Charley’s Top Eight Authors for Environmental Ethics

Recently I was asked to list authors for a background in environmental ethics. I thought this might be of more general interest. So, off the top, here goes:

1. Aldo Leopold: Sand County Almanac. Best book in the twentieth century on this topic, period.

2. Wendell Berry. Pick just about anything—you can’t miss. Here are a few quotes:

Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.

Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.

No settled family or community has ever called its home place an “environment.” None has ever called its feeling for its home place “biocentric” or “anthropocentric.” None has ever thought of its connection to its home place as “ecological,” deep or shallow. The concepts and insights of the ecologists are of great usefulness in our predicament, and we can hardly escape the need to speak of “ecology” and “ecosystems.” But the terms themselves are culturally sterile. They come from the juiceless, abstract intellectuality of the universities which was invented to disconnect, displace, and disembody the mind. The real names of the environment are the names of rivers and river valleys; creeks, ridges, and mountains; towns and cities; lakes, woodlands, lanes, roads, creatures, and people.

3. John Muir: My First Summer in the Sierra; Travels in Alaska. Father of the more radical form of environmentalism; founder of the Sierra Club.

4. Wallace Stegner: Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West. Writer of the West, Stegner taught writing at Stanford University. Some of his students include Wendell Berry, Edward Abbey, and, although not in this genre, Ken Kesey.

5. Edward Abbey: “Down the River with Henry Thoreau” (in Down the River); “God’s Plan for the State of Utah: A Revelation” and “The Second Rape of the West” (both in The Journey Home). One of a kind.

6. John McPhee: The Control of Nature. A great writer on an important theme.

7. Rachel Carson: Silent Spring. Highly controversial, but may be the most important book in the formation of the environmental movement in the 1960s. See John Tierney, “Fateful Voice of a Generation Still Drowns Out Real Science” (New York Times, June 5, 2007).

8. Henry David Thoreau: A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Walden, also his Journals. Arguably the writer that started this whole genre.


Dr. Charley Dewberry is the dean and a tutor at Gutenberg College. He has been a working scientist in the field of stream ecology for over thirty years and has authored two books, Intelligent Discourse: Exposing the Fallacious Standoff between Evolution and Intelligent Design (2006) and Saving Science: A Critique of Science and Its Role in Salmon recovery (2004).


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