Road Trip Reads – Part 2

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.

Road Trip Reads – Part 1

While driving across the country, flying, and sitting on buses, we all love a good book to capture our attention. During the road trip Peyton carried a mini New Testament bible, Daniel had a popular novel by a modern writer whose name escapes me, and I read Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidances as well as an installment to the Wheel of Time series. My reasoning for the bear book was practical as we would be spending 3 days in Alaskan bear country; I highly recommend this book—which was recommended to me—for anyone planning on doing the same. That said, we are always looking for new reading material for road trip and vacation down time. In this post I am sharing three books that I want to recommend to you for your next adventure. The first book is one that inspires me to be adventurous. The second is a book that personally connects me to nature. The last book is a wildcard book of any genre that I want to suggest. As you may have surmised from the title, this is the first post of a series. Several adventurous friends of mine have been kind enough to contribute three suggestions of their own that I will share with you over the next few weeks. For now, I hope something here will pique your interest, and I encourage you to give these books a shot.

Into the Wild is Jon Krakauer’s journalistic telling of how Chris McCandless met an untimely fate in Alaska after spending two wild and free years on the road. You have likely heard of this book or at least the 2007 Sean Penn film it inspired. Although heralded by some as the standard for a free spirited adventurer, Chris McCandless is denounced by many less-naive adventurers as an air-headed fool. While my personal opinion of McCandless falls somewhere in between, I find Krakauer’s account of the tale endlessly inspiring. McCandless’s personal writings—Krakauer includes several—encourage me to seek new adventures. As a whole, Into the Wild pulls a powerful desire to experience the unknown from deep in my soul. The story’s tragic end reminds me that risk is reality; understanding and preparing for risk keeps us alive through the more dangerous adventures if we learn from others. This book is a great read before, during, or after road trips as a source of inspiration to live fully. The main thing I took from this book: Life is a journey, not a destination.

Sometimes you just don’t have the time or energy to invest in a novel or long-form nonfiction. For these instances, I’d like to recommend any collection of short stories by Jack London. I recently began progressing through 25 selected shorts that are dense in substance, character, and scenery.  London skillfully narrates the history of the west while developing his characters, but more importantly, he weaves a visual and emotional connection to the environment and its interaction with people. Nature plays such a vast role in his stories that one can’t help but burn for adventure and exploration—to witness first-hand what London writes about. Though fictional, London’s writings captivate the mind, encourage introspection, and ultimately incite action in those of us who need to see more than a screen. “The Apostate” and “All Gold Canyon” are two examples of many short stories that are perfect for a quick read.

Lastly I suggest the book Eaarth by Bill McKibben. This work, though criticized for being overly cynical, highlights some of the key elements of climate change and how they affect us. McKibben argues that Earth the planet is dead, that due to a severe rise in global temperature Earth has been succeeded by a new planet: “Eaarth” (with two a’s). He claims that the effects of a carbonizing atmosphere are nearly irreversible and that “Eaarth” can never be completely reverted to its pre-industrial conditions. Based on rising carbon dioxide levels well above the stable 350 parts per million, McKibben’s science-backed predictions trumpet doom and destruction if change is not immediately manifested.  I realize this book sounds like a bit of a downer, and it is also important to note that McKibben is a writer/researcher (an excellent one), but not a scientist. Because he is not the direct source of the science and has a strong environmentalism background, his views are certain to contain a degree of subjectivity and bias to be carefully examined. However, I chose this book as my wildcard because it was the first book to connect me to environmentalism and truly inform me about climate change. It is an eye-opening read to anyone who will give it a chance. Please give it a chance.