The cold weather has set in. The shortest day approaches. As winter arrives, many of us look forward to spending more time indoors – perhaps in a cozy chair with a blanket and a good book. But what to read?

Do you enjoy stories about the natural world and our (human) place in it, past and present? Do you want to learn more about treading softly on the earth? Would you like to have a better sense of the state of our planet – and what you might do to improve it? Perhaps you’d like some gift ideas – or some suggestions for your own Wish List.

I polled the leaders of some of the South Shore’s environmental groups, asking for recommendations for great books, from classic to contemporary. Their thoughtful responses present a varied list that will keep environmentally conscious readers busy for quite some time! If you want to be especially earth-friendly, where available, consider the Kindle (or other electronic) version.

Samantha Woods, Executive Director of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, recommends John Galluzzo’s The North River: Scenic Waterway of the South Shore. Woods says the book “traces this local gem’s multifaceted history from multiple vantage points – a shipbuilding center, a highway into the interior and facilitator of trade, and a protected wildlife sanctuary.”

Emily Simmer, Secretary of Sustainable Scituate, suggests Ishmael, a novel by Daniel Quinn. She says, “It’s a great overview of the evolution of society and humans’ place in the environmental world.”

Also from Sustainable Scituate, Lisa Bertola recommends the classic Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. She says, “Carson was a renegade woman scientist who saw the future and wrote about it. This book should be required reading for all high school students. It would help protect our environment for the future.”

Rosie Woodard, a member of REACH (Responsible Energy Alternatives Coalition of Hingham), suggests Barbara Kingsolver’s latest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She says, “This is a story about a family learning to eat locally grown food, how to plan foods by season, growing and cooking. Very interesting history, science and practical ideas behind the changes we’ll have to make in order to leave our planet’s resources for our children.”

Judith (Jude) Sonder of REACH recommends: The Seasons on Henry’s Farm: A Year of Food and Life on a Sustainable Farm, by Terra Brockman. She says, “Henry is Terra’s brother and a well-known sustainable farming advocate. Terra fled the simple farm life to live and write in NYC and pursue exotic travel, but returned home to farm again. As she ate healthier in “third worlds” than in the states, she came to realize that it was because the foods were fresh, local and unprocessed. Not only are these foods healthier, but also are a key to food security and sustainability going into the future.”

Sue McCallum, Director of Mass Audubon’s South Shore Sanctuaries, suggests
Sippiwissett or, Life on a Salt Marsh by Tim Traver. She says, “Traver combines history, prose, scientific research information, and casual observations, but what I really like is the sense of place that develops throughout the book. There is some very interesting information about salt marshes, their importance as nurseries and filters, but my ‘take away’ is the influence that a special place has on our lives. It made me start to think about those special places in my life and wonder if my children have places that they hold in their hearts.”

Mary Mitchell, President of Sustainable Braintree, suggests Low Carbon Diet: A 30 Day Program to Lose 5000 Pounds, by David Gershon. Mitchell says, “The term ‘diet’ refers to the carbon that you add to the atmosphere, not the calories that you eat. This easy-to-follow handbook leads the way as you make simple, energy-saving changes to your lifestyle.”

She also recommends Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, by Anna Lappé. She says, “When considering how to fight global warming, it’s easy to focus on the importance of changing light bulbs, turning down thermostats, and insulating homes. This book demonstrates how our industrial food system delivers a big negative impact on our environment, and has some big ideas about how we can improve the way we get our food.”

Mike Cavanaugh of Sustainable Braintree suggests James Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren. He says, “Hansen, one of NASA’s top climate researchers, explains not only the science behind climate change, but also his own motivations for going into environmental advocacy. As the title suggests, Hansen’s motivation comes from a grave concern for the future world that will be left to his grandchildren. The conclusion of the book leaves the reader with a well-informed sense of purpose.”

Ben Cowie-Haskell of Sustainable Marshfield suggests Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. He says, “If you are interested in what motivates people and the psychology of change, you will find this book fascinating. The authors use many excellent real-world examples to make their case and since change is so omnipresent in our lives this book is relevant to people in all walks of life.”

Cowie-Haskell also recommends The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems by Van Jones. He says, “This book proposes a solution to the unsustainable trajectory that society is following, that is an economy that is entirely reliant on fossil fuels which will one day run out. Jones proposes that we transition to an economy based on renewable energy generating much needed green collar jobs.”

Jim Savicki of Sustainable Duxbury cited the Jones, Kingsolver and Hansen works mentioned above, as well as When the Rivers Run Dry by Fred Pearce, “a comprehensive and alarming survey of the ongoing and pending worldwide water shortages that are effecting, and will effect us all, in some way.” He also recommends The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan: “A book for the more serious reader detailing the way corn has become the main ingredient in over 70% of what Americans eat today and the implications of that for the economy, health of the country, and the environment.”

JoAnn Mirise and Kathryn Earle of Sustainable Cohasset recommend Eaarth: Making a Life on a Touch New Planet, an unflinching set of recommendations by the iconic Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy and The End of Nature. As McKibben says on his website, “We’ve built a new earth. It’s not as nice as the old one; it’s the greatest mistake humans have ever made, one that we will pay for literally forever. We live on a new planet. What happens next is up to us.”

On the lighter side, they also suggest Michael Pollan’s, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, “a quick, poignant read for those who are trying to eat more healthily as well as more environmentally responsibly.”

And finally, at the top of my own reading list for the year to come, Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Louv posits that exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development, and offers 100 actions we can take to create change in our communities, families and schools. I’ll report back when I’ve finished it.

Happy reading, and Happy Holidays!

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, Correspondent
November 2010

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit To browse 13 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit