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5 Nonfiction Books about Nature and the Environment

Updated: Oct 16, 2022

Image of a mountain with text 5 Nonfiction Books about Nature and the Environment

by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)

This year's Unabridged Podcast Reading Challenge includes the category "Read a book (fiction or nonfiction) that addresses nature or the environment." This has been a goal of mine recently, as well, both because of my current teaching position at a school with an environmental science focus and because this is an area that feels increasingly important. Here, I'm sharing five nonfiction picks (plus some extras in the writeups!); I'll share some fiction choices soon!

Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire ( |

Abbey's memoir, published in 1968, includes reflections of his time as a park ranger at Arches National Park. He's a character—sometimes quite cantankerous in his vision of the right way to approach conservation—and his writing is lovely and reveals a distinct opinion on our approaches to nature. Abbey is writing at a transitional time for the National Park Service and for the American definition of what it means to have access to nature while still preserving it.

Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History ( |

Kolbert's book examines the Anthropocene era, the current geological age in which human activity is the primary influence on our world. She examines unprecedented patterns of extinction and irreversible changes in nature, examining everything from bats to frogs to the coral reef in accessible journalistic writing that blends scientific discussions with her own reflections. It's a compelling, often horrifying, and incredibly important book. Kolbert is also the author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change (, a series of essays that approaches the climate crisis from a slightly different angle.

Nick Offerman's Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside ( |

Offerman's book—which I highly recommend on audio!—is divided into three sections, all put together with a central quest given to him by Wendell Berry, a noted nature writer and novelist. Berry challenged Offerman to explore nature and to compare the outlooks of Aldo Leopold (his A Sand County Almanac [ |] is another great read) and John Muir. Offerman divides his book-form-response into three sections: a journey through Glacier National Park with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and George Saunders, noted writer; an adventure in England with James Rebanks who lives and writes of a pastoral, sustainable life style; and a cross-country trip in an Airstream with his wife, Megan Mullalley. The book is quite funny, of course, but it also shares a sincere and serious perspective on how we should be living in cooperation with nature rather than against it.

Doug Peacock's Grizzly Years (

Peacock, a companion of Abbey's (who wrote the aforementioned Desert Solitaire), retreated to nature after his service in Vietnam. As he worked through his recovery, he found a new home in and around grizzlies. While he never bonds with them or considers them to be his friends—this isn't that kind of book, thank goodness—he does develop a fascination with them and becomes an expert on their behavior and how they've been affected by humans. This is another book that considers the implications of conservation: it's a nuanced, moving portrait of both the world and of the author.

Terry Tempest Williams's Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (

Williams weaves together memoir and nature writing with gorgeous writing and truths highlighted by juxtaposing the environmental impact of changes in the Great Salt Lake (particularly on a bird refuge with which Williams has a deep connection) and the slow, agonizing death of her mother. Williams is asking some deep questions here about when we should use our scientific knowledge to intervene in natural processes, in whether those "natural" processes are natural or in actuality have been brought about by previous decisions and actions, and in what our role is as allies in choosing acceptance vs. resistance. This type of nonfiction is wonderful in its blend of the personal and the universal—it reminds me of another favorite, Patrik Svensson's The Book of Eels ( |, which paired Svensson's relationship with his father (which involved a lot of eel fishing) and different facets of eels in our world.

(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)

Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.

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