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Books

Biologist Beth Shapiro’s top 5 books about humans and nature

From chronicles of mass extinction to laughing at our tiny place in the universe, Beth Shapiro’s picks offer a rounded view of our relationship with nature

In her new book Life as We Made It, biologist Beth Shapiro charts 50,000 years of humans meddling with nature and evolution.

Here, Shapiro picks her top five books about humans and nature.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert 

It’s critical we understand the mess we’re making of the planet. I love how Kolbert carefully distinguishes today’s mass extinction event from the previous five, making it hard to argue that we’re not responsible for today’s crises: step one to figuring out what to do to stop them.  

Half Earth by EO Wilson 

I love and entirely disagree with this book. It beautifully summarises today’s biodiversity crisis and argues compellingly that we must, right now, do something. What Wilson proposes – setting aside 50 per cent of the planet and leaving nature alone – is impractical and won’t solve the problem, but the book is a must read. 

Rambunctious Garden by Emma Marris 

Marris’s anti-Half Earth argument points out the beauty in our landscapes that wouldn’t exist if we weren’t moving plants and animals around. We can’t set aside half of earth, so let’s make the best of what we have and learn to be better stewards of the rambunctious garden that is our planetary home. 

The Overstory by Richard Powers 

This novel made me love and appreciate trees. It made me sad but also happy and includes American chestnuts, which are on their way back thanks to biotechnology. 

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams 

Let’s face it, we need something fun on this list. The book reminds us of how small we and our world are, provides some levity as to how it might all end, and somehow gives us hope. 

Life as We Made It by Beth Shapiro is out now (£18.99, Oneworld) 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach local your vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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