If the 50th anniversary of Earth Day has inspired you to finally read a book about climate change, we’re here to help you find just the right one.
Is it really already the 4th of July? The year is flying by — what better way to slow down than by diving into a great book?
Radium Girls work in a factory of the United States Radium Corporation, circa 1922. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)<h3><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Radium-Girls-Story-Americas-Shining/dp/149264935X" target="_blank">The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore</a></h3><p>This book is the opposite of a beach read. It is 496 pages and excruciatingly sad at times. But it's a memorable, well-written account of the lives of factory workers known as "radium girls," and if you haven't read it yet, you should.</p><p>During the 1920s, workers—often young women—painted glowing numbers onto watch dials with radium. They were instructed to lick their paintbrushes in order to paint fine details, causing them to ingest tiny amounts of radium hundreds of times each day. </p><p>The dangers of radium were already starting to be known at the time, but this knowledge was scarcely passed on to the workers, who painted their nails and faces with it and ate their lunches at their workbenches. Soon, one by one, many women began to experience symptoms of radiation poisoning. What started as a loose tooth turned into a crumbling jawbone. Dozens of women died. </p><p>Leaders at companies like Radium Dial tried to deflect blame for many years, even suggesting that syphilis was the cause of some women's symptoms. After persistent ex-employees filed multiple lawsuits, watch-dial companies were eventually forced to pay compensation to victims and their families. </p><p>Radium Girls is an engrossing book, even though there were times I had to put it down because what the women went through was so horrifying and frustrating. The book was released two years ago to widespread acclaim, and for good reason. Moore thoroughly describes not only the women's suffering but also their persistence and struggle for justice.</p>
(Credit: Sai Kiran Anagani/Unsplash)<h3><a href="http://www.richardpowers.net/the-overstory/" target="_blank">The Overstory, by Richard Powers</a></h3><p><em>The Overstory</em> won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for good reason: It might just be the first great American ecological novel. Powers was inspired to write the book after he encountered giant redwood trees for the first time while teaching at Stanford.</p><p>The scale is epic: <em>The Overstory</em> documents the lives of trees and the humans whose lives are touched by them and intertwined with them over the course of centuries. The effect is the portrayal of a world that has always—and will always—belonged to plants, where humans are just brief visitors.</p><p>In a series of slowly unspooling narratives that don't reveal their connections until late in the book, Powers develops beautifully complex characters—among them a farmer, an artist, a veteran, an activist, a Silicon Valley video game developer, a psychologist, and a scientist. He follows their lives in concentric rings, from early childhood to the tragedies that compel each of them to try and save the lives of trees.</p><p><em>The Overstory </em>may be fiction, but Powers incorporates true science on the interconnectedness of forests and ecosystems through prose that's literary and evocative. Some of his descriptions of the natural world were so visceral and lovely they compelled me to go outside just to briefly smell the air and touch the bark of a tree.</p><p>I listened to the audiobook, which I highly recommend for this one—it is beautifully read, and it was an added pleasure to hear the author's artfully crafted prose spoken aloud. Plus, you can listen to it while walking amongst trees this summer.</p><p> "The best arguments in the world won't change a person's mind," the psychologist in <em>The Overstory</em> opines. "The only thing that can do that is a good story." This book, which dares to imagine that trees drive a larger story encompassing all of human existence, is one of them.</p>
Sora (Credit Pete Myers)<h3><a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/598123/how-to-know-the-birds-by-ted-floyd/9781426220036/" target="_blank">How to Know the Birds, by Ted Floyd</a></h3><p>How to Know the Birds<em> </em>by Ted Floyd isn't just for those who want to know the birds. Those people, like me, will be most likely to pick this beautiful book off the shelf, but those who don't might miss out on a wonderfully written, accessible and comprehensive introduction to a new way of looking at the world around them. Though this book is first a crash course on birding, finish it and you'll be looking at and thinking about birds, the world and the world of birds in different ways.</p><p>The book is divided into 200 one-page chapters, each about a different bird and connected issue. Why is the Cedar Waxwing one of the birds that starts so many people birding? What's so incredible about bird migration? Why do birds need, but die from, renewable energy? What's so important about protecting huge chunks of habitat? How can humans enjoy and protect the natural world? Why should we? It's an introduction to birds and birding, but it's a reintroduction to the world, too, complete with delightful pencil drawings.</p><p>Not interested in reading about molt or the basics of delineating species? No worries. Though the chapters build nicely, this book lends itself to skipping and jumping back and forth. But, you might find yourself reading straight through, because you don't want to miss any of Floyd's writing. </p><p>It's full of laugh-out-loud sentences and beautiful paragraphs. You'll want to read next to someone so you can share the easy style and skill of Floyd's writing. You'll want to read close to the door so you can head out and put to the test your new understanding of birds and the world.</p>
Eastern Whip-poor-will at Magee Marsh (Credit: Pete Myers)<h3><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Season-Wind-Inside-Spring-Migration/dp/1328566420" target="_blank">A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration, by Kenn Kaufman</a><br></h3><p>Ever wonder what bird migration is like, from the bird's point of view? While we can only guess, my bet is that this lyrical book about bird migration is probably closer than anyone has ever come.</p><p>Kenn Kaufman has been writing about birds since his classic coming-of-age memoir "Kingbird Highway'(1997), about the year after dropping out of high school that he spent hitchhiking all over the United States in pursuit of seeing as many bird species as he could find. </p><p>In 2000 he published the first in a series of award-winning field guides to North American birds, butterflies, mammals and more. In 2008 he returned to the themes of "Kingbird Highway" in another memoir, "Flights Against the Sunset", a poignant collection of essays spanning continents, relationships and adventures.</p><p>His newest (2019), "A Season On the Wind" is an artful, passionate mix of stories about people, birds, bird migration and bird conservation, particularly in the face of the challenges a migratory hotspot—the southwest coast of Lake Erie—faces from wind farms. </p><p>Read it and I guarantee you will want to visit Magee Marsh next spring, if not every spring hereafter, and you will be in awe of how and why birds migrate distances, despite the dangers inherent in their journeys.</p><p>I'll be there. Hope to see you.</p>