Nathaniel Rich: TOP TEN BOOKS

Nathaniel Rich

“Almost no rock, leaf or cubic foot of air on Earth has escaped our clumsy signature” writes Nathaniel Rich in his celebrated new essay collection, Second Nature, in which he explores humanity’s relationship with nature, and the sometimes extraordinary passion and purpose people bring to the battle to preserve what remains. The American novelist and essayist is also the author of Losing Earth: A Recent History, as well as the novels King Zeno, Odds Against Tomorrow, and The Mayor’s Tongue. The son of writers Frank Rich and Alex Witchel, Rich cites Martin Amis, J. G. Ballard, and Margaret Atwood among his favorite writers, but for this list he chose to stick to books that illuminate the complexity of our relationship to the natural world. In a summer season that has seen unparalleled temperatures in Canada and parts of the western United States, the message of these ten books could hardly feel more urgent.


The Control of Nature

John McPhee
In three exquisite stories, McPhee asks the defining question of our age—how to perfect our control of nature without losing our own?
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The Invention of Nature

Andrea Wulf
A thrilling, bighearted introduction to the life and work of Alexander von Humboldt, the man most responsible for our modern understanding of the natural world and our place in it. He was so ahead of his era that he seems to have been beamed back from the future, warning centuries ago of the perils of climate change, colonialism, industrial agriculture, deforestation, and just about the rest of our social ills.
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The Great Derangement

Amitav Ghosh
The most insightful critical study of the literature of climate change, written with a depth and warmth that only a novelist of his imaginative powers could achieve. Why aren’t there more works of fiction about climate change, and why so few good ones? Ghosh’s answers are both convincing and surprising.
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George R. Stewart
The first ecological novel: The life story of Maria, a Pacific storm that besieges the American West, told from the storm’s perspective. Formally deranged, stylistically radical, Storm fuses the spirit of a 1930s social drama with the sensibility of an Aldo Leopold. Published in 1941, it sold more than a million copies.
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Erosion: Essays of Undoing

Terry Tempest Williams
Moving, elegant, unflinchingly personal, genre-defying, mournful, reverent, enraged, bighearted—a terrific collection from one of our most imaginative writers. “Wilderness in the twenty-first century is not a site of nostalgia for what once was,” she writes, “but rather the seedbed of creativity for what we have yet to imagine.”
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The MaddAddam Trilogy

Margaret Atwood
“Is prescience a literary virtue?” asked Martin Amis, in his introduction to J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World (a runner-up for this list, along with Amis’s Einstein’s Monsters). The answer, Amis correctly concludes, is “a cheerful no.” Still much of the thrill of Atwood’s trilogy lies in her unique ability to dramatize, and satirize, the uncanniness of the future we are inheriting.
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A Friend of the Earth

Boyle fictionalized the story of the tree-sitting activist Julia Butterfly Hill long before Richard Powers tried it in The Overstory. A Friend of the Earth is one of the first novels about climate change and remains one of the best.
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Gold Fame Citrus

Claire Vaye Watkins
A cracked vision from our sunbaked future and an intimate exploration of the ways environmental crises enter, and derange, our inner lives.
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Mother Country

Marilynne Robinson
Robinson’s most overlooked work, Mother Country is an investigation of the Sellafield nuclear plant and its moral and political failings. An analysis of bureaucratic inanities, greed, and economic history that becomes no less than a meditation on the mundanity of evil.
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Epochs of Nature

Georges-Louis Leclerc le Comte de Buffon
A rollicking tour of the natural world as seen by the Europeans who strived to dominate it. The wonders of nature attract such descriptions as “grotesque,” “nauseous,” “terrible,” and “pestilential.” Published in thirty-six volumes, this triumph of anti-enlightenment it was the most widely collected work of the Enlightenment.
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