Our list of personal favourites includes warnings from history and sci-fi parables – as well as brilliant reads covering evolution, human behaviour and more. A mix of classics and recent releases, these expert picks are great Christmas presents for friends and family. Or you could grab one for yourself and enjoy an hour away from the festive chaos.
How Bad are Bananas? by Mike Berners-Lee
This book is subtitled ‘The carbon footprint of everything’ and it does cover a vast amount – from text messages to the World Cup and everything in between. With a handy list of seasonal food and even some tips on reducing the impact of Christmas, this has all the answers next time your friends and family ask what they can do to cut their carbon. And the good news is that bananas are not bad!
Recommended by Jo Walton
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Probably the most crazily imaginative book I have ever read – set in a post-apocalyptic world and following the misadventures of a woman called Rachel, a giant biotech flying bear called Mord, and a strange creature that she finds living on its fur.
The author expresses concerns about climate change and our mistreatment of the planet from a very unusual angle. It was a fantastically enjoyable read, and left me thinking deeply about our use/misuse of technology and relationship with the environment.
Recommended by Kasia Brookes
Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
This book kept me gripped as Harari leads us through the evolution of archaic humans in the Stone Age to our current condition and predicament.
It is a fascinating read that genuinely and thoughtfully explores what it is to be human, how we relate to each other, the stories that bind us together as an increasingly global society, and our relationship to the planet. Harari poses intriguing questions about how these are all changing with digital and AI technologies and an increasing separation from nature.
Recommended by Giles Bristow
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850 by Brian Fagan
An intriguing insight into how much the climate and weather shifted through the Middle Ages and later, and the dramatic effect that had on society at the time. It provides a sobering lesson, given the developments we’re already seeing due to climate change.
Recommended by Mike Pepler
Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution by Menno Schilthuizen
Despite what you may think, we can see evolution occur within our lifetime. This book shows us that evolution is happening far more rapidly, and in stranger ways, than Darwin ever imagined.
As our cities grow and become ever more important to how humans live, this story of rapid natural adaptation in urban ecosystems is fascinating even for someone without much expertise in the field.
Recommended by Jordan Willis
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
This science fiction novel is based in the not-too-distant future and moves between climate change-ravaged earth and a planet light years away, where a sinister company is pillaging natural resources. Politics, opaque corporations, fights for dwindling resources, colonisation, dystopian futures, denial – remind you of anywhere?
It left me with the thought that we only have one life-sustaining planet. There is no plan/planet B. Today’s challenges are hugely complex but if we don’t want to be left alone to cope with collapsing systems we have to fix them. And fix them, if you will excuse the pun, at light-speed.
Recommended by Simon Brammer
Arrival City by Doug Saunders
This book tracks the ever-faster urbanisation of the human race, which will have a huge impact on our planet as well as our species. It’s full of fascinating personal stories from around the world.
The overwhelming message is that solutions cannot be imposed on people, even people who are relatively powerless. Anyone trying to shape society should realise just how just how complex, driven and ingenious humans are.
Recommended by Craig Burnett
What has Nature Ever Done for Us? By Tony Juniper
It’s been estimated that nature is worth as much as $11 trillion a year to the world economy. But we take most of what it does for us for granted. I loved this reminder of just how awe-inspiring the natural world is, and how much we stand to lose if we don’t respect and protect it.
Recommended by Emma Frost