray Troll

Ray Troll authored this pop-paleontology book, which takes a unorthodox excursion through swaths of paleontology, geology, and natural history. His travel notes and amateur fieldwork from Kansas to British Columbia explain human evolution through a series of mass extinctions and improbable survivals. The book includes wacky cartoons and colorful, mixed-media drawings.

10-Speed Press, 1998

For Professionals and Students

Pursuing Sustainability book cover

Pursuing Sustainability: A Guide to the Science and Practice

Pamela Matson, dean of Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, and her coauthors William Clark and Krister Andersson believe the well-being of future generations depends on Earth’s natural capital -- ecosystems, environmental processes, and natural resources – as well as the human social systems necessary to manage them well. The book is a primer for both students and practitioners who are seeking a more systematic and comprehensive platform on which to base their pursuits of sustainability.

Princeton University Press, 2016

Ecosystems of California book cover

Ecosystems of California

by Hal Mooney and Erika Zavaleta

Edited by Stanford environmental biologist Hal Mooney and Erika Zavaleta, Ecosystems of California is a reference book about California’s ecology for students and professionals interested in natural resource management or conservation.

University of California Press, 2016

If you have a favorite book about Earth you would like to recommend, email with a sentence or two on why you like it.