Books on Rainforests, Ecology, Green Design, and the Environment

March 2016 Update: This section of the website has been discontinued and will no longer be updated. Please visit the book reviews section of for new content.

Listed below are some prominent authors on green design, tropical ecology, and the environment, among other subjects.

The links take you to Amazon pages and mongabay collects a small commission on any purchases (the price of the book is not affected). Also, at the bottom of the page are some other books not grouped by author.


Janine M. Benyus (
Life sciences writer.

Paul Hawken (bio)
Environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist, and best-selling author. Founder of Groxis and Smith & Hawken, amoung other companies.

William McDonough (bio)
Architect, designer, and author known for his work in sustainability. Co-founder of MBDC, McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Michael Braungart (bio)
Chemist and author known for his work in sustainability. Founder of EPEA (Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency) and co-founder of MBDC, McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry in Charlottesville, Virginia.

David Suzuki (bio)
Award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster.

Wes Jackson (bio)
President of The Land Institute.

Mark J. Plotkin (bio)
Author and president of the Amazon Conservation Team.

John Terborgh (bio)
Professor of Environmental Science at Duke University. Terborgh's expertise lies in tropical ecology and conservation issues, and avian and mammalian ecology in neotropical forests. Director, Center for Tropical Conservation.

Adrian Forsyth (bio)
Author, research associate at the Smithsonian Institution, President of the Board of the Amazon Conservation Association, and Director of Biodiversity Science (Andes-Amazon) for the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Joan Burton-Jones
Australian writer who focuses on environmental topics.

Thomas E. Lovejoy (bio)
Conservation biologist who has worked in the Amazon of Brazil since 1965. Current the Chief Biodiversity Advisor to the President of the World Bank

Richard Bierregaard (bio)
Assistant Professor of Biology at UNC Charlotte. Known for his work on habitat fragmentation in the Amazon, ecology, conservation, and ornithology.

William F. Laurance (bio)
Scientist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments project in Brazil. Known for his work in the Amazon rainforest.


E. O. Wilson (Edward Osborne Wilson) (
Entomologist and biologist known for his work on ecology, evolution, and sociobiology. Author of many books and named one of the 25 most influential people in America in 1995 by Time Magazine.

Russell Mittermeier (bio)
President of Conservation International and highly regarded primatologist, herpetologist and biological anthropologist. He has written several books and authored some 300 scientific papers.

Eugene Linden (bio)
Science writer and regular contributor to Time magazine.

Tim Flannery (bio)
Best-selling author and director of the South Australian Museum.

David Quammen (bio)
Author and science journalist.

Wade Davis (bio)
Anthropologist, botanical explorer, and best-selling author.

Jared Diamond (bio)
Best-selling author and professor of geography at UCLA.

David W. Orr (bio)
Anthropologist, botanical explorer, and best-selling author.

Lester R. Brown (bio)
Author and founder of the Worldwatch Institute, the first research institute devoted to the analysis of global environmental issues.

Norman Myers (bio)
Author and environmental scientist.

William F. Ruddiman (bio)
Author and Professor Emeritus of marine geology/paleoclimatology/paleoceanography at the University of Virginia

J.R. McNeill (bio)
Author and professor of history at Georgetown University.

Recommended Books

All of the following are books I have read and enjoyed. By using the links below to purchase books from, you can help support All proceeds will go towards maintaining and providing new content for the site. Please contact me if you have any questions. Thank you for your interest and support.

Environment / Conservation
Biodiversity / Extinction
Other Science
General Interest

Other Ideas:
Amazon people
Nature & Ecology


One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest by Wade Davis - [] Wade Davis is an ethnobotanist interested in the native uses of plants, especially psychotropics. He finds many such plants in the travels he recounts in One River, especially coca and curare. (The first, famously, is a curse in the First World but is a necessity in the Andes, where it promotes the digestion of many kinds of food plants.) Framing Davis's narrative is an account of the dangerous World War II-era Amazonian expeditions undertaken by his mentor, Harvard biologist Richard Evans Schultes. Davis describes a few hair-raising encounters of his own, making this a fine book of scientific adventure.

TROPICAL NATURE : LIFE AND DEATH IN THE RAIN FORESTS OF CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA by Adrian Forsyth - [Newsweek] Tropical Nature...seeks to provoke curiosity about the forests -- not just provide facts about them -- and succeeds splendidly....Tropical Nature evokes the magic and wonder of a world completely contained within itself.

Wizard of the Upper Amazon: The Story of Manuel Cordova-Rios by Cordova-Rice Lamb - An account of life in an Amazon village from the early twentieth century. The authors discusses the use of hallucinogenic plants in religious ceremonies.

Savages by Joe Kane - [] In this impressive, funny and moving work, Joe Kane tells the story of the Huaorani, a tribe living in the deepest part of the Amazonian rain forest in Ecuador. The Huaorani have only in the last generation been exposed to such items as the wristwatch. But the modern world is reaching them quickly; for better or worse--usually worse--they live astride some of Ecuador's richest oilfields. Oil production in the Amazon has opened the forest to colonization and industrialization, often with alarming results: about 17 million gallons, of raw crude, more than in the Valdez spill in Alaska, were spilled from a Amazon pipeline between 1972 and 1989. Kane, who lived with the Huaorani for months, immaculately reports on the tribes' connections with the old world and its battles with the new one.

Medicine Quest: In Search of Nature's Healing Secrets by Mark J. Plotkin - [] Plotkin . . . [gives] an overview of how plants and animals are being utilized to treat disease. Trained as an ethnobotonist (a scientist who studies how people use local plants), Plotkin has the ability to translate science into engrossing anecdotes that are accessible to the lay reader. And he's got good news: the natural world, he writes, has made and will continue to make enormous contributions to modern medicine. (Penicillin, he reminds us, was derived from a fungus.) He describes, for instance, the work of Dr. William Fenical, who developed a chemical from a soft coral that may prove useful in fighting cancer. Plotkin also provides an eye-opening account of the curative properties to be found in the sea, in insects, in snake venom and in plants. But he also delivers bad news: the promise of this vast natural pharmacopoeia is threatened by unchecked population growth, environmental depredation and the destruction of native cultures of tribal shamans (who, he points out, discovered the use of plants that have led to the development of "everything from codeine for pain to quinine for malaria to podo-phyllotoxin for cancer"). A very interesting investigation into nature's medicine, this book also makes a strong case for conservation.

Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World by J. R. McNeill - [] J.R. McNeill, a professor of history at Georgetown University, visits the annals of the past century only to return to the present with bad news: in that 100-year span, he writes, the industrialized and developing nations of the world have wrought damage to nearly every part of the globe. That much seems obvious to even the most casual reader, but what emerges, and forcefully, from McNeill's pages is just how extensive that damage has been. For example, he writes, "soil degradation in one form or another now affects one-third of the world's land surface," larger by far than the world's cultivated areas. Things are worse in some places than in others; McNeill observes that Africa is "the only continent where food production per capita declined after 1960," due to the loss of productive soil. McNeill's litany continues: the air in most of the world's cities is perilously unhealthy; the drinking water across much of the planet is growing ever more polluted; the human species is increasingly locked "in a rigid and uneasy bond with modern agriculture," which trades the promise of abundant food for the use of carcinogenic pesticides and fossil fuels. The environmental changes of the last century, McNeill closes by saying, are on an unprecedented scale, so much so that we can scarcely begin to fathom their implications. We can, however, start to think about them, and McNeill's book is a helpful primer.

Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? by David M. Raup - [Library Journal ] In this book, Raup, a mathematically oriented paleontologist, discusses the role of extinction in evolution, attempting to differentiate the effects of natural selection ("bad genes") and extraterrestrial causes ("bad luck"). It is a nicely done work written for the layperson, much in the vein of his previous book, The Nemesis Affair ( LJ 8/86), which covers some of the same territory and which also favors extraterrestrial causes.

The Call of Distant Mammoths: Why the Ice Age Mammals Disappeared by Peter Douglas Ward - [Reed Business Information] Until 10,000 years ago, many species of large mammals still flourished on earth: giant ground sloths and camels, sabre-toothed tigers, and bison and elk, as well as mammoths. Most of these mammals had no natural predators, so why did they disappear? Currently, the top two theories are that humans overhunted them or that climate changes resulted in their demise. Ward reviews the continuing debate surrounding dinosaur extinction . . . [concluding] that the mass extinctions were the result of unique and catastrophic conditions.

Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World--Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It by Ken Alibek - [] In this fast-paced memoir, Ken Alibek combines cutting-edge science with the narrative techniques of a thriller to describe some of the most awful weapons imaginable. The result will remind readers of The Hot Zone, Richard Preston's smart bestseller about the Ebola virus. That book focuses on the dangers of a freak accident; Biohazard shows how disease can become a deliberate tool of war. Alibek, once a top scientist in the Soviet Union's biological weapons program, describes putting anthrax on a warhead and targeting a city on the other side of the world. "A hundred kilograms of anthrax spores would, in optimal atmospheric conditions, kill up to three million people in any of the densely populated metropolitan areas of the United States," he writes. "A single SS-18 [missile] could wipe out the population of a city as large as New York."
Chilling passages like these, plus discussions of proliferation and terrorism, make Biohazard a harrowing book, but it also has a human side. Alibek, who defected to the United States, describes the routine danger of his work: "A bioweapons lab leaves its mark on a person forever." An unending stream of vaccinations has destroyed his sense of smell, afflicted him with allergies, made it impossible to eat certain kinds of food, and "weakened my resistance to disease and probably shortened my life." But it didn't take away his ability to tell an astonishing story.

The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett - [] Where's your next disease coming from? From anywhere in the world--from overflowing sewage in Cairo, from a war zone in Rwanda, from an energy-efficient office building in California, from a pig farm in China or North Carolina. "Preparedness demands understanding," writes Pulitzer-winning journalist Laurie Garrett, and in this precursor to Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health, she shows a clear understanding of the patterns lying beneath the new diseases in the headlines (AIDS, Lyme) and the old ones resurgent (tuberculosis, cholera). As the human population explodes, ecologies collapse and simplify, and disease organisms move into the gaps. As globalization continues, diseases can move from one country to another as fast as an airplane can fly.
Her picture is not entirely bleak. Epidemics grow when a disease outbreak is amplified--by contaminated water supplies, by shared needles, by recirculated air, by prostitution. And controlling the amplifiers of disease is within our power; it's a matter of money, people, and will.

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston - [] The dramatic and chilling story of an Ebola virus outbreak in a surburban Washington, D.C. laboratory, with descriptions of frightening historical epidemics of rare and lethal viruses. More hair-raising than anything Hollywood could think of, because it's all true.

The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS by Edward Hooper - [] For all the devastation and suffering AIDS has caused worldwide, we have devoted surprisingly little attention to its beginnings. Former UN official and BBC correspondent Edward Hooper hopes to find the source of AIDS in The River, a stunningly comprehensive yet deeply engaging scientific history of the disease. Through more than 10 years of research comprising over 600 interviews and untold hours of library work, Hooper has uncovered a complex, interlocking set of stories--of scientific research, of medical assistance to the Third World, of political and economic exigencies that drive the courses of our lives--and brought them together in over 1,000 pages of text, footnotes, references, and illustrations.
His thesis, that HIV made the jump from simians to humans via the administration of oral polio vaccine in Africa in the 1950s, is still controversial, but his arguments are powerful, broad, and undeniable--all that is lacking is conclusive proof. Like a good scientist (and, sad to say, unlike any HIV researcher to date), he offers several easy tests of his hypothesis. His tales of brilliant epidemiological deductions, biochemical comparisons, and physiological insights ought to convince the medical establishment that the answer can and should be found, both to help us deal with the current crisis and to keep us from creating new ones of its ilk. In a litigation-weary world, though, it seems that it will take the kind of tireless, impartial research found in The River to show us--and our leaders--that blame should take a back seat to truth when extreme circumstances demand it.

PRIZE : THE EPIC QUEST FOR OIL, MONEY & POWER by Daniel Yergin - [] The Prize, winner of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, is a comprehensive history of one of the commodities that powers the world--oil. Founded in the 19th century, the oil industry began producing kerosene for lamps and progressed to gasoline. Huge personal fortunes arose from it, and whole nations sprung out of the power politics of the oil wells. Yergin's fascinating account sweeps from early robber barons like John D. Rockefeller, to the oil crisis of the 1970s, through to the Gulf War.

Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin - [Reed Business Information] In summer 1964, a distinguished-looking gentleman in his seventies dismounts on principle from a streetcar that was to carry him from Rome to a distant village, instead accompanying on foot a boy denied a fare. As they walk, he tells the boy the story of his life. A young aesthete from a privileged Roman family, Alesandro Giuliani found his charmed existence shattered by the coming of World War I. The war led to an onerous tour of duty, inadvertent desertion, near-execution, forced labor,...

The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden - [] The title character of Giles Foden's debut novel, The Last King of Scotland, is none other than Idi Amin, the former dictator of Uganda. Told from the viewpoint of Nicholas Garrigan, Amin's personal physician, the novel chronicles the hell that was Uganda in the 1970s. Garrigan, the only son of a Scots Presbyterian minister, finds himself far away from Fossiemuir when he accepts a post with the Ministry of Health in Uganda. His arrival in Kampala coincides with the coup that leads to President Obote's overthrow and Idi Amin Dada's ascendancy to power. Garrigan spends only a few days in the capital city, however, before heading out to his assignment in the bush. But a freak traffic accident involving Amin's sports car and a cow eventually brings the good doctor into the dictator's orbit; a few months later, Garrigan is recalled from his rural hospital and named personal physician to the president. Soon enough, Garrigan finds himself caught between his duty to his patient and growing pressure from his own government to help them control Amin.
From Nicholas Garrigan's catbird seat, Foden guides us through the horrors of Amin's Uganda. It would be simple enough to make the dictator merely monstrous, but Foden defies expectation, rendering him appealing even as he terrifies. The doctor "couldn't help feeling awed by the sheer size of him and the way, even in those unelevated circumstances, he radiated a barely restrained energy.... I felt--far from being the healer--that some kind of elemental force was seeping into me." And Garrigan makes a fine stand-in for Conrad's Marlow as he travels up a river of blood from naiveté to horrified recognition of his own complicity. As if this weren't enough, Foden also treats us to a finely drawn portrait of Africa in all its natural, political, and social complexity. The Last King of Scotland makes for dark but compelling reading.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver - [] When Barbara Kingsolver sends missionary Nathan Price along with his wife and four daughters off to Africa in The Poisonwood Bible, you can be sure that salvation is the one thing they're not likely to find. The year is 1959 and the place is the Belgian Congo. Nathan, a Baptist preacher, has come to spread the Word in a remote village reachable only by airplane. To say that he and his family are woefully unprepared would be an understatement: "We came from Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle," says Leah, one of Nathan's daughters. But of course it isn't long before they discover that the tremendous humidity has rendered the mixes unusable, their clothes are unsuitable, and they've arrived in the middle of political upheaval as the Congolese seek to wrest independence from Belgium. In addition to poisonous snakes, dangerous animals, and the hostility of the villagers to Nathan's fiery take-no-prisoners brand of Christianity, there are also rebels in the jungle and the threat of war in the air. Could things get any worse?
In fact they can and they do. The first part of The Poisonwood Bible revolves around Nathan's intransigent, bullying personality and his effect on both his family and the village they have come to. As political instability grows in the Congo, so does the local witch doctor's animus toward the Prices, and both seem to converge with tragic consequences about halfway through the novel. From that point on, the family is dispersed and the novel follows each member's fortune across a span of more than 30 years.

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver - [] Barbara Kingsolver's . . . dialogue sparkles with sassy wit and earthy poetry; her descriptions are rooted in daily life but are also on familiar terms with the eternal. With Prodigal Summer, she returns from the Congo to a "wrinkle on the map that lies between farms and wildness." And there, in an isolated pocket of southern Appalachia, she recounts not one but three intricate stories . . . Kingsolver is one of those authors for whom the terrifying elegance of nature is both aesthetic wonder and source of a fierce and abiding moral vision. She may have inherited Thoreau's mantle, but she piles up riches of her own making, blending her extravagant narrative gift with benevolent concise humor. She treads the line between the sentimental and the glorious like nobody else in American literature.

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston - [] The dramatic and chilling story of an Ebola virus outbreak in a surburban Washington, D.C. laboratory, with descriptions of frightening historical epidemics of rare and lethal viruses. More hair-raising than anything Hollywood could think of, because it's all true.