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Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

Looking for a good book? Check out recommendations from Canary Media staff

Whether you want to dive deep into climate and energy or escape into something completely unrelated, we’ve got just what you need.
By Canary Staff

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(Tom Hermans/Unsplash)

Looking for a last-minute gift? Or a good book to bury yourself in over the holidays? Check out these recommendations from the Canary Media team, which include everything from new releases to 20th-century classics.

If you want a book about climate change, energy or the environment:

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future, by Elizabeth Kolbert. If rooftop solar panels and electric cars feel like hopeful, accessible climate solutions, then spraying particles into the stratosphere to block sunlight — or sucking carbon from the air using enormous fans — can feel like ominous, onerous responses to our warming planet. Kolbert’s latest book focuses on the people and places behind geoengineering projects. She invites readers to engage with this tricky topic through her lovely narrative writing. — Maria Gallucci

Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming, by Andreas Malm. Why do we burn fossil fuels, and when did we start? It’s a question that gets precious little airtime now that the destructive effects of climate change assert themselves so visibly. But if you want to understand the specific choices that put us on a path to warming the planet, let Malm take you back to the early 1800s. British textile factories thrived on water power for years, even after the invention of the coal-powered steam engine. But the ability to control when and where manufacturing happens, in order to thrive in an increasingly competitive market, led factory owners to switch to coal over the course of a few decades. This dense, thoroughly researched, and often acerbically funny book reminds us to specify who’s making the choices that release carbon into the atmosphere. It’s not a general humankind,” Malm argues, so much as industrial leaders who profit from the combustion. — Julian Spector

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Freeing Energy: How Innovators Are Using Local-Scale Solar and Batteries to Disrupt the Global Energy Industry From the Outside In, by Bill Nussey. Reading this polemic from a former IT entrepreneur and IBM executive turned distributed-energy evangelist felt like reliving the past decade of my life as a clean energy reporter, distilled into its most essential aspects. Nussey makes the case for a radical redistribution of electricity generation and consumption from the centralized power grid of the 20th century to a distributed and localized system, a multitrillion-dollar economic opportunity that’s also, he argues, the surest way to raise people out of energy poverty and put them in control of their own energy futures. Nussey’s casual and sometimes cursory treatment of complex concepts is counterbalanced by the accessibility of his approach and his focus on the people solving the problems of an increasingly costly, inflexible and fragile centralized electricity system. — Jeff St. John

Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside, by Nick Offerman. Offerman is best known as an actor and comedian (Parks and Recreation, anyone?), but he’s also an author. With this, his fourth book, he set out to examine the conservation of nature not through the lens of John Muir, but through the lens of Aldo Leopold,” the noted naturalist and philosopher. What resulted is a book that feels like a walk through beautiful landscapes with an incredibly thoughtful friend engaging in deep, meaningful conversation — and enjoying some snark along the way. — Maria Virginia Olano

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, by David Wallace-Wells. This is an engaging, accessible and terrifying book about the worst case if we don’t get moving to reverse climate change. As a global society, we’ve started bending the curve away from trajectories that would lead us to the most apocalyptic outcomes, but it’s worth keeping in mind how things could go south. Read the book to remind you why we’re working so hard to make the clean energy transition a reality. — Lisa Hymas

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, by Marc Reisner. This is a master class in how to craft nonfiction that packs an emotional gut-punch. Reisner assembles history and original reporting to argue that the American West is a desert civilization built on the back of a decades-long federal dam-building spree. That program was frequently ill-advised, outright destructive to environments and communities, and ultimately precarious, as desert civilizations throughout history have been. Reading it today, you’re reminded that hydropower, though a type of clean” energy, exerted an irreversible toll on people and places. It’s something to consider as we contemplate new and massive buildouts of clean energy in our landscapes. — Julian Spector

If you want to step away from nonfiction about climate chaos:

My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite. This dark, funny, quick read by Nigerian author Braithwaite is a story about exactly what the title implies: a woman who manages the demands and bonds of family while acknowledging that her beautiful younger sister tends to kill off her boyfriends. When the demands of your own career, life and family feel like a lot, this book is an entertaining respite. — Katherine Tweed

Nature Poem, by Tommy Pico. Even if you’re not a poetry fan, you’ll find something to appreciate in this book-length poem that tackles the Indigenous author’s ambivalence when it comes to writing about nature: I can’t write a nature poem / bc it’s fodder for the noble savage / narrative. I [would] slap a tree across the face.” It’s a frequently hilarious stream-of-consciousness monologue that veers from text-message exchanges about Aretha Franklin to ruminations on the colonialist underpinnings of the climate crisis and environmental racism. — Michelle Vessel

Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Ever since reading this book, I haven’t taken a walk in the forest or looked at fresh strawberries, maple syrup or birch trees without reflecting back on its pages. Kimmerer blends her knowledge of botany, her skills as a professor and her Native American roots to create a beautiful rendering of the natural world and our place within it. — Maria Virginia Olano

The Overstory, by Richard Powers. I was initially skeptical of this Pulitzer Prize–winning novel because I heard it was about trees. Really it’s about richly drawn human characters whose lives are shaped by trees in unexpected ways, and whose dramas play out everywhere from imperiled old-growth forests to immersive video games. It’s gorgeous and engrossing, and it did forever change how I think about trees. — Lisa Hymas

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean. Many people haven’t heard of the most catastrophic library fire in American history, which was reduced to a footnote in the news as it happened the same day the world learned about the Chernobyl disaster. Orleans weaves the unsolved mystery of the 1986 Los Angeles Central Library fire into an ode to books, libraries and the most famous (and infamous) librarians throughout history. This book made me want to put down my Kindle and become a regular visitor to my local library again. — Stephanie Primavera

Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Yes, it’s fiction, but this gripping book will still leave you in awe (and perhaps a little afraid) of the magical world of mycelium. Protagonist Noemí is dispatched to a small mining town in Mexico to care for her ailing cousin, where she soon becomes entangled in the secrets of the High Place estate and the troubling English family that inhabits it. It’s both a horror story filled with ugly things and a beautifully written page-turner. — Maria Gallucci

Fade to Blonde, by Max Phillips. She was a little taste of heaven and a one-way ticket to hell.” An homage to midcentury pulp crime novels, this book flaunts taut, beautiful writing in a love story set against a flurry of violent criminal doings. Phillips’ previous works, The Artist’s Wife and Snakebite Sonnet, are far from this genre. Fade to Blonde is a palate cleanser for when my brain is stuffed with acronyms and the obfuscatory language of regulators and politicians. In the daytime, you wouldn’t be able to see the sand for the colored umbrellas, but it was empty now and black, and the black waves moved over it and back again like the shuttle of a loom.” — Eric Wesoff

A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki. This head-spinning tour de force of a novel explores an unusual entanglement among three women that unfolds across time and space when a Hello Kitty lunchbox full of letters and a diary washes ashore in a remote Canadian village. The three main characters — a desperately homesick 16-year-old girl living in Japan, a preternaturally wise 104-year-old Buddhist nun and a frustrated novelist named, like the author, Ruth — are the focal point of the story, but Schrödinger’s cat, a possibly supernatural Jungle crow and the ghost of a kamikaze pilot make appearances as well. — Michelle Vessel