The Ethical Theory of the Value of Nature: A Reading List

“You’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re going to come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life: one, don’t do that, and two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a f*ckin’ education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!” – Will Hunting

A goal I have for my DEL MEM program is to become more aware (ahem) of important works in American nature writing. In particular, I’m interested in works that examine, in some way, the ethical theory of the value of nature. In collaboration with several DEL MEM colleagues, we’ve compiled a list below of works we’ve read, would like to read, or have a notion about.

This list remains both a work in progress and based on a bottomless hourglass — realizing there are only so many reading hours in our day. Nevertheless, I promise that your Duke experience will reveal, expand, inform, and challenge ideas presented by the authors below. Exactly the difference between our education here and the local library.

Your move, chief.

My thanks to fellow DEL MEM students Rob Burton, Judith Landsberg, and Eric McDuffie for the conversation and collaboration which has resulted in this list. Any mistakes are my own (!).


Abbey, E. “Desert Solitaire”

Abbey, E. “Hayduke Lives”

Abbey, E. “The Monkey Wrench Gang”

Berry, T. “Great Work”

Berry, T. “Sacred Universe”

Berry, W. “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture”

Carson, R. “Silent Spring”

Childs, C. “The Secret Knowledge of Water”

Conway, E.M. and Oreskes, N. “Merchants of Doubt”

Diamond, J. “Collapse”

Diamond, J. “Guns, Germs, and Steel”

Dillard, A. “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”

Ehrlich, G. “The Solace of Open Spaces”

Ellis, R. “The Empty Ocean”

Gibbons, E. “Stalking the Wild Asparagus”

Gore, A. “Earth in the Balance”

Hawkens, P. “Ecology of Commerce”

Hawkens, P. “Blessed Unrest”

Kolbert, E. “Field Notes from a Catastrophe”

Lepold, A. “A Sand County Almanac”

Logan, W.B. “Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth”

Lomborg, B. “The Skeptical Environmentalist”

Lovelock, J. “Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth”

Luov, R. “Last Child in the Woods”

Marris, E. “Rambunctious Garden”

McDonough, W. and Braungart, M. “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”

McKibben, B. “Eaarth”

McKibben, B. “The End of Nature”

McPhee, J. “Annals of the Former World”

McPhee, J. “Encounters with the Archdruid”

McPhee, J. “The Control of Nature”

Mowat, F. “A Whale for the Killing” <– not American, but close!

Mowat, F. “Never Cry Wolf”‘

Muir, J. “My First Summer in the Sierra”

Nordhaus, T. and Shellenberger, M. “Break Through”

Pollan, M. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals”

Reisner, M. “Cadillac Desert”

Rusho, W.L. “A Vagabond Beauty”

Schneider, S.H. “Science as a Contact Sport”

Simon, A. “Neptune’s Revenge”

Soltzenburg, W. “Where the Wild Things Were”

Steinbeck, J. “Log from the Sea of Cortez”

Thoreau, H. “Walden”

Weisman, A. “The World Without Us”

Williams, T.T. “Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place”

Wilson, E.O. “Naturalist”

Zakin, S. “Coyotes and Dog Towns”


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