15 Must-Read Books That Will Forever Change How You See the World


Some say print books are passé, but I still like curling up on the couch with a mind-expanding read. Here are my top picks for ecological and sustainable reading.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

by William McDonough & Michael Braungart.

(Paperback) / (Kindle)

Why settle for a throwaway culture? This book inspires elegant design solutions, stating that every single product must either go back to the earth or back into industry to be made into something else. A revolutionary way of upgrading the Industrial Revolution.

Introduction to Permaculture

by Bill Mollison


The classic text on permaculture design (which is not limited to gardens, but can also be used to design homes, communities and societies in general). An excellent introduction for the aspiring student or someone who just wants to know what it’s all about.

The World Without Us

by Alan Weisman.


What exactly would happen to the earth if human life disappeared? The author explores a few different scenarios in great detail (including a suddenly depopulated Manhattan). Absolutely addictive reading.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

by Barbara Kingsolver.

(Paperback) / (Kindle)

A great read for the locavores. The author spends a year eating only from her garden, or that which is locally grown or raised. A foodie’s delight, this book proves how richly one can live off the land.

Eating For Beauty

by David Wolfe.

(Paperback) / (Kindle)

Leading raw foodist David Wolfe takes that old adage “you are what you eat” to a new level. He describes how what you eat literally creates who you are, and which foods will create the most beautiful you – in body and in spirit.

Lifeplace: Bioregional Thought and Practice

by Robert L. Thayer, Jr.

(Paperback / (Kindle)

In a world gone insanely global, this book takes us deeper into the microcosm.  A bioregion is defined by nature, not by politics, and having intimate connection with your home means living within that context – historically, geographically and culturally.

Green Building & Remodeling For Dummies

by Eric Corey Freed.

(Paperback) / (Kindle)

Written by the founder of organicARCHITECT, this book is a comprehensive guide to green building materials and techniques, energy and water systems, and the pros and cons of everything. Check out a sample chapter here.

Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth

by James Lovelock.


First published in 1979, this book sets forth the Gaia Hypothesis, stating that our planet is more than a sum of its resources, but rather a fully integrated living being, with systems of life more complex than previously imagined. I wonder what Gaia’s thinking about us now?

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

by Michael Pollan.


Follow a McDonald’s meal back to a cornfield in Iowa. Learn about the differences between large and small organic farms. See what it’s like to hunt and gather for oneself. Food is what builds our bodies – we ought to know what it takes to build our food.

Ecovillages: A Practical Guide to Sustainable Communities

by Jan Martin Bang.


Documenting some of the successful Ecovillages around the world, the author shows us how groups of people have come to together to live out the permaculture model in both rural and urban environments.

Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves

by McCamant, Durrett and Hertzman.


If you think intentional communities are too much like communes, but typical modern housing creates too much isolation, cohousing may be the answer you’re looking for. Explore these European neighborhoods built with the aim of fostering community while simultaneously respecting each family’s personal space.

The Findhorn Garden: Pioneering a New Vision of Man and Nature in Cooperation

by The Findhorn Community.


The founders of Findhorn were guided to begin growing a garden (including tomatoes, roses and tropicals) on an infertile, sandy plot in cold coastal Scotland. The quality and quantity of what they grew stunned horticulturists around the world. Enjoy this photo-filled book and learn the surprising secret of their success.

Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature

by Janine M. Benyus.

(Paperback) / (Kindle)

We’ve thus far created a modern world based on artificial ideals, but nature, which runs on sunlight and creates no waste, holds the solution to many modern problems. This isn’t a “back to nature” book, but rather a book proposing thoroughly modern technologies that copy nature’s best traits.

Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making

by Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield.


A great read for businesspeople and managers – particularly those in charge of large areas of land. This book views people, economies and the environment as interconnected. Using holistic management techniques, we can make decisions that take all factors into account, for both short and long term. I’d like our government leaders to read this book.

Voluntary Simplicity

by Duane Elgin.

(Paperback)  / (Kindle)

Living with less “stuff” can mean living with more purpose, balance and connection. Here’s the inspiration you need to scale back on material goods and make more room for the priceless things that money can’t buy.

Now if all these books were printed on tree-free paper (like Cradle to Cradle) with soy-based ink, we’d be another step towards true sustainability. Otherwise, the audio or e-book will suffice. However you do it, you’ll be inspired.

Let us know any other books that are on your list of eco essentials!

Images: kimota, Weird Ben, David Wolfe.

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38 thoughts on “15 Must-Read Books That Will Forever Change How You See the World

  1. Pingback: 13 (More!) Must-Read Books That Will Change How You See the World | EcoSalon | Conscious Culture and Fashion

  2. Pingback: 28 Must-Read Books That Will Change Your Life and How You Live | EcoSalon | Conscious Culture and Fashion

  3. I do not know about the rest of you, but when it comes to all social, political, enviro, economic, problems, the book that will change your life is the Bible.
    To bad you have to hunt for this best seller in the book store.
    Try it y, you’ll find all the answers in there.

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  5. The Bible has changed more lives than people who read this list. Meanwhile, in five years all of those books will be unknown. Truth in advertising?

  6. A great read:

    The Gulag Archipelago

    As they say: “Free your mind, free your body”.

  7. I believe if you call those books non-fiction then these qualify as well.

    Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

    Green Eggs and Ham.

  8. The World Without Us is one of my favorite books of all time, so glad you included it on this life.

    Right now I’m reading Dread by Philip Alcabes – it’s a semi-polemical look on how we, as global citizens, approach pandemics. It’s a fascinating take on cultural anchoring and epidemiology. A must read.

  9. There is an eco community not far from us and I would love to read the Eco Village book. Thanks for the list.

    My To Read list continues to grow….

  10. The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century by James Howard Kunstler. A bit over-the-top but it definitely made me think about what our world might be like in the future.

    Beyond Fossil Fools: The Roadmap to Energy Independence by 2040 by Joseph M. Shuster. Finally, a book about energy written by a scientist, with scientific facts to back up his ideas!

  11. one thing for sure is that reading really make my life colorful, i’ve got lots idea, information and even bestfriend from books. your book listing realize me that i’ve been vacuum time on reading during my busy activity recently…

    oh, how much i miss reading new books again… thanks for the great listing and also thanks remind me :)

  12. I see you have a great list of books.
    I love reading and I look ways to get some free time to read. One good book is like a good company.
    I believe that if we want to change the world , we can teach our children to love reading and learning about different subjects, not only what the schools tell them to read, which is good, but I believe not enough.
    They all can read how to protect our most important home, our Earth. The generations before us they forgot that, the only people on this earth who new how important the Earth was, and is, are the Original Americans, The Indians.

  13. funny thing- i used to be a right eco type, in f.o.e, grenpeace and and into alternative medicines and all that – although i am still a veggy after 25 years; i have become a total cynic on the ever expanding herbal medical, magic faithhealing industry- i took chinese herbal remedies for 5 years to try and cure something and all it did was cost me a packet and make my stomach ache.
    i now feel a right mug as western bio medicine sorted out the problem within 6 months and was free on the N.h.S.
    However, i guess life is all trial and error, and horses for courses.
    regards k,p mc

  14. Hi Sally, I agree — I’m in the midst of that miracle myself, getting towards the end of my first pregnancy! And yes, there are many child-rearing practices that make us think outside the box, which is good, because children (and people in general) are not made from cookie cutter molds! So how can you impose all these rules and routines when everything is so moment-by-moment?

    I think the book Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin is a must-read for anyone even remotely interested in a new perspective on pregnancy and birth, or even just getting a view that is hugely different from the stress-filled medical view of birth. Big eye opener.

  15. I think the only thing that will change how you see the world is having a child. They truly are miracles! But it’s not all just how to manuals out there! There are some actual interesting and cleverly written books like Pregnancy How to Enjoy it There are other good ones too like Baby-led Weaning or The No-Cry Sleeping Solution which take a look into baby-raising practices.

  16. Cheryl, I just read that book as well! I enjoyed it, although the premise – that today’s young professionals expect meaningful work in part due to a cushy economy – is now a wee bit stale. ;) But, overall, I thought it was really interesting and worthwhile reading. I’m now reading Forecast, which is sort of depressing. :/

  17. Thanks for this great list, Sarah! I see quite a few that I’ll be adding to my green shelf.

    I’m currently reading “Saving the World at Work” by Tim Sanders. Checked it out of the library, but feel this is one tome worth having my own copy of. It is based on a new competitive logic of business: Being great now depends on being good. It goes into how any person can change the world by changing the way your company does business.

  18. Wow, thanks for all of the great recommendations. I just finished reading Frances Moore Lappe’s recent book “Beyond Hope” and found that to be a really refreshing, hopeful book that broadens the outlook to include the whole world and shows people who are taking the environmental bull by the horns so to speak.


  19. uno mas,

    The Shack, by Wm. Young.

    re-imaging your world….

  20. Pingback: A Fresh New Look (and 11 Great Posts) | EcoSalon - The Green Gathering

  21. This is so helpful! A university at your fingertips! Thanks!

  22. Thanks Manoj, for reminding me about “One Straw Revolution.” The more people post amazing books to this list, the better this list will become.

  23. Hi,
    I am surprised at the omission of one straw revolution by fukuoka which is by far one of the most astounding books on natural farming and has inspired people to go back to the land world wide. he was talking about natural farming way before permaculture and organic farming became buzzwords.

  24. Hi Sarah – Great list! I live at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage and am often asked for reading recommendations (I LOVE being opinionated!). To your list I would add:
    1. Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway – an amazingly accessible entry to Permaculture, and impossible to read without grabbing a shovel and running outside to create!
    2. Into the Forest by Jean Hegland – luminous fiction, brilliant storytelling. A MUST for putting life into perspective.
    3. A Reasonable Life: Toward a Simpler, Secure, More Humane Existence by Ferenc Mate – so why ARE you working so hard? Lots to think about here, in a good way.
    More recommended reading: http://www.powells.com/ppbs/32098.html

    Thanks for your work! Alline

  25. Thank you for this list! I’ll be ready for fall – can’t wait to curl up w/a good book! I was also going to add Affluenza to the list..looks like others beat me to it. There are also two great DVDs: Affluenza, and Escape from Affluenza. I just found “Deep Economy” at the library by Bill McKibben. Have not started it yet, but looks like a great read! Stephanie

  26. Just adding to the list….

    Tuesdays with Morrie – such an enjoyable, touching read about a man’s last days. It’s made me re-prioritize a few things in my life.

    The Alchemist – I found it a sweet, whimsical read about a young shepherd going on a journey to chase his treasure… lots of lessons to be learned from the book.


  27. During college in the mid-seventies, required reading for an Earth Science course was “Diet For a Small Planet” by Frnces Moore Lappe. It’s message is as relevent today as it was back then, if not more so. It’s still available through alibris.com or maybe at your local library.

  28. must SEE: the DVD, “The Eleventh Hour” by Leonardo di Caprio and world renowned scientists/architects and other eco-experts…

  29. Thanks for this excellent list, Sarah. I’ve got at least 7 new books to read. :)

  30. Can’t believe I forgot about Affluenza! Thanks for adding to this list, it could go on forever! There are plenty of amazing books out there, especially on ecology, sustainability and green living.

  31. Great list. I’ll hunt down the ones I haven’t read. (I found Lovelock’s book stimulating, even though I thought it went too far for comfort. Call me a traditionalist science geek!). I’d also like to recommend a couple of others…..1) Confessions of an Eco Sinner – It’s a “New Scientist” magazine writer sourcing all his daily consumables – illuminating and a little disturbing…..and 2) Affluenza – getting to the root of the problem, brilliantly.

  32. Serve God Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action by J. Matthew Sleeth, MD

    Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic by Graff, Wann, and Naylor

    How to Rescue the Earth without Worshipping Nature by Tony Campolo


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