Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water,
Marc Reisner. Penguin Books, New York, 1986.

Cadillac Desert
provides an in depth examination of the history of water use in the American west, from the first exploration and settlement to modern technological feats that have allowed continued inhabitance and agriculture to exist. Marc Reisner writes with a narrative and often entertaining approach, describing the power, politics, and attitudes that have shaped development of Western lands. Reisner calls into question how such an enormous demand for water can continue to be met when the supply of water to the area is finite. From the earliest damming and diversion of rivers to current proposals of piping water from Alaska to California, this book provides an excellent background for gaining a strong understanding of American water use and policy.

Also see resource listing for the PBS documentary, Cadillac Desert: Water and the Transformation of Nature.


Evolution as Entropy: Toward a Unified Theory of Biology,
Daniel R. Brooks and E.O. Wiley. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1988.

This book examines the origin of life and evolution into ecological hierarchies in terms of the organization of information. The authors bring together research on information theory, physical information systems, energy and entropy to understand how forms of energy and information shape and stabilize ecosystems. A physics or chemistry background is necessary for a good understanding, but the overall philosophy is new and intriguing.


Forest Ecosystems, David A. Perry. Johns Hopkins University Press:
Baltimore, 1994.

This is a well-written, well-illustrated book that can be of help as a general text on ecosystems, especially for the teacher. The text describes the basic elements of the science of ecology and the relationships of forests to the global ecosystem. Factors contributing to ecosystem decline and ways to manage forest sustainability are explained well with several good figures and photographs.


A Green History of the World, Clive Ponting. Penguin Books:

New York, 1991.

Clive Ponting provides examples throughout history where overuse and abuse of natural resources have led to the downfall of civilizations, great and small. He provides specific and detailed examples, but also steps back and examines the bigger picture: what lessons can we take away from these stories? How can we prevent our civilization from repeating these mistakes?


Making Better Environmental Decisions: An Alternative to Risk
Assessment , Mary O'Brien.

O'Brien argues that the process of risk assessment is fundamentally flawed because it fails to ask the questions: "Is this hazardous activity essential? Do more sensible alternatives exist?" (p.84) She contends, "Risk assessment is primarily used to defend unnecessary activities that harm the environment or human health." (p.39)

Instead, she proposes that we make decisions in the public arena similar to how we make them as individuals: by weighing the pros and cons of several (if not all) alternatives, and following a precautionary principle of "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." She also argues that we should shift the burden of proof from those defending the integrity of the environment to those proposing a potentially harmful activity. In other words, we should no longer take the "innocent until proven guilty" route with seemingly dangerous activities.

Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution, Lynn Margulis
and Dorion Sagan. University of California Press: Berkeley, 1997.

The authors--mother and son--have written a beneficial, clear, tightly-woven book on the symbiotic theory of evolution on Earth, and particularly the roles of microbes (or bacteria) in originating and maintaining life on Earth. They trace evolution from the perspective of bacteria and show the concurrent evolution of planetary conditions. The style is lucid, tracing the characteristics of evolutionary change from bacteria to plants, animals, and man, inquiring where we go next. A Gaian perspective--the Earth and Life forming a supraorganism(?)--is necessary, they say, if we are to survive inhabiting other worlds. A beautiful, thought-provoking book!

Lynn Margulis is Distinguished University Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amhurst. Dorion Sagan is a writer.


Our Stolen Future, T. Colborn, D. Dumanoski, and J.P. Myers.

Plume Books: New York, 1997.

Our Stolen Future
is a controversial and powerful examination of how man-made chemicals may be affecting humans and ecosystems. It steps outside of the "cancer paradigm" by demonstrating that while so much money and efforts have gone toward studying carcinogenic effects of chemicals, affects on other biological systems have gotten only minimal attention. The book focuses primarily on the effects of chemicals on the endocrine system. It shows that many human-made agents mimic hormones, and can disrupt the delicate balance of the system that regulates development and reproduction, both in animals and in humans.

Our Stolen Future compiles and relates much of the current research, but does so in effort to inform the general public. It explains the science thoroughly and as simply as possible, bringing together much of the evidence on the subject and making a very strong case for further study.

For more information, see the book's official site:


Pandora's Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental
Strategy, Joe Thornton. MIT Press: Cambridge, 2000.


Time's Arrow and Evolution, Harold Blum. Princeton University Press:
Princeton, 1951.

Harold Blum, then lecturer at Princeton University, writes that he "began to think about possible relationships between the Second Law of Thermodynamics and organic evolution during the summer of 1933" (preface). He was inspired by the book "Fitness of the Environment" by the famous chemist, Lawrence J. Henderson, written in 1913. Using the Second Law (Arrow of Time) to see how the chemistry of biology has progressed on Earth is the main theme of the book. Starting with a chronology of evolution, the book goes into the materials and kinetics that maintain life. Clearly, with elegant examples, many of the basic mechanisms are explained. The book then attempts to deal with ideas of "complexity" and "organization" and the role of time in their evolution. Early books on such topics are fascinating and important to read to understand and appreciate the historical progress of ideas. For example, the chronology of the Earth figure in Blum's book goes only to 3 billion rather than the 4.5 billion years we take it to be now. This book is also "pre-DNA" and makes us appreciate the deep systems thinking that led to very important insights even before the analytical phase in which we are now.


Tracking the Vanishing Frogs: An Ecological Mystery, Kathryn Phillips.
Penguin Books: New York, 1994.


Which World? : Scenarios for the 21st Century, Allen Hammond.
Island Press / Shearwater Books: Washington, D.C.: 1998.

Allen Hammond is the director of strategic analysis and a senior scientist at the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit organization focused on policy research. Which World? emerged out of his work on the 2050 Project, a five-year research endeavor examining the use of scenarios to help policy-makers and citizens make smarter decisions about our future. The book first introduces the concept and uses of scenarios, and demonstrates how they affect our perceptions of the future. The second main section, around which the remainder of the book is centered, presents three alternative global scenarios: Market World, Fortress World, and Transformed World. Only one of these scenarios is largely pessimistic, while the other two present more balanced views of the future. However, Hammond argues that all three of the scenarios are well within the realm of possibility given the current "critical trends" (Demographic, Economic, and Technological). The next section delves into the details of some of these "critical trends," showing both what the trends are today, and how we can expect these trends to continue (or not) into the future. Hammond also discusses important environmental, security, social, and political trends in some detail. Throughout the book, Hammond emphasizes the interdependence of all these societal elements, showing that one area cannot change without influencing many others. Finally, Hammond provides several chapters of regional information, underscoring the fact that, while we are rapidly moving toward a global community, each region faces very unique problems and struggles that cannot be ignored in formulating scenarios for the future. Which World? is an important tool for stimulating thought and discussion about the future, and about how decisions we make in the present will have profound impact on our quality of life in the future. It also is enormously valuable for its explanation of how so many factors influence and impact environmental quality, and our commitment to its improvement.

Book's Official Site:

  ©Copyright 2003 Carnegie Mellon University
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 9653194. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.