Summer reading for the environmentally-minded

Karin Rives\

Summer has been flying by, but there’s still time to get out and enjoy the environment we’re all working to defend.

Whether at the beach, on a mountain hike or enjoying an outdoor picnic, nothing quite fits better with a warm summer day than leafing through a good book.

We asked our Environmental Defense Fund colleagues for reading tips and their picks range from the heavily eco-minded to self-improvement and sci-fi. Jeremy Novak, an editorial intern in our New York office, compiled their must-read list.

All books, we think, are perfect for savoring the remaining rays and they’re available at the EDF bookstore – so enjoy!


Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New YorkAuthor: Ted Steinberg. Manhattan has come a long way from being a marshland and Gotham Unbound examines little-known details of this relentless development. EDF lead senior economist Gernot Wagner recommends this book because it “shows the rich ecological history of New York and will open your eyes to a whole new world unbeknown to most New Yorkers.”

The Climate War. Author: Eric Pooley. True, we know this guy, but we’d recommend his book even if we didn’t. Before joining EDF as the organization’s senior vice president for Strategy and Communications in 2011, Pooley served as the managing editor of Fortune; and as national editor, chief political correspondent and White House correspondent for Time – to mention just a few of the gigs he held during his 30 years in journalism. Pooley’s reporting skills are in full force as he investigates the competing interests fighting over climate policy, including the head of an energy company and Obama advisors.

The Ecology of CommerceAuthor: Peter Hawken. In his first chapter Hawken writes that rather than making money, “the promise of business is to increase the well-being of humankind through service, creative invention, and ethical action.” His “human-centered” blueprint for corporations clearly has a major sustainability focus, and it makes an interesting read from an industry insider since Hawken co-founded the Smith & Hawken gardening supplies empire.

Of Wolves and MenAuthor: Barry Lopez. EDF Program Coordinator Paul Stinson recommends this classic examining the contentious history of interactions between these wild animals and civilization. Stinson appreciates the engaging narrative structure of this nonfiction, and working in Texas, the mental image of wolves roaming in much cooler areas.

The Big Thirst. Author: Charles Fishman. We often take water for granted, especially in August splashing it out of pools, running it through sprinklers, and freezing it for drinks. But water as a resource is far more fragile than we think (see: California) and Fishman examines in great detail how we should manage our supply.

The Necessary RevolutionAuthor: Peter Senge. EDF’s managing director of Corporate Partnerships in San Francisco, Elizabeth Sturcken, notes that this may not be the perfect summer reading if you’re looking to veg, but if you want to get inspired to act and become a more holistic systems thinker and doer, Sturcken says “Peter Senge is a wise soul that brings his thinking to our work.”     


Where’d You Go BernadetteAuthor: Maria Semple. This is a story of a misplaced genius (who can’t relate?), of family, and of escaping the dreary weather of Seattle. Spoiler alert: Bernadette goes missing and the narrative is seamlessly tied together through various types of correspondence: emails, F.B.I. documents and emergency room bills as a young daughter searches for her missing mom. 


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyAuthor: Douglas Adams. Preservation, science, different species and ecosystems; this book is right in line with EDF values – never mind that it all takes place in outer space. It’s imaginative, hysterical and bitingly critical of human shortfalls. EDF Clean Energy Intern Qiao Feng says she learned the answer to life, the universe and practically everything else from this book.


So Good They Can’t Ignore YouAuthor: Cal Newport. For anyone starting or changing careers, this book lays out a simple but unconventional plan: Don’t follow your passion. Really. The author advocates not chasing one all-encompassing goal, but rather following your skills and putting in the work to become excellent and allowing passion to grow from there. 

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