For the one and a half years we roomed together, I could depend on Alex Cagle to answer “yes” when asked to accompany me on an adventure. From numerous poorly planned fishing trips to crossing the catwalk under a Tennessee River bridge, he was always up for new experiences. In this time Alex transitioned from a reluctant tag-along to an adventurous spirit who suggested and planned trips. For this reason, I have asked him to suggest three books to consider reading on your next road trip or adventure. Without further ado, Alex Cagle:
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
One of the most quintessential books to connect readers to nature is My Side of the Mountain. In this story a fifteen-year-old boy named Sam leaves his family and goes off to live in the forest and mountains of upstate New York. Almost every boy at one time or another has dreamed about leaving civilization behind and living on his own in the woods, and My Side of the Mountain captures that imagination and lets the reader live out that fantasy through Sam. Technically it is a children’s book, but it is a timeless classic that every adult should read to be reminded of the inner child that lives inside us all.
Corsair by Clive Cussler
For something a little more heart pounding, look no further than the writings of Clive Cussler. Cussler is a former Navy man who has written literally scores of action/spy novels, so narrowing it down to one suggestion is rather difficult. But if I had to choose one, it would have to be Corsair. The hero of the novel is the Chairman of the Corporation Juan Cabrillo. Fed up with the red tape that surrounded the United States secret services he left the CIA and founded his own spy agency for hire. Operating out of their high tech base inside a ship called The Oregon, they only use their power for good. The Oregon is unique in that it has state of the art engines that give the ship enormous speed and maneuverability by stripping ions from ocean water, allowing it to never refuel. The ship also has one other feature: its exterior looks absolutely decrepit, helping the ship enter any port with complete anonymity. In this installment the Secretary of State has vanished, and it is up to The Corporation to find her before a summit in Tripoli that will decide the fate of the Middle East. If you’re looking for a heart racing page turner then look no further.
The Inferno by Dante Alighieri
Lastly, but probably most importantly, is The Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri’s masterpiece The Divine Comedy. One of the first literary pieces of the Renaissance, The Inferno is an epic poem that describes Dante’s decent led by Virgil through the literal depths of Hell. Note that undertaking this path with Dante and Virgil is not for the faint of heart. As an epic poem, The Inferno is filled with poetic language, so it requires more concentration to read than other texts. It also depicts sinners being tortured for their sins in gruesome detail in the nine levels of Hell. However, for the brave of heart and mind The Inferno is a must read for any individual who considers himself or herself enlightened. One of the pillars of Western literature for over seven hundred years, The Inferno is truly epic.
Last year I took a water resources class taught by Melissa Hinten, Ph.D. of the Geography Department here at the University of Tennessee. I thoroughly enjoyed the level of engagement and the teaching style that Dr. Hinten brought to the already interesting subject of water management and its history. (In class we read Water 4.0 by David Sedlak, which was informative but still light enough to read for leisure. If you are interested in the history behind the management of our water, look into this book, and count it as a bonus suggestion.) In her work, Dr. Hinten focuses on biogeography, land use and land cover change, GIS, and geography education. She was kind enough to contribute her perspective with these thought-provoking recommendations for readers. I hope you enjoy them!
Dr. Melissa Hinten:
“1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus” by Charles Mann.
1491 is one of my favorite books and I refer to it often in my courses. It is the book that I think of when I think of a connection to nature. 1491 is a nonfiction account of the Americas prior to Columbus and the Age of Discovery. A dominant narrative was, and still is to some degree, that the “New World” was sparsely inhabited and the people that lived there were primitive. Mann builds a new narrative using archaeological and archival evidence to argue that the population of the Americas was much more densely populated with advanced societies on par with those of the “Old World”. This is my book selection for connecting with nature because as I look at the landscape after reading this book I have a great appreciation for humankind’s long history of influence on the land. For example, Mann dispels the myth that the Amazon rain forest is a pristine and primordial forest that has never been influenced by human intervention. What Mann explains is that the South American rain-forest has for millennia been purposefully manipulated and tended to by South American peoples.
“The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World” by Eric Weiner.
The Geography of Bliss inspired me to be adventurous, or at least planted the seed of new travel destinations. Eric Weiner travels to ten countries in search for what makes a country and its population happy. He chooses the countries based on sociological rankings of the happiest, or in one instance the least happy, countries in the world. The Geography of Bliss is a humorous account of the search for what truly makes populations happy. Some of the countries he visits seem like obviously happy populations – like the Netherlands and Switzerland, but he also visits countries like Qatar and Iceland that seem less obviously happy. The Geography of Bliss is a delightful read for anyone interested in exploring the world and understanding the meaning of happiness.
“Incognito: the Secret Lives of the Brain” by David Eagleman
Incognito is my wildcard choice for a book to read. I found this book absolutely fascinating and it led me to read other brain science books, which are a hot topic these days. Incognito is a well written and easy to read book about our perception, about what it means to consciously know something from a neuroscience perspective. David Eagleman uses fascinating case studies and examples to illustrate his arguments – this book will be a gateway book for anyone interested in learning more about neuroscience and cognition.