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EGLE staffers recommend their favorite environmental books as part of March is Reading Month

As part of March is Reading Month, MI Environment asked EGLE staffers for their favorite environmental reads. We got quite a response! Here are their recommendations:

Collage of four book covers dealing with environmental issues.

Michael Briseno, laboratory scientist
An Otter's Story by Emily E. Liers
True story about otters in Michigan about an otter's life and its place in the ecosystem.

Heather Bishop, Kalamazoo District supervisor, Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division
The Big Necessity: The World of Human Waste and Why it Matters by Rose George
The book is basically a look at sanitation worldwide from a historical and cultural perspective. The parts that I found most interesting is why stuff doesn't work when nonprofits come in and want to make sanitation improvements to either drinking water or wastewater systems. They are not understanding the cultural history that has led to the “way things are”, so the improvements they try to implement fail because the culture doesn't follow the technology. Super good read -- highly recommend it.

Monica Brothers, senior environmental quality analyst
Never Home Alone by Rob Dunn
This book takes you on a journey through your home and shows you the microscopic organisms that lives amongst us and explains why they are so important. One of the best parts about the book is that it takes complicated science and makes it so fun and easy to read. It gives you that sense of kid-like wonder, and it's one of the main reasons I started baking sourdough during the pandemic, like so many others. This book will make you feel better about your dirty house and proves once and for all that dogs are indeed better than cats! Give it a read. You won't be disappointed!

Diana Bullen, environmental scientist
Favorite book that highlights environmental or resources themes (I have three):

  • The End of Night by Paul Bogard - highlights the importance of having a dark sky and the negative environmental impacts that come with artificial light.
  • Water: A Natural History - by Alice Outwater - discusses the history of waterways and the necessity of protecting this natural resource (super short and easy read!)
  • Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer - a story mixed with interpersonal tales and scientific facts that highlight mosses importance in the natural world and how their existence impact countless other facets of nature.

Zachary Chamberlin, Great Lakes analyst
Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of an Inland Sea by Jerry Dennis
The book follows Jerry as he sails from Chicago through the Great Lakes to the Erie Canal and out to the Atlantic Ocean. He tells his own story while weaving in history, nature, and environmental issues of each Lake along the way. It reminds me of my own experiences spending time on Lake Michigan with my dad as kid and the impact that has made on my career path.

Sarah Ehinger, manager, Licensing and Technology Support Unit, Water Resources Division
Looking for Hickories: The Forgotten Wildness of the Rural Midwest by Thomas Springer
Set in southwest Michigan this is a series of short stories that focus on the “sense of place.” That connection with the landscape that really helps a person want to preserve what makes that landscape special.

John Karnes, revised total coliform rule analyst
When I was a kid, I liked The Wump World by Bill Peet. It's a good lesson on depleting resources.
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson is about the cholera epidemic in 1854 London. That event changed science and was the foundation of water treatment. (Can you tell I work in the Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division?)

Montana Krukowski, contamination investigation program
I have two books that inspired a complete trajectory shift in my career - I was a geology major purely to make money in the oil industry, and then switched completely to environmental policy for two very different reasons:

  • A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. Aldo's journal awakened my emotional connection to the ecology of our backyards and the interdependency and BEAUTY of nature.
  • 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years by Jørgen Randers. The first data driven, non-fiction book I ever enjoyed. The “Third Flowering of the Tree of Life” is a passage that shook me to my core and I love to share with folks to have them imagine a where humanity have lost all control. The last couple paragraphs of that essay seem to be coming true with ChatGPT and ArtAI.

Ashley Lesser, P.E., environmental quality analyst
Radium Girls by Kate Moore is about the young women who painted glowing numerals onto watch dials in the 1920s with radium paint, ingesting large quantities as they constantly licked their brushes to make a finer point. Needless to say, many of the girls suffered horrific symptoms before dying of radium exposure. If you can stomach that gruesome history, Radium Girls is worth reading for the detailed discussion of the women's subsequent legal battles, which eventually laid the groundwork for the first occupational health laws.

It's not exactly an environmental book, but it has much to teach about science communication and regulatory policy. The difficulties the women faced in court resonate for me as an EGLE staffer charged with managing public health risks and communicating scientific ideas to public stakeholders.

Paul Owens, Detroit District supervisor, Remediation and Redevelopment Division
The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Eagan

  • A good historical perspective of the environmental and ecological issues that have plagued the Great Lakes over the years.
  • Highlights the fragility of the Great Lakes ecosystems and why on-going management is needed.
  • Very well written and an easy read - good for kids and adults.

The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature by David George Haskell

  • Huge fan of this book, probably my favorite book that I have read.
  • I liked this book because it highlights the complexity and connectiveness of the natural world, including us. Haskell is a gifted writer who combines scientific concepts/observations with wonderment. The Carl Sagan of nature writing perhaps?

Matt Preisser, lake coordinator, Water Resources Division
Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. I love Leopold's writing style and prose. Though the storylines are dated, many of the conservation principles still hold true. And it has one of my favorite quotes: “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.”