Adventures of a Citizen Scientist: green summer reading

Posted: August 1, 2012

Novelist Carl Hiassen often employs environmental themes. (Photo by Tim Chapman)

Question:  What do you get when you cross a nature columnist with a librarian?

Answer:  Ideas for great summer reading with green themes!
What better time to kick back with a good book than on a hot summer’s day?  Here are some of my favorite books that entertain, inform and explore the natural world.


Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite contemporary writers for adults. Her fiction reflects an astounding array of voices, ages, settings and experiences. Kingsolver’s “Prodigal Summer” (2000) is one of the best stories and most influential regional novels I have read. Set in the southern Appalachian Mountains, the novel’s three primary characters discover themselves and the strong connections between humans and nature. It includes natural history observations about coyotes, moths and other life in the mountains. Also a love story, the characters discover their first, and sometimes second chances, at romance over one Appalachian summer. As well as being an award-winning writer of fiction and non-fiction books, Kingsolver is trained as a biologist and writes on natural history.


Rachel Carson

For those interested in traditional ecological writing, I recommend the classic “Silent Spring” (1962) by biologist and author Rachel Carson. Often listed as one of the most influential works of American non-fiction, this book drew the world’s attention to the dangers of DDT and other deadly pesticides and herbicides. But “Silent Spring” is more than just an exposé that changed history and the observations of a worried scientist. Carson wrote about urban ecology as both a professional and a genuine lover of the natural world. The poetic and scientific “Silent Spring” made ecology real for many readers and continues to reach us today. You may also enjoy “The Sea around Us” (1951).


Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen is an award-winning journalist and author of books for both teens and adult readers.  His popular novels for young adults can also be good choices for older readers looking for lighthearted fare. His first young adult book, “Hoot” (2002), won the Newbery Honor and was made into a movie. Hiaasen grew up in south Florida and writes lovingly about the region. His books for young adults are filled with quirky, contemporary, likeable characters who take charge to save burrowing owls, panthers, a wannabe TV survivalist and a Florida Keys beach. 

Adult readers may recognize echoes of the lighter aspects of Edward Abbey’s fiction within Hiaasen’s works. I enjoyed all of Hiaasen’s stories for young readers, which are never didactic and often very funny. My favorite is “Scat” (2009), an adventure in which an unlikely team attempts to save a Florida panther cub from bungling illegal land developers.


Other Picks

“Coyote at the Kitchen Door:  Living with Wildlife in Suburbia” (2010) by Stephen DeStefano.  This book includes modern reflections by a biologist, stories on human and animal interactions and thoughts on wilderness in America.

“Wicked Plants:  The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities” (2009) by Amy Stewart. This non-fiction book features short illustrated segments about things you never knew plants could do! Among Stewart’s other works is “Wicked Bugs:  The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army and other Diabolical Insects” (2011).

“Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray” (2000). A combination of the natural history reflections and memories of growing up in a rural Georgia junkyard, this book is an entertaining and touching portrayal of childhood in the longleaf pines.

“The Appalachians” by Maurice Brooks (1965).  A classic, easy-to-read book on the natural history of the Appalachian Mountains, including the Shenandoah Valley, by a famous naturalist and educator. You will likely recognize several of the locations Brooks describes.


During the past few weeks, Stephanie Gardner’s favorite place to read has been on her sofa  in front of the air conditioner. She is currently reading “The Fool’s Progress” by Edward Abbey and a book about eastern panthers.

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