Marine & Environmental Book Recommendations from the Currents Staff

In honor of World Book Day (April 23rd), the Currents staff wanted to put together a list of some of their favorite marine and environmental books. See below for your next great read!

A Fish Caught in Time: the Search for the Coelacanth by Samantha Weinberg (1999)

Non-Fiction – Coelacanths, History, Politics

The coelacanth was once thought to exist only as fossil specimens—no living specimens had been reported. When a coelecanth was landed by a local South African fisherman right before the onset of World War II, the world watched and various countries tried to claim the discovery as their own. This book describes the elusive coelacanths and the fascinating political aspects of the re-discovery.


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver (2007)

Non-Fiction – Locavore, Sustainable Food

Author Barbara Kingsolver details her family’s experience trying to eat only locally-grown food for a year in Appalachia. The book addresses important issues from an individual perspective and calls attention to the locavore movement. Kingsolver proves that it’s possible to make change, and more so that individuals can make positive impacts on the planet.


Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan (2015)

Non-Fiction – Exploration, Surfing, Journalism

This is a beautiful and dynamic lifelong surfing memoir written by renowned journalist and professional writer, William Finnegan. Early in his pilgrimage, Finnegan discovers a stack of The New Yorker magazines and denounces them as “full of pretension and flab” that became “unintentionally hilarious” (NY Times, 2015), guiding his journey and his writing. If you enjoy detailed descriptions of waves from around the world mixed with a dose of not-too-serious life musing and contemplation, this book is worth a read.


Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013)

Non-Fiction – Mythic, Indigenous Knowledge & Stories, Nature Writing

Kimmerer uses the gifts and lessons taught by other living beings to talk about the “awakening of a wider ecological consciousness”. She weaves in mythical and indigenous stories with modern day musings on the topic of environmental degradation. The reader is swept up by the Skywoman Falling, who advises “breathe in the scent [of this sweetgrass] and you start to remember things you didn’t know you’d forgotten”.


Chesapeake Requiem: A Year With the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island by Earl Swift (2018)

Non-Fiction – Fishing, Crabbing, Community, Sea Level Rise/Climate Change

Earl Swift tells the tale of a 240-year old crabbing community clinging to their unique island existence. The reader explores Tangier Island through the eyes of its inhabitants and their day-to-day fishing activities, and learns of the changes they’re struggling with as the island erodes into the bay. Beyond just the salty interactions of the locals with the bay and one another, the book grapples with the role of religion on the island, and why many islanders do not believe in climate change.


Four Fish: the Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg  (2010)

Non-Fiction – Seafood, Sustainable Food

In Four Fish, author Paul Greenberg intertwines his history and love of fishing with research on fisheries and aquaculture to answer the question of why fish markets today look so different than they did when he was a child. In particular, why do we see four fish species – salmon, tuna, cod, and sea bass – almost everywhere? This well-researched and well-written book will take you around the world as Greenberg learns about these four fish species and the future of seafood.


Hooked: Pirates, Poaching, and the Perfect Fish by G. Bruce Knecht (2006)

Non-Fiction – Chilean Sea Bass, Fisheries, Enforcement

There are two parts to this book. The first explores the history of how the Patagonian toothfish was rebranded as the “Chilean Sea Bass”, and how a once-obscure species was rapidly overfished to meet suddenly high demand. The second part chronicles the maritime pursuit of a vessel suspected of engaging in illegal fishing, and describes how the illegal fishing trade continues to harm conservation efforts while also providing insight into the challenges of maritime law enforcement.


In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick (2000)

Non-Fiction – Whales, Whaling History, Survival & Navigation at Sea

Author Nathaniel Philbrick pieces together the thrilling true story of the whale that sank the Essex, an American whaling ship from Nantucket that inspired Melville’s novel, Moby Dick. In order to do so, Philbrick explains the history of whaling in Nantucket and around the world, tells the stories of the men on that ill-fated ship, and describes the leadership, or lack thereof, that follows as the crew struggles to survive for months in the Pacific Ocean.


Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson (1999)

Non-Fiction – Hurricanes, Atmospheric Science, History

If you’re a weather nerd like me, this book is for you. Larson tells the story of the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history by delving into the basics of atmospheric science, the history of the U.S. Weather Bureau, and the life of Isaac Cline, Galveston’s senior U.S. Weather Bureau official at the time of the storm. In Isaac’s Storm, you get a look into life before detailed weather forecasts were available through an app at your fingertips, and how human hubris in underestimating the power of nature can lead to disastrous consequences.


Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (2016)

Non-Fiction – Memoir, Geobiology, Women in Science

Geochemist and geobiologist Professor Hope Jahren’s autobiography is told in three parts, relating each back to the life of a plant. Part I has an individual focus, Part II focuses on career, environment, and relationships, while Part III is a larger scale look at reproduction, growth, and movement. Jahren’s memoir traces her trajectory as a scientist, a partner, and a mother and beautifully weaves together science writing and a woman’s life story.


Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard (2005)

Non-Fiction – Corporate Social Responsibility, Outdoor Adventure

Legendary outdoorsman and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s memoir lays out his business philosophy alongside his personal story. The book tells the tale of the beginnings of Patagonia, of how the company pursues sustainable production, and of how humanity can address climate change. A rule breaker and a creative businessman, Chouinard’s story is an inspiring look at how businesses can operate sustainably and still be wildly successful.


Losing Earth: A Recent History by Nathaniel Rich (2019)

Non-Fiction – Climate Change, Politics

American essayist and novelist Nathaniel Rich published Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change in the New York Times Magazine in August, 2018. His magazine piece, which covered the beginning divisive discussions about climate change between 1979 and 1989 received such a widespread response that Rich decided to publish a book covering the same decade. Losing Earth tells the story of the people who tried their hardest to convince us to act on climate change before it was too late and the climate deniers who thwarted their efforts.


Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes & Erik Conway (2010)

Non-Fiction – Climate Change, Scientific Consensus, History

Science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway illuminate the parallels between the biggest controversies of our time in this investigative work. The authors describe how doubt, confusion, and a hawkish group of scientists and politicians kept controversy “alive” in the cases of tobacco smoke, acid rain, DDT, the ozone hole, and now climate change.


On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor (2016)

Non-Fiction – Hiking, Trails

In 2009 Robert Moor, an award-winning magazine writer, walked more than 2,000 miles in just five months on the Appalachian Trail. He began to wonder about trails. Who makes trails? Why do some last through the test of time and others disappear? He writes, “complete freedom is not what a trail offers. Quite the opposite; a trail is a tactful reduction of options.” Moor traveled the globe for seven years exploring all types of trails with the hope of answering a question I am sure we all think about from time to time: how do we pick our paths through life?


Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures by Nick Pyenson (2018)

Non-Fiction – Whales

This book is written by the Smithsonian’s marine mammal fossil curator, Nick Pyenson. In it, he takes the reader on a journey through the research methods used to study whales, while also showing how much we still have to learn. The complex biological concepts are simplified, allowing anyone to learn and appreciate the research regardless of their scientific expertise. Finally, the author explores interactions between humans and whales, including how humans have caused harm to whales, and what we can do to help them in the future.


The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks by Susan Casey (2005)

Non-Fiction – Sharks, Research

If you’ve ever been to San Francisco on a clear day, you may have noticed a few jagged rocks sticking out of the ocean about 30 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge. These islands, full of history and mystery, are known for being a seasonal home to the most infamous creature in the ocean: the great white shark. Author Susan Casey joins local researchers on their quest to understand these sharks, and through her writing about her time with the researchers, conveys the respect that these animals deserve and how little we still know about them.


The Responsible Company by Yvon Chouinard & Vincent Stanley (2012)

Non-Fiction – Corporate Social Responsibility

This book takes a critical look at the standard industrial model in need of serious change. Drawing from experience at Patagonia, Chouinard and Stanley offer insight into how to run a company that treats its employees well and engages in responsible production. While the authors believe there is no perfectly responsible company and much work is still to be done, some companies have elected to model elements that move business in a better, more sustainable direction.


The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson (1951)

Non-Fiction – Nature Writing, Poetry

Carson’s poetic narrative of the sea, originally published in 1951, is often described as the most successful book written about the natural world.


The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery (2011)

Non-Fiction – Octopuses, Research, SCUBA Diving, Consciousness

In writing about the scientific research and anecdotal stories concerning octopuses, author Sy Montgomery delves into even greater questions about what it means to be a conscious, feeling, thinking being. Montgomery learns from researchers, aquarists, and even some individual octopuses on her mission to understand the lives and personalities of these incredibly intelligent creatures.


When the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle (2011)

Fiction – Channel Islands, Invasive Species, Island Ecology

A fictional tale set in Southern California’s Channel Islands, this novel focuses on conflict between an animal rights activist and a National Park Service biologist. Wrought with moral controversy, Boyle challenges the reader to question the role of humans in shaping nature and acting as stewards to the land.

Book and synopsis contributions by: Angela Cruz, Cori Currier, Brittany Hoedemaker, TJ Kennedy, Kelly Martin, and Marlena Skrobe