Self-Study Course

Welcome! This page lists recommended books that will enable you to develop a deeper “feel” for sustainability. While there are hundreds–perhaps thousands–of worthy books I would readily list in the three sections below, these stood out as excellent places to start. Dumping information into your mind is not the goal here, rather, retooling one’s worldview is the best approach to foster a truly sustainable society. So don’t read these books with an eye to passing a test later. Instead, dive into them wholeheartedly, and analyze later.

Level 1 – Introductory

Oil and Honey, by Bill McKibben

This illuminating and entertaining recent book drives home the complicated topography of today’s most pressing global emergency: climate change. Yet it does so in the context of a personal story, which makes it both an easy read (if alarming at times) and remarkably educational. Though I list it as an “introductory” book, as a seasoned sustainability advocate I nevertheless walked away far more informed than I was when I picked it up.

Link to McKibben’s page.

Additional Introductory Suggestions

The Story of Stuff book

Level 2 – Intermediate

Building Soil, by Elizabeth Murphy

No list of sustainability-related reading would be complete without one that makes you get your hands dirty. This easy-to-understand book is nicely laid out with lots of pictures and illustrations, using plain language that even those of us who aren’t quite sure what “soil pH” means can grok. Even if you’re apartment-locked (sort of like land-locked but more dramatic) you need this book: it will help you to appreciate the incredible complexity and utterly fundamental necessity of clean, healthy soils. (Yes, clean dirt.)

Purchase on Amazon.

Interview on Science Friday radio with author.

Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Written by a woman who has a deep appreciation for nature from both a scientific and spiritual worldview, Braiding Sweetgrass will introduce you to the lives of the plants and animals you thought you knew from multiple perspectives that you may have never even guessed at. As a personal story, it is engaging and real. As an educational book, it both informs you and invites you to discover more for yourself.

This is a quote on the back cover that I found particularly apt:

“Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about the natural world from a place of such abundant passion that one can never quite see the world the same way after having seen it through her eyes. In Braiding Sweetgrass, she takes us on a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, author

Read more on the publisher’s page.

Level 3 – Advanced

Alright, the gloves come off! This section’s books are not only stuffed to the bursting point with detailed information, but they will–if you let them–shake your world and open your mind in ways guaranteed to surprise and likely scare you. (I’ve recommended these three books to more people than I can count.)

The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, by Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi

This dense textbook distills the essence of systems thinking and provides ample detailed information for even the most skeptical of linear thinkers. If you–like me–are not a scientist, I’m afraid about 25-30% of the book will be well-nigh incomprehensible. HOWEVER, the insights gained are twenty-times over worth the wading through. This is one book that is worthy of the intellectual challenge: it is as close as I’ve come to a how-to manual for life on the planet.

Purchase on Amazon.

Capracourse: an online systems thinking course.

Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources, by M. Kat Anderson

In the past I’ve heard rumors that Native North American people actively tended the land that European’s later blindly interpreted as a “wild garden of Eden,” but until this book, I had never had this rumor substantiated. Prepare to be amazed. This tomb, in great detail, outlines a way of life that could be the beginnings of a template for a whole new world. In fact, if we as human beings intend to remain on the planet, this has to be the way we interact with the rest of creation. The author is all business, focusing specifically on facts. However, I feel her passion for this utterly key subject comes through the presentation, and serves to paint a picture of what was, what still is for some people, and hints at the beauty of what could be.

Also, you will be educated about the genocide brought to these shores; a subject that sheds light on the modern Western world’s troubled relationship to life overall.

Publisher’s website.

A blog entry on this book.

The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, by David Abram

This book…is difficult to explain. With chapter titles such as “The Ecology of Magic” and “The Flesh of Language,” it will seduce you and miraculously educate you at the same time. Where other authors “tell,” this author “shows,” and more, “enacts” even as you sit there cozy in your home reading. He deconstructs some of the sleep around language, and reanimates it in strange and beautiful ways. Suddenly the ecological crisis is both larger and smaller than it seemed before. The many dozens of flags I have attached to pages are labeled with phrases such as, “Husserl’s genius,” organs of the world,” and “reinhabitation,” among many stars and exclamation points.

More about this book.

Purchase on Amazon.

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