Ecological thought

Recommended Reads on Ecological Thought

by Christopher Schaberg

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

How much has environmental awareness expanded over the past decade?

The Ecological Thought, by Timothy MortonI am teaching an honors seminar at Loyola University New Orleans this semester on Ecological Thought, a title I borrowed from Timothy Morton’s 2010 book of the same name. We’re going to start with Morton’s book, and then read a slew of new books that are scattered across this ever-widening field. How much has environmental awareness expanded over the past decade? What socio-biological tensions have acquired fresh scrutiny, after Trump and a pandemic, among other world-changing events?

Down to Earth, by Bruno LatourAfter Morton’s The Ecological Thought, we’ll turn to Bruno Latour’s more updated, alarm-bell version of the same: Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime. What does it really mean to think ecologically in the 21st century? What signs are we being given—klaxons, in some cases—that this kind of thinking is not only timely, but utterly necessary? Both Morton and Latour provide useful springboards and signposts for such inquiry.

Why Fish Don't Exist, by Lulu MillerWe’ll then jump ahead to Lulu Miller’s recent book Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life—a fascinating paean to chaos and evolution. It’s part a biography of taxonomist David Starr Jordan, but just as much a story of the author’s own intellectual development and journey of identity formation. How might the natural sciences distract from—and when can they diverge into—auto-analysis?

Four-Fifths a Grizzly, by Douglas ChadwickDouglas Chadwick’s just out Four-Fifths a Grizzly: A New Perspective on Nature That Just Might Save Us All is similarly interested in evolutionary science, and making this still elusive premise palatable to a broad audience. This book is full of mesmerizing full-color images and explainer sidebars, making the central story of Chadwick’s up-close-and-personal contact stories both more digestible and more textbook-like. This book is for those who haven’t really wanted to think about evolution… but maybe, just maybe, they realize they need to accept it, as well as our role in it. (And act accordingly.)

How to Do Nothing, by Jenny OdellThen we’ll turn to Jenny Odell’s 2019 How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, which may seem like a stretch for an environmental humanities course—except that simply getting outside and paying attention to things like crows and vegetation ends up profoundly shaping the book’s assessment of how we might realign our attachments to digital technologies. Grabbing our phones to do something may be a super-organism problem, when considered at scale.

Mountains and Desire, by Margret GrebowiczMargret Grebowicz’s new book Mountains and Desire: Climbing vs. the End of the World takes on a seemingly straightforward topic: those humans who dare to scale the highest peaks. Wilderness! Adventure! But Grebowicz undermines the presupposed foundations of this esteemed activity; wait, why do it in the first place? Grebowicz relentlessly poses this question across risks and accomplishments (and sometimes deaths), and out of this practice limns a quizzical prognosis concerning our vexed moment.

The Breaks, by Julietta SinghWe’ll end the course with Julietta Singh’s The Breaks, which elegantly entangles the inelegant thorns of environmental consciousness, racist histories of violence exploding in the present, and personal trauma that lingers and morphs. Written as a letter to Singh’s eight-year-old daughter, this book serves as a model for writers and academics who feel the need to merge their research material with the most urgent concerns of contemporary life.



Christopher SchabergChristopher Schaberg is Dorothy Harrell Brown Distinguished Professor of English at Loyola University New Orleans. His new book Pedagogy of the Depressed will be published in January 2022.

Read work by and about Christopher Schaberg appearing in “Letter to America: Infant Ecology,” “Sinking into the Anthropocene: New Orleans Nature Writing,” “The Unpredictable Zone of the Airport: Interview with Christopher Schaberg,” and “Life in the Residue: Christopher Schaberg’s Searching for the Anthropocene.”

Header image by FunkyFocus, courtesy Pixabay. is the first online literary journal of place, publishing award-winning literature, art, editorials, and community case studies since 1998.