Aline Althen

Summer is in full swing and for many of us that means vacation time is in order. No matter where you choose to unwind, there is no better time to catch up on some reading.

The typical “beach read” is a bestseller, light hearted with a touch of intrigue or a twist. The books that top the annual lists are typically commodities as hot as the sunbaked sand. You just can’t put them down; you devour them and feel sad when the final page has been turned.

At USGBC we dare to think outside the box and have a list of recommended reads for you that will shatter your concept of what a beach read should be. We’re breaking the mold with books both timeless and timely, heartfelt and hard hitting.

These are the classics, and the titles that will become classics in the green literature canon. Far from exhaustive, this is but a mere sampling of the genre. If you spot a book on this list you haven’t yet read, we invite you to make 2015 your year to start and finish some of these must-reads.

  • A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold: A classic through and through, A Sand County Almanac is one of the purest and most timeless examples of nature writing. Leopold writes of the Wisconsin landscape throughout the seasons, drawing attention to the wonders of the natural world around him, and also to the role that humans play. Called one of the first ecologists, Leopold presents his observations in a series of poetic essays, chronicling the calendar year on his property and sharing with his readers his conservation ethic.
  • A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson: An icon of modern travel writing, Bill Bryson brings readers along as he navigates the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine. Not an avid hiker, Bryson’s storytelling is both informative and hilarious. His encounters with other ambitious outdoorsy types, wildlife and the elements provide valuable lessons and high entertainment. If you’re a hiker, this will remind you of the joys and perils of your own adventures. If you’re not, it will transport you into a world shaded by hardwoods and full of surprises.
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp, Camille Kingsolver: Barbara Kingsolver, acclaimed author of The Poisonwood Bible, invites readers into her personal life as she recounts a year of living off the land, her land. Along with her husband and children, Kingsolver endeavors to eat only those foods that can be grown on her own property or obtained from her neighbors. For anyone who has ever wanted to feel a little closer to their food sources or embrace seasonal eating at its best, this book offers an often amusing and always educational account of one family’s foray into farming.
  • Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken: Author the renowned book, The Ecology of Commerce, Paul Hawken turns his attention to the broad and immeasurable movements that are shaping our collective future in Blessed Unrest. Eager to examine the people and ideas bringing about positive change in the face of some of most extreme patterns of environmental destruction and social deterioration known to humankind, Hawken’s writing, like his subject, is transformative. If you’re tired of the doom and gloom of the news cycle and seeking some inspiration to propel you toward a new sense of hope, this book is worth a try.
  • Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Thomas Friedman: A modern classic of the sustainability movement, Hot, Flat, and Crowded explores the challenges wrought by globalization, overuse and misuse of resources, and population growth. Friedman proposes that the United States rally around principles of environmental, economic and social sustainability, embracing our tendency toward leadership and facing the problems we have helped to create head on. He calls for a green revolution and a national renewal, centered around a desire to improve the common good.
  • The Sea Around Us, Rachel Carson: Before Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring and sounded the alarm about pesticide use and its deleterious effects on the environment, she penned another book more in line with her academic interests. A marine biologist by training and profession, Carson’s story of the sea is hauntingly beautiful, detailed and descriptive. Her journey through time and the elements should be a prerequisite for any budding environmentalist and is worth returning to again and again. Whether or not you’re heading to the seashore this summer, The Sea Around Us should not be missed.
  • The World Without Us, Alan Weisman: Ever wondered what would happen if humanity disappeared from the face of the earth? Alan Weisman ventures to tell the story of our absence, how the material and natural world would change if we were suddenly removed from the equation. His captivating account of how the natural world would adapt is at times chilling but is, overall, revelatory and thought provoking.