Summer reading: Inspiring curiosity and critical thinking about sustainability

An informal survey of faculty and scholars associated with the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability yielded suggestions for summer reading that may ignite curiosity about our planet, illuminate the lives and work of pioneering scientists, inspire critical thinking about environmental justice, and fuel conversations about sustainability.

Here are 26 titles to consider as companions for your summer adventures. Whether you’re ready for a memoir of science in action, a guide to managing eco-anxiety, an ode to coral reefs and efforts to save them, or a firsthand account of how scientists came to understand the fundamental processes behind global warming, there’s a title for you.

By Vaclav Smil (2022) 

“I think this book really brings into perspective the magnitude of the challenge we are facing for Net Zero 2050. Pretty much anything we touch (plastics, steel, etc.) requires energy and often we don’t appreciate where that energy comes from and how difficult, yet not impossible it is to change,” said Jef Caers, Professor of Geological Sciences and, by courtesy, of Geophysics. 

Find it at your local library.

By Lindy Elkins-Tanton (2022)

“This memoir documents the life story of a leading Earth and planetary science researcher. Her incredible path includes a troubled childhood and the challenges of remote fieldwork and misogyny in academia. I loved the interspersed stories of triumph and the joy of discovery,” said Jane Willenbring, Associate Professor of Geological Sciences.

Find it at your local library.

By Juli Berwald (2022)

“Science journalist and marine scientist Juli Berwald brings the often-hidden world of coral reefs to vivid, lustrous life in the pages of this fascinating, wide-ranging book,” said Thomas Hayden, Professor of the Practice, Earth Systems Program. “In blending together science, stories, and her own daughter’s struggles with mental health through recent years, Berwald establishes a kinship among all threatened systems, human and wild, and the many sources of resilience and hope for healing the harm.”

Find it at your local library.

By Elizabeth Popp Berman (2022)

“Berman documents how neoliberal economic reasoning came to dominate policy discourse in Washington, D.C. between the 1960s and 1980s…The idea that economic efficiency is value-neutral took hold in policy circles and has become so entrenched that it’s hard to think of an alternative,” said James Holland Jones, Associate Professor of Earth System Science and Senior Fellow at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “This mode of thought has contributed to our current predicament and needs to be shaken up if we are to have any hope of a sustainable future.” 

Find it at your local library.

By Mike Berners-Lee (2010, new edition 2020)

A new edition of this invaluable and entertaining guide shows just what effect everything has on carbon emissions, from a Google search to a plastic bag, from a flight to a volcano.”– From the publisher

Suggested by Arun Majumdar, Inaugural Dean of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, Jay Precourt Provostial Chair Professor, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Senior Fellow, by courtesy, at the Hoover Institution. 

Find it at your local library.

By Suzanne Simard (2021)

“Suzanne Simard is a pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence…In her first book, Simard brings us into her world, the intimate world of the trees, in which she brilliantly illuminates the fascinating and vital truths – that trees are not simply the source of timber or pulp, but are a complicated, interdependent circle of life; that forests are social, cooperative creatures connected through underground networks by which trees communicate their vitality and vulnerabilities with communal lives not that different from our own.” – From the publisher

Suggested by Chris Field, the Perry L. McCarty Director of Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies, and Senior Fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy.

Find it at your local library.

By John Doerr (2021)

“This is a book that is so relevant for our times and for the new school, recognizing the urgency of the climate and sustainability challenges we face,” said Steve Graham, Transition Vice-Dean, Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, Welton Joseph and Maud L’Anphere Crook Professor of Applied Earth Sciences.

Speed & Scale is definitely worth a read given the launch of the new school and the challenges of managing climate change. I read it earlier this year and found it very useful in terms of setting goals and recording progress,” said Rosamond Naylor, the William Wrigley Professor of Earth System Science, Senior Fellow at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and Professor, by courtesy, of Economics.

Also suggested by Arun Majumdar, Inaugural Dean of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, Jay Precourt Provostial Chair Professor, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Senior Fellow, by courtesy, at the Hoover Institution.

Find it at your local library.

By Syukuro Manabe and Anthony J. Broccoli (2020)

From Syukuro Manabe, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, and atmospheric scientist Anthony Broccoli, “a compelling firsthand account of how the scientific community came to understand the human causes of climate change, and how numerical models using the world’s most powerful computers have been instrumental to these vital discoveries.” – From the publisher

“Manabe led some of the earliest efforts to build a global climate model. This book includes his perspectives on climate modeling and global warming,” said Aditi Sheshadri, Assistant Professor of Earth System Science and, by courtesy, of Geophysics, and Center Fellow, by courtesy, of Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Find it at your local library.

By Britt Wray (2022)

Stanford postdoctoral fellow Britt Wray “tackles the emotional strain of eco-anxiety head on. She blends the latest science and enduring psychological wisdom into a fascinating discussion of the emotional consequences of living with ongoing disaster – and the most promising strategies for coping psychologically while we work to solve the climate crisis,” said Thomas Hayden, Professor of the Practice, Earth Systems Program. Learn more about Wray and her work at the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health.

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By John L. Hennessy (2018)

Leading Matters is a gorgeous, inspirational, and essential handbook for the leaders we all hope to be. John Hennessy shares more than 90 life lessons in leadership – lessons learned as an entrepreneur, professor, and president of one of the world’s great universities. Ranging from artificial intelligence to the arts to the value of empathy, John’s stories are a rare gift for the courageous, humble servant leader inside each of us.” – John Doerr

Suggested by Arun Majumdar, Inaugural Dean of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, Jay Precourt Provostial Chair Professor, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Senior Fellow, by courtesy, at the Hoover Institution. 

Find it at your local library.

By Etienne Guyon, José Bico, Étienne Reyssat, and Benoît Roman (2021)

Hidden Wonders was a fascinating foray into the physical mechanisms and beauty of everyday objects around us. It includes historical asides and easy experiments in each chapter that are fun if you have a child in your life,” said Jane Willenbring, Associate Professor of Geological Sciences.

Find it at your local library.

By Richard J. Nevle and Steven Nightingale (2022)

Stanford Earth Systems Deputy Director Richard Nevle and collaborator Steven Nightingale deliver “a charming, immersive meditation on the Sierra Nevada in essays, poems, and etchings” with the power to soothe and restore, said Thomas Hayden, Professor of the Practice, Earth Systems Program. “The book is an ecstatic read that weaves natural history and mystical wonder into a powerful homage to our living world and the art of paying attention,” added Emily Polk, an Advanced Lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric Studies. Read our Q&A with the author.

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By Steffanie Strathdee and Thomas Patterson (2019)

“A nail-biting medical mystery, The Perfect Predator is a story of love and survival against all odds, and the (re)discovery of a powerful new weapon in the global superbug crisis.” – From the publisher

“If we are not done worrying about pathogens, this will keep you up at night,” said Paul Segall, the Cecil H. And Ida M. Green Professor of Geophysics.

Find it at your local library.

Collected and with an introduction by Joy Harjo (2021)

“Joy Harjo, the first Native poet to serve as U.S. Poet Laureate, has championed the voices of Native peoples past and present. Her signature laureate project gathers the work of contemporary Native poets into a national, fully digital map of story, sound, and space, celebrating their vital and unequivocal contributions to American poetry.” This companion anthology features each poem and poet from the project. The chosen poems reflect on the theme of place and displacement. – From the publisher 

Emily Polk, an Advanced Lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric Studies, called it “breathtaking.”

Find it at your local library.

By David Epstein (2019)

Range is a convincing, engaging survey of research and anecdotes that confirm a thoughtful, collaborative world is also a better and more innovative one.” NPR

Suggested by Julia Novy-Hildesley, Professor of the Practice and Executive Director of the Change Leadership for Sustainability Program.

Find it at your local library.

By Brenda Maddox (2003)

“This is a wonderfully written story of how the structure of DNA was finally solved. It is a good example of how science is actually done, and a history that illustrates the special burden of those who are not included in the process. The explanation of basic crystallographic principles is quite accurate,” said Rodney C. Ewing, the Frank Stanton Professor in Nuclear Security, Co-Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies’ Center for International Security and Cooperation, and Professor of Geological Sciences.

Find it at your local library.

By Emma Marris (2021)

Much ink has been spilled regarding how we should treat domesticated animals, but what are our ethical obligations to animal kin who inhabit the wild? Emma Marris brings deep philosophic insight into this question as she interrogates the meaning of wildness in an era of profound anthropogenic disruption of the biosphere,” said Richard Nevle, Lecturer and Deputy Director of the Earth Systems Program.

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By Mark Nuttall (2017)

“Greenland is a prime example where future challenges around renewable energy and environmental justice come into focus. With an indigenous population of 50,000, Greenland may contain the minerals needed for building green energy resources, yet such transformation will need to involve indigenous communities who own the lands where these resources are located. The read is more technical, but I could not think of a better case study for the challenges we face. It is also fascinating to know that searching for these mineral takes place next to the Jacobshavn glacier, a key glacier for sea level rise predictions,” said Jef Caers, Professor of Geological Sciences and, by courtesy, of Geophysics.

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By Neal Stephenson (2021)

Termination Shock brings together a disparate group of characters from different cultures and continents who grapple with the real-life repercussions of global warming.” – From the publisher

“Stephenson explores geo-engineering as a solution to the climate crisis,” including “the agonizing trade-offs that are likely to be revealed by any geo-engineering scheme,” said James Holland Jones, Associate Professor of Earth System Science and Senior Fellow at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

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By Charles H. Langmuir and Wallace Broecker (1984, revised and expanded 2012)

“This classic account of how our habitable planet was assembled from the stuff of stars introduced readers to planetary, Earth, and climate science by way of a fascinating narrative.” For the 2012 edition, Harvard geochemist Charles Langmuir worked closely with the original author, Earth scientist Wally Broecker, to revise and expand the book “for a new generation of readers for whom active planetary stewardship is becoming imperative.” – From the publisher

Aditi Sheshadri, Assistant Professor of Earth System Science and, by courtesy, of Geophysics, and Center Fellow, by courtesy, of Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, called it “a great history of the Earth and how its climate sustains life.”

Find it at your local library.

By Mehana Blaich Vaughan (2018)

“Building on two decades of interviews with more than sixty Hawaiian elders, leaders, and fishermen and women, Kaiāulu shares their stories of enduring community efforts to perpetuate kuleana, often translated to mean ‘rights and responsibilities.’” Community actions extend kuleana to include nurturing respectful relationships with resources, guarding and cultivating fishing spots, preparing future generations to carry on, and more. Author Mehana Blaich Vaughan, PhD ‘12, grew up on the island of Kaua‘i and is now an assistant professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. – From the publisher

Suggested by Sibyl Diver, Lecturer, Earth Systems Program.

Find it at your local library.

By Colum McCann (2020)

“The book is based on the story of two men, one Palestinian the other Israeli, who lost daughters to violence. The author interweaves historical events, imagined thoughts and conversations, with seemingly random sections on birds, history, and more. The book is ultimately very powerful. Both men exhibit incredible strength in arguing for a different way forward. In some way they have already lost so much that they are powerful, immune to name calling and threats,” said Paul Segallthe Cecil H. And Ida M. Green Professor of Geophysics.

Find it at your local library.

By David Graever and David Wengrow (2021)

“A provocative rethinking of the received narrative of human prehistory….I don’t agree with everything they say, but I do believe it’s essential for us to understand that human prehistory is probably rather more complicated than 1.5 million years of Kalahari-style/small-band hunting and gathering. Foraging lifeways were far more complex than the caricature of the Pleistocene that dominates our thinking,” said James Holland Jones, Associate Professor of Earth System Science and Senior Fellow at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “The source of this complexity helps us ground human social and political organization, economics, and sustainability in its proper context.”

Find it at your local library.

By Julian Aguon (2021)

The Properties of Perpetual Light is an homage to the work of the activist-writer, which author Julian Aguon describes as ‘the work of bearing witness, wrestling with the questions of one’s day, telling children the truth.’” With prose and poetry, Aguon weaves together stories from his childhood in the villages of Guam with political commentary about everything from nuclear weapons to climate change. – From the publisher

Suggested by Sibyl Diver, Lecturer, Earth Systems Program.

Find it at your local library.

By Bee Wilson (2013)

“Wilson’s book seems light-hearted at first glance but through its deep inquiry into our changing relationship with food and cooking, throws light on the evolution and development of humanity itself.” The Guardian

Wilson’s supple, sometimes playful style in Consider the Fork, a history of the tools and techniques humans have invented to feed themselves, cleverly disguises her erudition in fields from archaeology and anthropology to food science.The New York Times

Suggested by Rob Jackson, the Michelle and Kevin Douglas Provostial Professor and Senior Fellow at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and at the Precourt Institute for Energy.

Find it at your local library.

By Rutger Bregman (2020)

“Is environmental apocalypse inevitable? With meticulous research, Bregman challenges that our species is doomed by its selfishness and capacity for violence. While I found myself arguing with the author throughout this compelling read, I finished it with the hopeful thought that the greatest untapped resource in the fight for a more just and sustainable future might be our own capacity for good,” said Richard Nevle, Lecturer and Deputy Director of the Earth Systems Program.

Find it at your local library.

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