Most of us know the wonder of travel isn’t limited to the trip itself. Our excitement extends from packing our bags to the journey home. The feeling of an expanded consciousness lingers long after we return to our daily lives. The most seasoned travelers intentionally cultivate this excitement, wonder, and education beyond their trips. One of the ways they do this is through reading up on places, treks, and the environmental and social issues that impact their travels.
You can always find our teams across Natural Habitat Adventures and World Wildlife Fund swapping titles that deepened our knowledge and transported us through space and time. Whether you have a trip coming up or you’re craving some vicarious adventure, here’s a wild reading list that will take you all around the globe.
Nature, People, and Place
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer — Angela Bowman, WWF-US Director of Agricultural and Environmental Metrics
After a decade on various bestseller lists, this landmark book is now considered a foundational text for those interested in indigenous knowledge. Kimmerer, a Potawatomi professor of biology, environmental studies, and indigenous studies, explores human relationships with nature through an indigenous lens that compares new perspectives with traditional wisdom. While it was one of the most recommended reads from both Nat Hab and WWF team members, Angela Bowman, a trained geologist, described it as one of those books that changes how you think about nature. Travel with Braiding Sweetgrass for a reminder that Western science is only one way of knowing and seeing the world.
The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen — Carter Roberts, WWF-US President & CEO
Titles that explore human relationships with nature often highlight individual experiences and cultural concepts of place. But in this mix of scientific theory, historical context, and personal experience, Quammen examines our relationship with nature through a broader scope. Exploring evolution and extinction, he radically alters our understanding of the natural world, building a foundation to understand our current context in nature and how we’ve arrived at where we are.
Mountains Piled upon Mountains edited by Jessica Cory — Colby Brokvist, Nat Hab Expedition Guide
This collection of short stories, poems, and personal essays is joined in its exploration and meditations on the human relationship with nature throughout Appalachia. In a region that has long suffered from extractive practices and harmful stereotypes, this collection reveals the power of our attention. “It teaches you to be more cognizant of your presence in a place and to develop situational awareness,” says Nat Hab expert guide, Colby Brokvist.
Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez — Jack Reppy, Nat Hab Adventure Concierge
By far the most recommended title on our list, this profound journey north is just as much a reflection on the landscape as it is a log of an Arctic adventure. It could fall into any of our categories as Lopez chronicles Arctic life, ecology, and terrains in colorful chapters of his own experiences. Arctic icons like beluga whales, polar bears, and the Northern Lights are heavily featured. Everyone from expedition guides and conservation experts to interns and CEOs called Arctic Dreams a must-read. Whether you’re planning a trip to the Arctic or are already in love with the north, this book will illuminate the planet’s northernmost region.
The Overstory by Richard Powers — Carter Roberts, WWF-US President & CEO
Works of fiction aren’t often featured on travel or conservation reading lists, but Nat Hab’s investment in people—local cultural, community wellbeing, and indigenous rights—make fictional work even more relevant. In this part-short-story-collection-part-novel, Powers explores how trees work together and uses that framework to tell the story of a family. Carter Roberts, President & CEO of World Wildlife Fund said the book suggests “how mankind might change its philosophy on our relationship to nature in a manner to better suit the modern world.” It’s a great companion on a trip to California where some of the world’s largest and tallest trees are found.
Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold — Colby Brokvist, Nat Hab Expedition Guide
Another widely recommended title, Sand County Almanac is a must-read for anyone interested in conservation. Aldo Leopold is one of the conservation world’s most important figures and is the creator of the “land ethic” concept— a call for our moral responsibility to be extended to the land—detailed in an essay of the same name featured in this essential book.
The Control of Nature by John McPhee, 1989 — Carter Roberts, WWF-US President & CEO
McPhee is often thought of as a pioneer in the genre of nature and conservation nonfiction writing. His emotional but detailed storytelling is at its best in this outline of the strategies and tactics through which people attempt to control nature. It’s a necessary reminder of both human ingenuity and nature’s supreme power.
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson — Talia Speaker, WWF WILDLABS Research Specialist
As mentioned, fiction has a necessary role in telling human stories, but its place in tackling climate change might not be apparent. In this “cli-fi” (climate fiction) novel, Robinson shows us that fiction is a powerful tool in imagining different futures for mankind. The book is set in a near-future world and follows an international organization that advocates for future generations as if their lives were just as real as contemporary humans. Talia Speaker who works in WWF’s WILDLABS, described it as an exploration of some of our toughest climate issues but through a lens of optimism.
The Diversity of Life by E.O. Wilson — Carter Roberts, WWF-US President & CEO
Ed Wilson, a former WWF board member, is credited with propelling the foundational concept of “biodiversity,” articulated in this revolutionary book. From his observations at the edge of the Amazon basin, Wilson reflects on the incredible diversity of life, the evolutionary processes that created it, and how human activity is putting that inherently valuable diversity at risk.
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf — Court Whelan, Nat Hab Chief Sustainability Officer
Wulf takes a deep dive into the life of Alexander von Humboldt that’s as entertaining as it is eye-opening. We didn’t always regard nature with the wonder and affection that we do today; it was once untamed, dangerous, and something to “fix.” Thanks to the unrelenting work and life of Humboldt, nature is a destination, a sanctuary, and a place worth saving.
World Agriculture and the Environment: A Commodity-by-Commodity Guide to Impacts and Practices by Jason Clay — Julia Kurnick, WWF Senior Director, Innovation Start-Ups, Markets
While sustainable travel is the foundation of Nat Hab’s mission, it’s no secret that committing yourself to sustainability requires more intention and forethought in your everyday life. Eating is one of the areas that has a surprising impact, and when you’re traveling, knowing which foods negatively impact local environments and people requires research. Julia Kurnick who works on innovating food and agricultural systems with WWF’s, recommends this title—authored by Jason Clay, WWF Executive Director of Markets Institute—for those interested in deepening their awareness of the commodities that make up their diet. The fast facts section is a traveler’s handbook for quickly but thoroughly understanding the implications of resources from coffee beans to shrimp.
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson — Carter Roberts, WWF-US President & CEO
While you’ve likely heard of Rachel Carson’s breakthrough book that galvanized the environmental movement of the 1960s, if you’ve not yet read it, it’s essential for anyone interested in the history of conservation. Silent Spring brought to global attention one of mankind’s most subtle and underappreciated impacts on the natural world—the use of pesticides—culminating with expanded regulations including a ban on domestic use of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane).
The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall — Court Whelan, Nat Hab Chief Sustainability Officer
As many nature and travel lovers face climate anxiety and eco-grief, it’s important to find balms for these times. Goodall set out to do just that in this inspirational and optimistic book about conservation in today’s world. It’s a celebration of how far we’ve come and what we’ve accomplished, without ignoring that we’ve got more work to do.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert — Carter Roberts, WWF-US President & CEO
This book makes hard science and nuanced current issues easy to digest for even the most novice conservationists. Kolbert, a distinguished writer for the New Yorker, puts the current biodiversity crisis in a historical context and distinguishes it by its extent and speed to explore mankind’s impact.
Adventure and Travel
Endurance by Alfred Lansing — Jim Sano, WWF-US Vice President of Travel, Tourism, and Conservation
Another widely recommended title—and where your adventure reading list should begin according to Jim Sano, one of WWF’s travel specialists and an expert guide on Nat Hab’s Yosemite Nature Tour—this foundational tale of exploration and adventure chronicles famed Antarctic pioneer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, and the failure of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard — Court Whelan, Nat Hab Chief Sustainability Officer
This one is sure to raise the hair on your neck as it follows Theodore Roosevelt’s grandest adventure through the River of Doubt (later renamed Roosevelt River) in Brazil. If you’re a history buff, in a travel lull, or just curious about all South America has to offer, this book is sure to inspire you for the next opportunity to adventure into the unknown.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed — Maddy Mitchell, WWF-US Travel Marketing Specialist
While Cheryl Strayed’s moving memoir put the Pacific Crest Trail—which passes through an astounding seven western national parks—on the map, it also made solo adventure much more accessible to women and novice hikers. Strayed is deeply honest about her own mistakes and misfortunes, and she reminds us that there’s no better teacher than experience.
Into the Silence by Wade Davis – Ben Bressler, Nat Hab Founder & President
Many travelers are intimately familiar with the truth of the transformation that discovery and adventure can bring. Discovering new things is empowering. Adventure bolsters our sense of self by pushing us beyond what we believed to be our limits. This book is a story of passing thresholds of fear in pursuit of the highest peak on the planet. The twenty-six British climbers that were on the first expedition to summit Everest had all survived the First World War, and their determination to reach the top was informed by the perspective that near-death experience brings. The story can be summarized by the words uttered by the first person to ever reach the summit, George Mallory: “The price of life is death.”
Running the Amazon by Joe Kane — Jim Sano, WWF-US Vice President of Travel, Tourism, and Conservation
The Amazon River basin contains 20% of the world’s freshwater, one in 10 of all known species on Earth, and 1.6 billion acres of dense rainforest. There is much yet to be explored, but Joe Kane and his group of polyglot travelers set out to be the first expedition to completely traverse all 4,200 miles of the Amazon River. From its headwaters in the Peruvian Andes to the Atlantic Ocean, this book is a firsthand account of one of the greatest adventures of all time.
Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston– Court Whelan, Nat Hab Chief Sustainability Officer
An extraordinary feat of collaboration, this book tells the story of the discovery of ancient civilizations in the Central American jungle. As you read about the use of novel technologies and the various roles of the expedition team—archaeologists, ethnobotanists, anthropologists, engineers, geologists, and biologists—it’s a reminder that the world is full of undiscovered truths and uncovering them necessitates risk-taking, teamwork, and diversity.
The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson – Ben Bressler, Nat Hab Founder & President
Another title that proves fiction has a role in travel writing, The Long Ships is an adventure novel that includes painstaking research into 10th-century Viking expeditions and the historical context in which they sailed. Foregoing the emotional and psychological imagination that many fiction writers rely on, Frans Bengtsson instead painted an accurate picture of the landscape, politics, and situations of this place in history that we’d otherwise never be able to access.
An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong, June 2022 — Ginette Hemley, WWF-US Senior Vice President of Wildlife Conservation
Many of us who wear glasses remember what it was like putting them on for the first time. “So, THIS is everything I wasn’t seeing.” It’s almost impossible to understand the confines of our own senses and how animals have different sensory experiences. But Ed Young hands us wildlife glasses and demonstrates the extent of sensory information our human body filters for us. Sights, sounds, textures, and electromagnetic fields come to life here, and that pesky implicit human hierarchy is complicated when we learn just how much we don’t know.
Queer Ducks (and Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality by Eliot Schrefer — WWF People and Culture Team
Meant to be accessible, Eliot Schrefer’s barrier-breaking book includes comics, humor, and easily digestible science about the diversity of sexual behavior in nature. It’s a great companion for those who are interested in making conservation and science spaces more inclusive, as well as those interested in understanding their neighboring creatures a bit better.
Sounds of Life: How Digital Technology Is Bringing Us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants by Karen Bakker — Dave Thau, WWF-US Global Data and Technology Lead Scientist
Birdsong in the early mornings, cicadas in the late summer, the wind rising through the leaves: these are the voices of nature that humans recognize and the soundscapes we have come to love. But what about everything we can’t hear? This book explores, explains, and meditates on the sounds of nature indiscernible to humans and the technology that is bringing us closer to understanding these communications from the un-human world.