Booklist: Natural history & Science, Evolution, Critical thinking, Health, Resource allocation, Climate change, Fire

Preface. My goal since college has been to read as much as I could across as many fields as possible to obtain a Big Picture View and understand the world as it really is rather than how I’d like it to be.  At first it was a bit like learning Santa didn’t exist all the time, but then I got used to the world not being how I wanted it to be, and amazed/interested rather than upset when new information came along.  All this reading has made my life quite joyous and interesting, and my wonder at the complexity of nature and the universe continues to grow.

I worked full time as a systems analyst at Electronic Data Systems, Bank of America, and American President Lines.  So how did I read so many books?  Instead of driving to work, I read books as I walked 8 to 10 miles (round-trip), and I still do today.

More booklists

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Natural History & Science 

  • R. Conniff.  The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide
  • L. Margonelli. Underbug: an obsessive tale of termites and technology
  • P. Ward. Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe
  • Sy Montgomery. The soul of an octopus: A surprising exploration into the wonder of consciousness
  • L. Cooke. The truth about animals: stoned sloths, lovelorn hippos, and other tales from the wild side
  • B. Bryson. A short history of nearly everything
  • E. O. Wilson. Consilience. The unity of knowledge. 1998
  • J. Sterba. Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds
  • E. O. Wilson. The Social Conquest of Earth
  • S. McCarthy. Becoming a Tiger: How baby animals learn to live in the wild
  • J. Burger. The Parrot Who Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship
  • J. Tresl. Who Ever Heard Of A Horse In The House
  • B. Krause. Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the origins of music in the world’s wild places
  • Charles Foster. Being a beast. Adventures across the species divide.
  • Carl Safina. Beyond words. What animals think and feel.
  • D. G. Haskell. The forest unseen. A year’s watch in nature
  • J. McPhee. The Control of Nature.
  • C. Safina. Eye of the Albatross. Views of the Endangered Sea
  • A. Weisman. Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?
  • C. Slobodchikoff. Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals
  • D. Bodanis. The Secret House.
  • C. Combes. The Art of Being a Parasite
  • J. Vaillant. The golden spruce: A true story of myth, madness, and greed
  • B. Kilham.  In the company of bears: what black bears have taught me about intelligence and intuition
  • A. Wulf. The invention of nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World
  • E. O. Wilson. The meaning of human existence
  • J. Hemming. Naturalists in Paradise: Wallace, Bates and Spruce in the Amazon
  • M. Roach. Stiff. The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.
  • M. Roach. Gulp. Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.
  • M. Roach.  Packing for Mars. The Curious Science of Life in the Void.
  • N. Jablonski. Skin, A Natural History
  • D. Wolfe. Tales from the Underground: A Natural History of Subterranean
  • C. Tudge. The Bird: A natural history of who birds are, where they came from, & how they live
  • M. Derr.  A Dog’s History of America
  • S. Ellis. The Man who lives with wolves
  • C. Zimmer. Parasite Rex. Inside the Bizarre World of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures
  • J. Smith. Nature Noir A Park Ranger’s Patrol in the Sierra
  • B. Heinrich. Mind of the Raven. Investigations & adventures with Wolf-birds.
  • C. Mooney. The Republican Brain. The Science of why they Deny Science–and Reality
  • J. Gould. Animal Architects: Building and the Evolution of Intelligence
  • S. Hawking. A brief history of time.
  • M. Novacek. The biodiversity crisis: Losing what counts.
  • Peter Ward. A new history of life: the radical new discoveries about the origins and evolution of life
  • Yuval Noah Harari. Sapiens: a brief history of humankind
  • Cat Urbigkit. Shepherds of Coyote rocks: public lands, private herds & the natural world
  • E. Bailey. The sound of a wild snail eating
  • R. Conniff. The species seekers: heroes, fools, & the mad pursuit of life on earth
  • J. Vaillant. The tiger: a true story of vengeance and survival
  • M. Adams. Tip of the Iceberg: my 3,000 mile journey around wild Alaska, the last great American frontier
  • T. Flannery. 2002. The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australian Lands and People          
  • M. Williams. 2002. Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis   
  • T. Flannery. 2001. The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples. 
  • J. F. Mount. 1995. California Rivers & Streams. The Conflict between Fluvial Process & Land Use.  


Critical Thinking

  • K. Andersen. Fantasyland. How America went haywire. A 500-year history
  • N. Oreskes. Merchants of doubt. How a handful of scientists obscured the truth
  • C. Sagan. The Demon-Haunted World:  Science as a Candle in the Dark
  • S. Singh. Trick or treatment.  The undeniable facts about alternative medicine.
  • C. Mooney. The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality
  • J. Garvey. The Persuaders: the hidden industry that wants to change your mind
  • C. Mooney. Unscientific America: How scientific illiteracy threatens our future
  • N. Postman. Amusing Ourselves to Death
  • R. Moynihan. Selling Sickness.
  • S. Salerno. Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless
  • Dietrich Dorner. The Logic of Failure
  • D. Levitan. Not a scientist: how politicians mistake, misrepresent, and utterly mangle science
  • N. Capaldi. The Art of Deception: An Introduction to Critical Thinking.
  • R. Cialdini. Influence: The Art of Persuasion
  • M. Shermer. Why People Believe Weird Things. Pseudoscience, superstition
  • M. Shermer. The Science of Good & Evil. Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and follow the golden rule
  • T. Nichols. The death of expertise. The campaign against established knowledge and why it matters
  • J.J. Romm. Language intelligence: lessons on persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga
  • D. Kahneman. Thinking, Fast and Slow
  • A. Friedemann. Book Review of Grain Brain: Extraordinary claim not backed up by evidence


  • J. Barry. The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History
  • L. Garrett. Betrayal of Trust. The collapse of global health
  • M. Moss.  Salt, sugar, fat. How the food giants hooked us.
  • D. Kessler. The end of overeating: Taking control of the insatiable American appetite
  • Merrill Goozner. The $800 Million Pill. The Truth Behind the Cost of New Drugs
  • S. Glantz. Tobacco War.
  • J. Bennett. Unhealthy Charities: Hazardous to Your Health and Wealth
  • M. Nestle.  How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health
  • E. Whitney, et al.  Nutrition for Health and Health Care
  • G. Reynolds. The first 20 minutes. Surprising science reveals how we can exercise better, train smarter, live longer
  • B. Ehrenreich. Natural causes: An epidemic of wellness, the certainty of dying, and killing ourselves to live
  • R. George. Nine pints: A journey through the money, medicine, and mysteries of blood

Resource Allocation     

  • D. Landes. 1998. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor          
  • Jared Diamond. 2017. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human 
  • B. Ehrenreich. 2010. Nickeled and dimed: On (not) getting by in America
  • Susan George. 1994. Faith and Credit: The World Bank’s secular empire. 
  • M. Naim. 2016. Illicit.  How smugglers, traffickers, and copycats are hijacking the global economy

Climate Change    

  • S. R. Weart. 2004. The Discovery of Global Warming           
  • J. D. Cox. 2005. Climate Crash: Abrupt Climate Change And What It Means For Our Future      
  • Brian Fagan. 2000. The little ice age: how climate made history 1300 – 1850          
  • Brian Fagan. 2004. The long summer. How climate changed civilization     
  • J. Friedrichs. The future is not what it used to be. Climate change & energy scarcity
  • National Research council. 2002. Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises  


  • S. J. Pyne. 1997. Fire in America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire      
  • S. J. Pyne. 1991. Burning Bush, A Fire History of Australia              
  • M. Taylor. 2001. Jumping Fire.  A Smoke Jumper’s memoir of fighting wildfire
  • G. L. Simon. Flame and fortune in the American west. Urban development, environmental change, and the great Oakland hills fire              
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5 Responses to Booklist: Natural history & Science, Evolution, Critical thinking, Health, Resource allocation, Climate change, Fire

  1. Bernard Beveridge says:

    Wow! I don’t know what is more amazing – reading so many books or reading so many books while walking (or were they on tape?). I conservatively estimate that I put in 50,000 miles over my career riding a bicycle back and forth to work. Did I miss my chance to read lots of great books at the same time? Probably not.There are a lot of books I could recommend but I’ll limit it to 3 of my favorites: Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore (Elizabeth Rush), The World w/o Us (Alan Weisman), and Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization (David R. Montgomery). My guess, however, is that you have read all of these as well.

    • energyskeptic says:

      I rode a bicycle for 25 years that was almost an extension of my body, but then got a job where I had to have a car to answer computer software emergencies at any hour of the day or night. The traffic in Oakland and really poorly maintained roads were just too hazardous, so I switched to walking, which I find quite enjoyable, I can see and notice more — and read books as I walk! Luckily the sidewalks are in better shape than the streets. Rising: dispatches looks wonderful, natural history hikes and the great outdoors is how I spend a lot of time. I liked Dirt: the erosion but think Perlin’s “A forest journey” even better, or complementary, since forests being felled is often the cause of topsoil erosion, and it is a well written book (he asked me if I or someone I knew could make a documentary of it, but my only connections to Hollywood are in the entertainment, not documentary side of things). The world without us is hugely important and I wish more widely read and somehow comforting given how things are going…. His book countdown is also good.

  2. Rutger says:

    To that impressive list, I would add The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Lean Logic by David Flemming, although the latter it’s quite hard to pin down to any one category, it could arguably fit it in at least 5 of the above, it is a masterpiece of systems thinking, sustainability, human society and ecology. Both books have markedly changed the way I think about and interpret society and of course, its future.

    If you haven’t read either, I strongly recommend them!

  3. sajjad says:

    just asked for underbug from the library xx thanks Alice ☺