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Beyond the Book Articles
Nature and the Environment

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Poison from the Sky in Oregon (05/22)
In Ash Davidson's Damnation Spring, residents in a sparsely populated Northern California logging enclave in the late 1970s face a disturbing epidemic of miscarriages, stillbirths, birth defects and other ailments linked to the local timber company's use of herbicide sprays. While the specific location, people and events chronicled in the...
Rewilding Scotland (05/22)
In Charlotte McConaghy's novel, Once There Were Wolves, the heroine leads a project to reintroduce wolves to the Highlands, the mountainous region of northern Scotland. As they were hunted to extinction around the end of the 17th century, there is a very real debate surrounding the possibility of bringing wolves back to this area, and ...
Mapping the Ocean Floor (04/22)
In Charmaine Wilkerson's novel Black Cake, one of the main characters has made a career as an oceanographer, concentrating on mapping the ocean floor.

Water covers about 70% of the Earth's surface. And yet surprisingly little is known about what lies beneath it; just a little over 20% of the seabed had been mapped as of 2021. It's ...
The 1970 Great Bhola Cyclone: A Climate Change Warning (04/22)
In The Vortex, Scott Carney and Jason Miklian explore the environmental and societal impacts the 1970 Great Bhola Cyclone had upon South Asia, specifically what was East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The tropical storm began brewing in the Bay of Bengal on November 8, 1970, gaining strength to eventually achieve winds of up to 140 mph when ...
Wildlife Trafficking in Latin America (04/22)
In Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer, the main character is left a taxidermied hummingbird as a clue. Early on in the book, it is revealed that this hummingbird belongs to a now-extinct species; wildlife trafficking and environmental degradation both become themes of the novel.

Although poaching and wildlife trafficking in ...
Waverly Oaks (04/22)
When I picked up Tony Hiss's Rescuing the Planet, I expected to find stories about great forests and vulnerable wetlands and vast mountain landscapes. I definitely did not expect to encounter a story about my own town of Belmont, Massachusetts, an inner suburb of Boston. But that's exactly what happened when I started reading Hiss's ...
Tidal Pools (03/22)
Tidal pools are pockets of saltwater that exist in the intertidal zone — the area in which the ocean meets the land. They are formed due to the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun, as well as the centrifugal pull of the Earth as it turns, which draws the water in gentle waves around the globe. Tides vary around the world ...
Species Reintroduction to Save the Permafrost (03/22)
In his book The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth, Ben Rawlence describes how global warming is altering northern ecosystems like the tundra of Siberia. As temperatures rise, the permafrost no longer lives up to its name; instead of staying permanently frozen, the ice within is melting. This causes the ground to ...
The Biodiversity Crisis (03/22)
From the peacock mantis shrimp's remarkable ability to perceive polarized light to the orbweaver spider's time-tracking powers, Jackie Higgins' Sentient showcases the varied sensory powers of a wide range of animals, highlighting the rich diversity of life forms found across the natural world.

Yet as climate change intensifies and ...
The Hadza and the Honeyguide (02/22)
In Dan Saladino's book Eating to Extinction, readers find themselves in the midst of the Hadza people. The Hadza live in northern Tanzania, in camps that average between 20 and 30 individuals.

The Hadza have been in this region for thousands of years, and they are well-known for their honey harvesting. Making up roughly 15% of their ...
Peanut Farming in the United States (12/21)
The central character in Nathan Harris's The Sweetness of Water decides to grow peanuts on his land in Reconstruction-era Georgia.

Although peanuts are often considered nuts, as the name would suggest, they're actually legumes like beans or peas. Legumes, according to the Peanut Institute, are defined by their edible seeds enclosed in...
Youth Environmental Activism (12/21)
In Richard Powers' Bewilderment, nine-year-old Robin Byrne is distressed at the plight of endangered species and commits to painting as many of them as he can, as well as undertaking one-kid protests outside the Wisconsin statehouse and in the nation's capital. He specifically emulates a character called 'Inga Alder,' who is clearly based...
Survivor Trees (11/21)
Destructive and unsustainable human habits are wiping out ecosystems around the world at alarming rates, not only threatening millions of wildlife species with extinction but also endangering human health and well-being. '[H]umans depend on the natural world for food, air, water, clothing—everything,' as acclaimed primatologist and ...
Overcoming Arkoudaphobia: The Rarity of Bear Attacks in North America (10/21)
Bears terrify a lot of people. So much so that 'arkoudaphobia' — the fear of bears — is a common phenomenon.

However, the danger bears pose to people in North America is massively embellished in the public's collective psyche. Fantastical representations of bears in literature, television and film have exacerbated ...
Sagebrush Steppe and the Gunnison Sage-Grouse (08/21)
The Gunnison sage-grouse, integral to the story 'Ledgers' in Claire Boyles' Site Fidelity, are dependent on their natural habitat, the sagebrush steppe of the Western United States. A steppe is a grassland region that does not receive enough rain to support trees. The semi-arid climate means that only shrubs and short grasses can grow...
The Arctic Tern (07/21)
In Charlotte McConaghy's Migrations, Franny follows the migration of the Arctic tern (sterna paradisaea). McConaghy's novel is set in a fictional future in which the bird is on the brink of extinction. Currently, Arctic terns are not in danger to such a degree, as there are still more than one million of them around the world, but ...
Colombia's Biodiversity (06/21)
Colombia is a nation with a supremely rich diversity of natural wonders. Its geography alone encompasses a dizzying array of ecosystems, such as coastal deserts, wetlands, dense tropical forests, verdant valleys and snowy mountain tops. But perhaps most impressive is the biological and botanical abundance of this South American country. ...
Mauna Loa, the World's Largest Active Volcano (05/21)
Mauna Loa comprises more than half the landmass of the Big Island, the largest in the chain of islands that make up the state of Hawaii. The world's largest active volcano, it stands at 13,678 feet above sea level but reaches an astonishing 30,000 feet from the seafloor. To put this into perspective, this makes Mauna Loa's total height ...
American Pokeweed (04/21)
In James McBride's novel Deacon King Kong, Sportcoat spends his Wednesdays helping an elderly Italian woman scour the parking lots of their Brooklyn neighborhood for plants — weeds, really — that she feels compelled to 'rescue.' One plant she obsesses about finding is pokeweed, a poisonous shrub she believes can help lower her...
Climate Change and Water Scarcity (02/21)
Alternating between two storylines set in the recent past and the very near future, Maja Lunde's The End of the Ocean is a chilling reminder of how alarmingly fast the effects of climate change can snowball out of control. In one storyline, set in 2017, Signe recounts the troubling signs already evident in her native Norway: The glaciers ...
Climate Change Podcasts (02/21)
Part of the plot of Jenny Offill's Weather involves the protagonist, Lizzie, answering questions posed by listeners to her former academic mentor's disaster-preparedness podcast, Hell and High Water. As issues surrounding climate change increasingly propel public conversation, real-world counterparts to this fictional podcast abound. Here...
Parrot Trivia (01/21)
One of the characters in Jane Johnson's novel, The Sea Gate, is a foul-mouthed, multilingual African grey parrot (Psittacus Erithacus). Parrots are members of the Psittacidae family, which is comprised of over 300 species including lovebirds, cockatoos, macaws and budgerigars (aka 'budgies'). While most people are broadly familiar with ...
The Seine (11/20)
In her fifth book, The Seine: The River that Made Paris, New York Times foreign correspondent Elaine Sciolino explores the history of one of the world's most famous rivers and its impact on the capital of France.

The 777-kilometer-long (483 mi) river runs from its source near Dijon in northeastern France, through Paris, toward its ...
Extraordinary Underground Vistas (09/20)

I am incredibly claustrophobic, so reading Robert Macfarlane's Underland didn't make me particularly inclined to follow in his footsteps. But some readers may be inspired by the places he describes so vividly and want to do a little underland exploring of their own. Many of them are so remote (or dangerous, or illegal) that they'd be ...

Caddo Lake (09/20)
Caddo Lake and its surrounding wetlands cover approximately 26,000 acres on the Texas-Louisiana border. It's the only naturally-formed lake in Texas, and it's also significant for its large size and unique biodiversity. Known for natural beauty, including its trademark giant cypress trees and Spanish moss, Caddo Lake is a popular ...
Solastalgia, Eco-anxiety and Ecological Grief (07/20)
In The Future Earth, Eric Holthaus describes having climate-related depression. Over the last two decades, we have become more attuned to the mental effects of worry about the environment. In 2003, Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the word 'solastalgia,' a variation on 'nostalgia' that draws on the connotations ...
Bees and Honey Across the Ages (06/20)
In Christy Lefteri's novel, The Beekeeper of Aleppo, the protagonist is a Syrian refugee seeking asylum in England (See Syrian Refugees and The Human Cost of War in Post 9/11 Conflicts). The novel brings to life the heart-wrenching challenges refugees endure as they flee their home country for a better life (See The Dehumanization of ...
The Five Most Destructive Wildfires in Recorded California History (05/20)
In Fire in Paradise, authors Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano capture the devastation wrought by the Camp Fire that destroyed the community of Paradise in California on November 8, 2018. California's hot, dry and windy climate makes it particularly susceptible to wildfires. Climate change has exacerbated these conditions, raising ...
Are Chickens Smart? (04/20)
Barn 8 recounts the formulation and execution of a plan to rescue (or, depending on your viewpoint, steal) nearly one million hens from an egg farm. Interspersed with the plot are ruminations on the lives, personalities, evolution and intelligence of these animals that the author obviously regards highly. So, how smart are chickens?

A...
The Mighty Zambezi River (04/20)
One of the longest rivers in the world, the Zambezi is fed by many tributaries and flows more than 1,500 miles from the Democratic Republic of the Congo through Angola, Namibia and Botswana, then carves its way through Zambia and Zimbabwe and southeast through Mozambique, ultimately spilling into the Indian Ocean. In some places it's ...
Climate Change and Migration in the U.S. (04/20)
In John Lanchester's The Wall, protagonist Joseph Kavanagh is conscripted into military service to defend the titular wall against a breach by the 'Others.' The Others are not an invading army, however, but individuals displaced from their homes by some unnamed climate disaster. In the real world, as the effects of climate change become ...
Chimpanzee Sanctuaries (03/20)
In Mama's Last Hug, Frans de Waal details the observation of chimpanzees in places like Burgers' Zoo in the Netherlands. Chimps there enjoy a relatively peaceful existence with large enclosures mimicking their natural habitat. In the United States, a number of organizations are working to establish a similar quality of life for chimps ...
Baobab: The Tree of Life (03/20)
A prominent symbol in Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, the mighty baobab tree sparks the imagination because of its unusual shape and longevity. Traditional Shona myth explains that the tree showed too much pride and was always whining and calling other creatures bad names, so the creator turned it upside-down as punishment, hence it ...
New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock (03/20)
Looking at a photograph of Mount Monadnock, it might not appear all that imposing. But if you've seen it in person, you were probably impressed by its size. To capture a place on the page, one has to know it intimately, and it's obvious from Andrew Krivak's deep, poetic descriptions of this mountain and its surrounding environment in The ...
Forest Fire Survival (03/20)
The River sets college students Jack and Wynn in a race against a forest fire as they canoe down the Maskwa River to the Hudson Bay with little chance of rescue. In recent years there has been an uptick in the number, severity and duration of forest fires, likely due to climate change (See Escalating Wildfires in the Western U.S.), so it ...
Escalating Wildfires in the Western U.S. (01/20)
On June 5, 2013, lightning struck dead spruce trees 15 miles south of Pam Houston's ranch, sparking what would become known as West Fork Complex – one of the largest wildfires in Colorado history. West Fork Complex eventually consumed over 100,000 acres in Colorado and became one in a long and growing list of recent wildfires that ...
The Great Dismal Swamp Maroons (12/19)
A central storyline in Ta-Nehisi Coates' novel The Water Dancer focuses on slaves attempting to flee the South to the free states of the North. Many runaways had to endure long journeys on foot and unimaginable dangers along the way, including the high-risk possibility of being re-captured and returned to their owners to be severely ...
Exmoor: Now and Then (08/19)
Exmoor, England is the setting for Hazel Prior's debut novel, Ellie and the Harpmaker. Designated a national park in 1954, the 267-square-mile area is divided 70/30 between Somerset and Devon counties in the southwestern corner of the country and is home to about 10,600 people. The area's landscape is incredibly varied; its rugged ...
The Bureau of Land Management: Shifting Duties (07/19)
In Shadowlands, Anthony McCann's non-fiction account of the 2016 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge takeover, one of the occupiers' chief targets is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is responsible for the land on which the refuge sits.

The Bureau of Land Management, a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior, oversees ...
The Kodiak Bear (07/19)
In Tip of the Iceberg, author Mark Adams sets out to follow in the footsteps of Edward Harriman's 1899 expedition to Alaska. Harriman's expedition is remembered for the important scientific findings gathered by the more than 30 scientists, artists and writers who accompanied him, but for Harriman himself, the focus was primarily on ...
Cotopaxi - Ecuadorian Volcano (04/19)
Among other things, Crosley is a travel writer, and one of the most enjoyable essays in her new collection Look Alive Out There recounts her near-disastrous attempt to summit Cotopaxi, a volcano in Ecuador, more or less on a whim.

Cotopaxi, part of the Andes mountain chain, is the second-highest mountain in Ecuador (at 19,347 feet), ...
Understanding and Countering Science Denial (04/19)
According to Robert P. Crease, science denial is a personal rejection of only those specific scientific findings that conflict with an individual's political, economic or personal/religious beliefs. The Workshop and the World by Robert P. Crease looks at science denial throughout history and offers a synthesis that outlines: 1) the ...
Weathering Some of the Biggest Recorded Storms Ever (02/19)
In the afterword of Winter Sisters, Robin Oliveira notes that she based the blizzard in the novel on one of the real-life deadliest blizzards in North American history, which took place in 1888. According to the Life Science website, 'More than 400 people in the Northeast died during the Great Blizzard, the worst death toll in United ...
Glaciers and Landscape (02/19)
In Grist Mill Road, readers are treated to a mini lesson in how glaciers can shape landscape. Chatter marks, cobbles, and glacial erratics are all terms we come across in the story. What are they and how does a glacier alter the landscape over the ages?

When a large and heavy object moves very very slowly it has the potential to ...
Australia's National Parks (01/19)
In Force of Nature, a group of women on a work retreat become lost in Australia's Giralang Ranges. While the Giralangs are fictional, Australia is home to thousands of national parks and conservation reserves. According to the National Parks website; "these areas protect a huge variety of environments – from deserts to ...
Drought-resistant Crops (10/18)
In the story 'The Auroras,' in Daniel Alarcon's collection The King is Always Above the People, one of the characters is a woman who is studying drought-resistant crops.

Jill Farrant, one of the many scientists working in the field, points out that research has become even more urgent as climate change and an increase in population ...
A Snapshot of the Adirondacks (10/18)
Alison McGhee tells her story in Never Coming Back against the backdrop of the wildly varied ecosystems of New York State's Adirondack Region, located in the most northern part of the state close to the borders of Canada and Vermont.

The Adirondacks cover an area of more than six million acres - a roughly circular area about 160 miles ...
Climatology: Did You Know? (08/18)
In The Water Will Come, journalist Jeff Goodell shares climatology concepts and active research. Here are some notable concepts introduced in the book:

  • The Keeling Curve, a famous graph named after scientist Charles David Keeling, measures the increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the air since 1958; it is considered the ...

Volcanic Activity on the Canary Islands (02/18)
Floods both real (due to global warming) and figurative (tides of refugees washing ashore in the Mediterranean and elsewhere) dominate the imagery of Margaret Drabble's novel, The Dark Flood Rises. One of the most memorable discussions involves speculation about volcanic activity on the Canary Islands (where much of the novel's ...
Breathtaking Butterflies (02/18)
Night of Fire frequently references butterflies, often ethereal, almost infinite in variation, and miraculous in their metamorphosis: '...the butterfly's resurrection was different: the winged angel risen from a worm...It showed that anything could become anything.' It's as though Thubron wants to remind us time and again that we can ...
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