Summer reading to fuel curiosity and conversation about sustainability
Faculty and scholars associated with the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability recommend these 29 books for your summer reading.
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 history of science, inspire critical thinking about technology and environmental justice, and fuel conversations about sustainability.
Here are 29 titles to consider as companions for your summer adventures. Whether you’re ready for an ode to wild places, a deep dive into the nature of time, insights on how popular ideas about extinction came to be, or perspective on how geology can shape a city, there’s a title for you.
Edited by Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua (2023)
“This collection of essays and interviews draws together artists, scientists, organizers and others to consider climate change and climate solutions from many perspectives. It reminds us that as important as the how of solving sustainability problems is, the why and forwhom matter too,” said Thomas Hayden, Professor of the Practice, Earth Systems Program.
By Brian Christian (2020)
“The book explores the powerful opportunities and dangerous risks of machine learning, which is an artificial intelligence method that is very rapidly growing in so many of the areas covered by the Doerr School, including my own field of climate science,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, the Kara J Foundation Professor in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability’s Department of Earth System Science and the Kimmelman Family Senior Fellow in the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
“It has been fascinating to read the history of the development of machine learning as my research group works to incorporate it responsibly into our study of global warming and climate change,” Diffenbaugh said.
By Charlotte McConaghy (2020)
“Migrations is a shatteringly beautiful ode to the wild places and creatures now threatened. But at its heart, it is about the lengths we will go, to the very edges of the world, for the people we love.” – From the publisher
“A novel that has the impact of climate change on endangered birds as a backdrop on a personal story,” said Erin Mordecai, Associate Professor of Biology and Senior Fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
By David Sepkoski (2020)
“This volume documents technical and popular concepts regarding the extinction and mass extinction of species from pre-Darwinian times to the present day. Sepkoski is currently the foremost historian of paleontology in general and of the study of extinction more specifically,” said Jonathan Payne, the Dorrell William Kirby Professor, Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs, and a Senior Fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
Catastrophic Thinking, “illustrates how our concepts about how extinction happens and what it means have evolved over time not only due to advances in biological and geological concepts and data, but also due to the evolving cultural context in which science takes place,” Payne said. “I recommend it to anyone interested in understanding how our current conception of extinction in the western world came to be.”
By Richard Henry Dana (2008)
“The author's first-person account of working on a sailing ship in the 1830's. I particularly loved his vivid descriptions of San Diego, Monterey, and San Francisco, at a time when the towns had almost no permanent buildings. It is a stirring reminder of how radically our world, and our cities, change over time,” said Jack Baker, Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
By Andrew Alden (2023)
“Geologist Andrew Alden excavates the ancient story of Oakland’s geologic underbelly and reveals how its silt, soil, and subterranean sinews are intimately entwined with its human history – and future.” – From the publisher
“I loved the wonderful descriptions of the Earth beneath our feet in this local-Geo-flavor book” said Jane Willenbring, Associate Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences and, by courtesy, of Earth System Science.
By Malcolm Harris (2023)
This comprehensive history of Silicon Valley traces “the ideologies, technologies, and policies that have been engineered there over the course of 150 years of Anglo settler colonialism, from IQ tests to the ‘tragedy of the commons,’ racial genetics, and ‘broken windows’ theory. The Internet and computers, too. It's a story about how a small American suburb became a powerful engine for economic growth and war, and how it came to lead the world into a surprisingly disastrous 21st century.” – From the publisher
Palo Alto offers “a deep reflection on the historical factors that shape (and maybe distort) local worldviews,” said 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.
By Annette Gordon-Reed (2021)
“The essential, sweeping story of Juneteenth's integral importance to American history, as told by a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Texas native. Interweaving American history, dramatic family chronicle, and searing episodes of memoir, Annette Gordon-Reed, the descendant of enslaved people brought to Texas in the 1850s, recounts the origins of Juneteenth and explores the legacies of the holiday that remain with us.” – From the publisher
Suggested by Simona Onori, Assistant Professor of Energy Science & Engineering and, by courtesy, of Electrical Engineering.
By Ash Davidson (2021)
“An epic feat of historical fiction that introduces readers to the logging community in the Pacific Northwest in the last months of life as the loggers know it,” said Emily Polk, Advanced Lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric Studies. “It is an engrossing and sometimes devastating story with memorable characters who evoke unexpected and surprising empathy.
By Kim Stanley Robinson (2020)
“It is a science-fiction novel that is a little too close to reality for comfort. It looks at the broad ranging global impacts of climate change and people’s efforts to change the tide,” said Arun Majumdar, 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.
By Melissa I. Sevigny (2023)
“This book was a wild, interesting ride through a part of the Grand Canyon history that was unknown to me and features a Professor and her graduate student exploring the natural world,” said Jane Willenbring, Associate Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences and, by courtesy, of Earth System Science.
By Anthony Doerr (2021)
“A magnificent tapestry of times and places that reflects our vast interconnectedness – with other species, with each other, with those who lived before us, and with those who will be here after we're gone.” – From the publisher
“An epic novel that takes place in multiple points of view and points in time, but highlights the human impacts of environmental degradation,” said Erin Mordecai, Associate Professor of Biology and Senior Fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
By Vaclav Smil (2023)
“Smil presents the long history and modern infatuation with invention and innovation. Meticulous as always, these vast realms of human ingenuity are organized into sensible categories: inventions that went from welcome to undesirable, inventions that dominate and missed the mark, inventions we still dream about, and lastly, the exaggerations, myths, and wise expectations for innovations we need most.” – From the publisher
“This short book offers a series of fascinating case studies that are immediately relevant to issues of sustainability and provides cautionary tales to those who would ‘accelerate’ innovation,” said Rodney C. Ewing, the Frank Stanton Professor of Nuclear Security and Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and at the Precourt Institute for Energy.
By Ron Chernow (2005)
“In Alexander Hamilton, we get to learn not only about the visionary man, but also much about the beginnings of the United States in ways that shape our society, policy, military organization, financial systems and much more until today,” said Inês Azevedo, Associate Professor of Energy Science & Engineering, Senior Fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy, and Associate Professor, by courtesy, of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
By Carlo Rovelli (2018)
“Why do we remember the past and not the future? What does it mean for time to ‘flow’? Do we exist in time or does time exist in us? In lyric, accessible prose, Carlo Rovelli invites us to consider questions about the nature of time that continue to puzzle physicists and philosophers alike.” – From the publisher
Suggested by Inês Azevedo, Associate Professor of Energy Science & Engineering, Senior Fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy, and Associate Professor, by courtesy, of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
By James Bridle (2022)
“Artist, technologist, and philosopher James Bridle's Ways of Being is a brilliant, searching exploration of different kinds of intelligence – plant, animal, human, artificial – and how they transform our understanding of humans' place in the cosmos.” – From the publisher
“What better time to consider other intelligences that have been with us since the beginning of time?” asked Emily Polk, Advanced Lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric Studies.
By John Doerr (2018)
“It can help us, as a school, think through where we are trying to go and how we can get there,” said Arun Majumdar, 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.
By Richard Powers (2021)
“Bewilderment is a love story between father and son amidst the backdrop of multiple layers of grief over profound loss, including the loss of Earth’s species. Among the many things I loved about this book are the wonderful stories that the exobiologist father tells his son at bedtime, in which he imagines adventures the two of them take to explore planets orbiting distant stars,” said Richard Nevle, Senior Lecturer in the Earth Systems Program.
By Angela Duckworth (2018)
“MacArthur genius grant recipient Angela Duckworth explains why talent is hardly a guarantor of success. Rather, other factors can be even more crucial, such as identifying our passions and following through on our commitments. Drawing on her own story as the daughter of a scientist who frequently bemoaned her lack of smarts, Duckworth describes her winding path through teaching, business consulting, and neuroscience, which led to the hypothesis that what really drives success is not ‘genius’ but a special blend of passion and long-term perseverance.” – From the publisher
Suggested by Simona Onori, Assistant Professor of Energy Science & Engineering and, by courtesy, of Electrical Engineering.
By Jackie Higgins (2022)
Sentient acquaints readers with “the range of sensory capacities of our more-than-human kin and brings the reader into an even deeper appreciation of the spectrum of ways in which Earth’s diverse organisms (including us!) experience the world,” said Richard Nevle, Senior Lecturer in the Earth Systems Program.
Edited by J. Drew Lanham and Jamie Reaser (2023)
The poems and short essays in this collection “celebrate our migratory avian cousins and their astonishing planet-crossing journeys,” said Richard Nevle, Senior Lecturer in the Earth Systems Program. The collection includes work by Stanford Professor Rob Jackson, Advanced Lecturer Emily Polk, Earth Systems graduate student Tanvi Dutta Gupta, and Nevle.
By Adrienne Mayor (2014)
“As in several of her other books, The First Fossil Hunters and Fossil Legends of the First Americans, Mayor takes familiar mythic stories and assembles evidence to reveal how they are rooted in the real world. In this case, the evidence is a mixture of tradition, history, and archeology, which together make a convincing case that the Amazons were real people who ranged over Scythia and the Eurasian Steppes beyond, and who lived up to their warlike reputation,” said Gregory Beroza, the Wayne Loel Professor in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.
By Christopher Reddy (2023)
“Marine pollution expert Reddy recounts his own experiences during the Deepwater Horizon oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, and examines other case studies of successful and unsuccessful science communication during environmental disasters to distill a clear approach to making sure the science is clear when stakeholders need it most,” said Thomas Hayden, Professor of the Practice, Earth Systems Program.
By Michael Lewis (2021)
“Another page-turner from Michael Lewis, this one about the U.S. response to COVID-19. There are many compelling anecdotes about the complications of decision-making under uncertainty and the interplay between science/communication/governing. The implications for our challenges in managing climate change are clear,” said Jack Baker, Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
By Bill Bryson (2005)
“An exquisite and hilarious account of, well, the history of nearly everything in what concerns science,” said Inês Azevedo, Associate Professor of Energy Science & Engineering, Senior Fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy, and Associate Professor, by courtesy, of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Edited by Allison Lassiter (2015)
“Written by leading policy makers, lawyers, economists, hydrologists, ecologists, engineers, and planners, Sustainable Water reaches across disciplines to address problems and solutions for the sustainable use of water in urban areas. The solutions and ideas put forward in this book integrate water management strategies to increase resilience in a changing world.” – From the publisher
Suggested by Richard Luthy, Silas H. Palmer Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Professor, by courtesy, of Oceans.
By Richard Powers (2019)
“A beautifully written novel that changed my feelings when I hike through a forest or ride by the many beautiful trees on our campus (including the main-quad trees that appear in the book!). I love that the trees are characters rather than props in a story focused only on humans,” said Jack Baker, Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Julia Novy, Professor of the Practice and Co-Director of the Sustainability Science and Practice Masters Program, called it a “fascinating” book “about the communications among trees.”
By Lindy Elkins-Tanton (2022)
“A remarkable new memoir by a visionary geologist and planetary scientist, documenting her unexpected path to leading the NASA mission to Psyche, a metallic object in the asteroid belt that may hold new information about the earliest history of the solar system,” said said Jonathan Payne, the Dorrell William Kirby Professor, Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs, and Senior Fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
“The memoir is remarkable not only for revealing her resilience in the face of numerous challenges, but also for her courage in taking personal, administrative, and scientific risks moving from a pathway outside of science to a faculty position at MIT and leadership posts in the Carnegie Institution and Arizona State University. It has changed the way I think about my own work as a teacher, researcher, and administrator while giving me great hope for the future,” Payne said.
Fronds: A Stanford Anthology of Environmental Justice Storytelling
Managing editor Tanvi Dutta Gupta (2023)
“Across nearly 200 pages, we collect 32 pieces from the Stanford community exploring the different ways environmental justice intersects with our lives and futures.” – From the publisher
Suggested by Lynn Hildemann, Senior Associate Dean for Education and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Not available in libraries.