Center for Humans & Nature Book Selection
Our books are authored or edited by Center for Humans and Nature staff and fellows. Stay tuned, as more are on the way.
University of Chicago Press · October 2018
With The Way of Coyote, Gavin Van Horn reveals the stupendous diversity of species that can flourish in urban landscapes like Chicago. That isn’t to say city living is without its challenges. Chicago has been altered dramatically over a relatively short timespan—its soils covered by concrete, its wetlands drained and refilled, its river diverted and made to flow in the opposite direction. The stories in The Way of Coyote occasionally lament lost abundance, but they also point toward incredible adaptability and resilience, such as that displayed by beavers plying the waters of human-constructed canals or peregrine falcons raising their young atop towering skyscrapers. Van Horn populates his stories with a remarkable range of urban wildlife and probes the philosophical and religious dimensions of what it means to coexist, drawing frequently from the wisdom of three unconventional guides—wildlife ecologist Aldo Leopold, Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu, and the North American trickster figure Coyote. Ultimately, Van Horn sees vast potential for a more vibrant collective of ecological citizens as we take our cues from landscapes past and present.
Part urban nature travelogue, part philosophical reflection on the role wildlife can play in waking us to a shared sense of place and fate, The Way of Coyote is a deeply personal journey that questions how we might best reconcile our own needs with the needs of other creatures in our shared urban habitats.
University Press of Kentucky · February 2018
The philanthropist and philosopher Strachan Donnelley (1942–2008) devoted his life to studying the complex relationship between humans and nature. Founder and first president of the Center for Humans and Nature, Donnelley was a pioneer in the exploration and promotion of the idea that human beings individually and collectively have moral and civic responsibilities to natural ecosystems.
Frog Pond Philosophy illuminates the dominant strands of Donnelley’s intellectual identity as a philosopher, naturalist, agitator, and spiritualist. Despite his often grim depiction of the current state of the environment, Donnelly never surrenders his faith in humanity’s ability to meet its ethical obligations to conserve, respect, and nurture the complexity and diversity of the natural world. His vivid and personal essays, rooted in everyday experiences, offer a distinctive perspective on questions of urgent contemporary importance.
University of Wisconsin Press · September 2017
The Driftless Reader gathers writings that highlight the unique natural and cultural history, landscape, and literature of this region that encompasses southwestern Wisconsin and adjacent Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. The more than eighty selected texts include writings by Black Hawk, Mark Twain, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Frank Lloyd Wright, Aldo Leopold, David Rhodes, and many other Native people, explorers, scientists, historians, farmers, songwriters, journalists, and poets. Paintings, photographs, maps, and other images complement the texts, providing a deeper appreciation of this region's layered natural and human history.
University of Chicago Press · April 2017
Whether referring to a place, a nonhuman animal or plant, or a state of mind, wild indicates autonomy and agency, a will to be, a unique expression of life. Yet two contrasting ideas about wild nature permeate contemporary discussions: either that nature is most wild in the absence of a defiling human presence, or that nature is completely humanized and nothing is truly wild.
Co-editors Gavin Van Horn and John Hausdoerffer chart a different path with this book. Exploring how people can become attuned to the wild community of life and also contribute to the well-being of the wild places in which we live, work, and play, Wildness brings together esteemed authors from a variety of landscapes, cultures, and backgrounds to share their stories about the interdependence of everyday human lifeways and wildness. As they show, far from being an all or nothing proposition, wildness exists in variations and degrees that range from cultivated soils to multigenerational forests to sunflowers pushing through cracks in a city alley. Spanning diverse geographies, these essays celebrate the continuum of wildness, revealing the many ways in which human communities can nurture, adapt to, and thrive alongside their wild nonhuman kin.
From the contoured lands of Wisconsin’s Driftless region to remote Alaska, from the amazing adaptations of animals and plants living in the concrete jungle to indigenous lands and harvest ceremonies, from backyards to reclaimed urban industrial sites, from microcosms to bioregions and atmospheres, manifestations of wildness are everywhere. With this book, we gain insight into what wildness is and could be, as well as how it might be recovered in our lives—and with it, how we might unearth a more profound, wilder understanding of what it means to be human.
W. W. Norton & Company · February 2017
For centuries, poets and philosophers extolled the benefits of a walk in the woods: Beethoven drew inspiration from rocks and trees; Wordsworth composed while tromping over the heath; Nikola Tesla conceived the electric motor while visiting a park. Intrigued by our storied renewal in the natural world, Florence Williams sets out to uncover the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain.
From forest trails in Korea, to islands in Finland, to groves of eucalyptus in California, Williams investigates the science at the confluence of environment, mood, health, and creativity. Delving into completely new research, she uncovers the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and ultimately strengthen our relationships. As our modern lives shift dramatically indoors, these ideas—and the answers they yield—are more urgent than ever.
West Virginia University Press · June 2016
As our economic and natural systems continue on their collision course, Bruce Jennings asks whether we have the political capacity to combat imminent environmental disaster. Can liberal democracy, he wonders, respond in time to ecological challenges that require dramatic changes in the way we approach the natural world? Must a more effective governance be less democratic and more autocratic? Or can a new form of grassroots ecological democracy save us from ourselves and the false promises of material consumption run amok?
Ecological Governance is an ethicist’s reckoning with how our political culture, broadly construed, must change in response to climate change. Jennings argues that during the Anthropocene era, a social contract of consumption has been forged. Under it people have given political and economic control to elites in exchange for the promise of economic growth. In a new political economy of the future the terms of the consumptive contract cannot be met without severe ecological damage. We will need a new guiding vision and collective aim, a new social contract of ecological trusteeship and responsibility.
University of Chicago Press · 2015
We usually think of cities as the domain of humans—but we are just one of thousands of species that call the urban landscape home. Chicago residents move knowingly among familiar creatures like squirrels, pigeons, and dogs, but they might be surprised to learn about all the leafhoppers and water bears, black-crowned night herons and bison, beavers and massasauga rattlesnakes that are living alongside them. With City Creatures, co-editors Gavin Van Horn and Dave Aftandilian introduce readers to an astonishing diversity of urban wildlife with a unique and accessible mix of essays, poetry, paintings, and photographs.
Although the book is rooted in Chicago’s landscape, nature lovers from cities around the globe will find a wealth of urban animal encounters that will open their senses to a new world that has been there all along. Its powerful combination of insightful narratives, numinous poetry, and full-color art throughout will help readers see the city—and the creatures who share it with us—in an entirely new light.
Penguin Press · May 2010
In True Wealth (titled Plenitude in hardcover), economist and New Dream board co-chair Juliet Schor offers a groundbreaking intellectual statement about the economics and sociology of ecological decline, suggesting a radical change in how we think about consumer goods, value, and ways to live: a plenitude economy.
Responding to our current moment, True Wealth puts sustainability at its core. But it is not a paradigm of sacrifice. Instead it’s an argument that through a major shift to new sources of wealth, green technologies, and different ways of living, individuals and the country as a whole can actually be better off and more economically secure.
University of Chicago Press · 2009
Explorer, scientist, writer, and humanist, Alexander von Humboldt was the most famous intellectual of the age that began with Napoleon and ended with Darwin. With Cosmos, the book that crowned his career, Humboldt offered to the world his vision of humans and nature as integrated halves of a single whole. In it, Humboldt espoused the idea that, while the universe of nature exists apart from human purpose, its beauty and order, the very idea of the whole it composes, are human achievements: cosmos comes into being in the dance of world and mind, subject and object, science and poetry.
Laura Dassow Walls here traces Humboldt’s ideas for Cosmos to his 1799 journey to the Americas, where he first experienced the diversity of nature and of the world’s peoples—and envisioned a new cosmopolitanism that would link ideas, disciplines, and nations into a global web of knowledge and cultures. In reclaiming Humboldt’s transcultural and transdisciplinary project, Walls situates America in a lively and contested field of ideas, actions, and interests, and reaches beyond to a new worldview that integrates the natural and social sciences, the arts, and the humanities.
University Press of Kentucky · 2008
Human dependence on technology has increased exponentially over the past several centuries, and so too has the notion that we can fix environmental problems with scientific applications. The Virtues of Ignorance: Complexity, Sustainability, and the Limits of Knowledge proposes an alternative to this hubristic, shortsighted, and dangerous worldview. The contributors argue that uncritical faith in scientific knowledge has created many of the problems now threatening the planet and that our wholesale reliance on scientific progress is both untenable and myopic.
The Virtues of Ignorance comprises essays that offer profound arguments for the advantages of an ignorance-based worldview, and explores this philosophy from numerous perspectives— including its origins, its essence, and how its implementation can preserve vital natural resources for posterity.
The Virtues of Ignorance includes a contribution, "Joyful Ignorance and the Civic Mind,” from Center for Humans and Nautre founder Strachan Donnelley.