We all have favourite books. Some books explore the human condition, helping us understand ourselves and each other. Other books teach us about nature with fascinating stories of wildlife and wilderness. Books that have the power to change us are those that challenge our beliefs and behaviour. These books can lead us to live a more conscientious and compassionate life.
I’d like to share some of my favourite books in the areas of health and wellness, sustainable and ethical living, wildlife conservation, and family and education. These books have inspired me to live a more considered life. I hope some of these books may help you too.
Health and Wellness
“How Not To Die” by Michael Greger MD
Watching his dying grandmother go from a wheelchair to walking in just three weeks on a plant-based diet (and live for another 30 years) was the inspiration for Michael Greger’s medical career and his focus on educating people about plant-based nutrition for preventing and treating chronic disease.
How Not To Die is packed with scientific research to back up discussion and anecdotes on how nutrition can prevent and treat modern and often preventable diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver and kidney diseases, brain diseases, suicidal depression and even cancer.
Greger laments that while evidence has been available for decades, governments are more concerned with supporting food and pharmaceutical industries regardless of the health costs to people and the environment.
Over the years, as I’ve learned more about the impact of eating animal products on human health, wildlife, the environment and animal welfare, I’ve made changes to eat a whole-food plant-based diet. Reading Greger’s book has provided scientific evidence to support what I’ve read about health benefits in general. If you only read one book this year, make it this one!
“Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv
Richard Louv is a journalist and nature advocate deeply concerned by the technological takeover of our lives and the impact on children’s physical and mental health. He has written books and co-founded NGO Children & Nature Network to educate communities on the importance of nature to wellbeing.
The title of this New York Times bestseller reflects the scarcity of children playing outdoors, with or without their caregivers. Children need to spend time in nature for healthy physical, mental and emotional development. Louv explains why it’s important not just for our children’s welfare but for society too.
“The Nature Principle” by Richard Louv
Where Last Child in the Woods rang the alarm bell, this book provides help. Research, anecdotes and personal stories show how connecting with nature can restore our health and create sustainable lifestyles.
Rather than shun technology, Louv’s forward-thinking approach gives us ways to find a balance between technology and the natural world that will ultimately benefit us all.
Louv explains that we don’t need to go to faraway places to connect with nature. We can create or find what we need in our local area. Even in the city, we can find nature in unexpected places if we look for it.
I can relate to the importance of nature for our children when I think of the freedom my children enjoyed when swishing through woodland leaves, stamping in puddles, and sliding down muddy banks. Their love for the outdoors is with them still. My daughter works in wildlife conservation and my son enjoys respite from city living by hiking in wild places.
Sustainable and Ethical Living
“Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser
Investigative journalist Eric Schlosser uncovers gross malpractice in U.S. slaughterhouses that impacts animal welfare, worker safety and human health, with outbreaks of food poisoning causing widespread illness and deaths.
In the pursuit of profit at any cost, mega feedlot farms are taking over and small-scale cattle ranchers are losing their livelihood, and in some cases their life. Although this book reports on U.S. farming, industrial farming is on the rise in the UK and even in “100% Pure” New Zealand.
It was Schlosser’s book that led me to read more about the cruelty inflicted on farm animals in the intensive farming industry and to eventually stop eating all animal products.
“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan
When I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I had already stopped eating meat and fish but still ate eggs and dairy. Although I had made the decision not to eat meat whatever the source, as a writer on nature and sustainability, I was interested to learn more about the benefits of knowing where meat comes from. Pollan enlightens and informs readers trying to navigate their way through American food choices from unethical fast food to more ethical organic food.
Bombarded by fad diets, agenda-driven science, media hype, advertising and government propaganda, consumers have a tough job deciding what to eat. Pollan shows why it matters where our food comes from and what we gain by making informed choices.
For reasons of health, animal welfare, environment and community, Pollan shows why organic polyculture farming practised by farmers like Joel Salatin at Polyface farm in Virginia should be the norm rather than the exception.
Whether you’re an omnivore, vegetarian, vegan or anything in between, you might find it hard to disagree that the slow food movement is the much-needed antidote to toxic fast food that is poisoning people and planet.
“The Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were” by Philip Lymbery
In The Dead Zone, Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming, looks at the devastating impact of intensive farming on wildlife. Increasing human populations and a growing demand for cheap meat is causing habitat loss and species extinction on a scale we can no longer ignore.
In Sumatra, Indonesia, critically endangered elephants, tigers, rhinoceroses, sun bears, and orangutans are losing habitat as the rainforest is cut down and replaced by palm plantations.
Native forests also hold soil in place and retain rainwater, helping to prevent flooding and landslides but monoculture works against nature. Animals face extinction while food manufacturers are making cheap foods with palm oil and farmers are feeding palm kernel to livestock.
In the U.S., mega farms are identified by bleak feedlots and slurry lagoons, a far cry from nature. In the Midwest, corn dominates the landscape, grown for processing into cattle feed, fuel or myriad sugars for junk food. Frankenstein GM corn crops are packed together so little else grows, all with the blessing of government subsidies.
In the UK, intensive farming and chemical use have left landscapes bare of hedgerows and wild margins and all the life they support, such as small mammals that barn owls feed on. In Europe and the U.S., bird populations are in serious decline as a result of modern farming.
Chemical producers, drug companies, breeders, farmers, supermarkets, fast food chains and equipment manufacturers are the winners, as well as the governments who support these businesses. The Dead Zone lifts the lid on intensive food production, revealing the dirty secrets of an unsustainable system out of control.
“African Love Story” by Daphne Sheldrick
I first came across the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Dame Daphne Sheldrick’s work when researching African elephant poaching for an article I was working on. From small beginnings, the DSWT has become a leading conservation organisation involved in elephant rescue and rehabilitation in Kenya.
When I found out that Daphne Sheldrick had written a memoir, I couldn’t wait to learn more about a remarkable woman who dedicated her life to wildlife conservation.
She tells the story of her devotion to her husband’s legacy and her beloved elephants that has driven her on despite many setbacks. We may never have the good fortune to see Kenya’s landscapes and wildlife but reading this book, we get a sense of the scale of Africa’s beauty and the risk of losing its magnificent animals.
“Kakapo: Rescued From the Brink of Extinction” by Alison Ballance
While living in New Zealand, I had the pleasure of seeing animals I had never seen before, including the burrowing nocturnal kiwi, the forest-dwelling yellow-eyed penguin, and the mighty Royal albatross. But it was the flightless kakapo that most enchanted me, though I was never lucky enough to see one.
It was after I had written an article about the world’s largest and rarest parrot that I read conservationist and writer Alison Ballance’s unique insight into kakapo life. Even if you’re never likely to see a kakapo, this charismatic parrot’s survival story is a touching one.
“Godwits” by Keith Woodley
I’ve always enjoyed watching birds on a casual basis — anything with feathers and I’m happy. But until I moved to New Zealand, I hadn’t given much thought to bird migration. Living only a short journey from the Manawatu estuary where bar-tailed godwits return every spring, the topic of migration began to fascinate me.
In 2007, radio-tagged godwits set a new world record for the longest non-stop migratory flight, flying over 11,000 km direct from Alaska to New Zealand! Keith Woodley, manager of the Miranda Shorebird Centre, another godwit hot spot in New Zealand, tells the story of these incredible birds of endurance and his years of experience helping conserve them.
These stories of incredible animal journeys can help us appreciate nature and advocate for its conservation.
Family and Education
“The Secret of Childhood” and “The Absorbent Mind” by Maria Montessori
Whether you’re a parent, carer or education professional, Maria Montessori’s early childhood education philosophy could change your view of child development. Rather than seeing children as empty vessels waiting to be filled with adult knowledge, Montessori respects children’s capacity and need to be directors of their own learning, guided but not pushed by adults. Through using the five senses, the child explores and makes sense of their world.
Montessori’s scientific perspective on the “absorbent mind” is enlightening, compelling and inspiring. These books show us how to value each child’s uniqueness and to respect their strong desire for independence, as well as order, which shows itself long before they can fully communicate.
Montessori had a significant influence on my children’s early development and helped set them up for lifelong learning. My experience in a Montessori school is one I’ll always remember as life-changing.
“Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life” by Richard Louv
Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life is a guide to help people re-connect children with nature. Louv looks at how we can bring nature back into every aspect of our lives, including building nature-friendly houses with natural materials and using renewable energy, growing organic fruits and vegetables, camping and taking picnics and woodland walks, creating nature art, star gazing and bird-watching. Louv encourages us to look for nature in our local environment, making it easy to include nature in everyday life.
When we give children the opportunity to see and explore the natural world, we give them rich physical and emotional experiences that will last a lifetime, far longer than the latest piece of technology.
And it isn’t just children who need Vitamin N. When was the last time you rolled down a grassy bank or swished through autumn leaves? Sometimes we just need to be children again to let go and enjoy the simple things.
Sometimes the most valuable books we can read are those that challenge the status quo or broaden our view of the world. I wish you happy reading and a healthy life!
Which books have influenced the way you think and live?