Nonfiction November: Become the Expert

Sorry for the lack of posts this week! I had exams this week and more exams next week, so I haven’t read any books since last week. I almost missed posting for Nonfiction November, too, but here it is! This week’s topic is become the expert: do you have a subject that dominates your TBR? What books would you read to become an expert in the topic of your choice? Join in the fun on Kim‘s blog!

I’m sure most (if not all) of us have learned about the 3 R’s of recycle, reduce, and reuse back in elementary school, but are we really making conscious decisions in our everyday life to do so? As humans, we all generate a ton (millions of tons, actually) of waste that’s not easily processed and disposed of. We make drugs and processed goods while producing by-products that are potentially harmful to the environment and to ourselves. We make decisions to change both our natural and man-made environment that will bite us in the butt – not later, but NOW.

So yeah, environmental health is a big deal. I’m certainly not an expert in it, so I’ve collected a few books on my TBR list that emphasize concerns on waste management and disposal as well as toxic chemical exposure. Food safety is another big area of environmental health, but since there’s already been so much press on it already, I want to focus on issues that are just as important and pressing, if not more so, than food. (I’m also kind of ashamed that I haven’t read these books already, since my graduate program is in public health… but I think we can all benefit from learning about how we can be affected by our environment.)


1. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Silent Spring is THE book that people who care about the environment and their own well-beings should read; it spurred the field of environmental toxicology in the 1960s and led to many changes concerning the regulation of pollutants and toxicants. Silent Spring is compiled from articles that Carson wrote for The New Yorker to express her concerns about the effects of pesticides (especially DDT) on birds, suggesting effects also on humans and the environment at large.

2. Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin. Few man-made disasters, such as the Exxon Valdez and BP oil spills and the Bhopal gas tragedy, have been featured in the press and caught the attention of the public for more than a week. (You can read about some other well-known disasters here, if you’re interested.) Accidental and non-accidental disposal of chemicals occurs on a daily basis, whether we like it or not. In Toms River, Fagin singles out a case of illegal industrial waste dumping in Toms River, New Jersey, and its detrimental effects on the nearby community. This book sums up all that is wrong with the world the dangers of man-made disasters and how industries and governments deal with that responsibility (by shifting blame, as you’ll likely see).

3. The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George. Have you ever wondered where your poop goes after you flush it down the toilet? It’s the kind of question your five-year-old would ask after wondering where his goldfish ran off to, and it’s a question he’ll probably stop asking after he turns six because you’ll scold him and say, “Don’t talk about this during dinner ever again.” We just don’t talk about body waste – it’s smelly, it’s disgusting, and we’d prefer to not think about it. But did you know that a lot of communities use body waste as cooking fuel? And what happens to poop from communities where high-tech toilets and sewage systems aren’t available? George addresses these questions and issues in The Big Necessity, and I’m going to read it so that if a kid ever asks me about poop, I can say, “Well, it goes like this…”

4. Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health by Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie. Hellooo, Canadian authors! Smith and Lourie’s Slow Death by Rubber Duck sheds some much-needed light on the chemicals in everyday, household products. I think this would a good book to read as an introduction to environmental health, although I don’t know why we don’t all turn into hypochondriacs after reading about what we’re doing to the environment, and consequently, to ourselves. I’m also excited for their new book, Toxin Toxout, which comes out in a month!

5. Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash by Elizabeth Royte. All of Royte’s books are basically on my TBR list. This is another where-does-my-waste-go book that I think is worth reading, since it might change what we decide to buy and what we decide to throw out.

6. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. The title definitely reminded me of the Life After People TV series, which also just reminded me that it’s Sci-Fi Month too! Killing two birds with one stone, ha. The World Without Us is the odd book out on this list because it’s less about how the environment impacts us, but rather, how we impact the environment. Regardless, it’s nice to look at the other side of the spectrum too, and it makes us think about something other than we, ourselves, and us.

And that’s it, my friends. All the books that you need to become an expert in environmental health and start staring suspiciously at all the shampoo bottles in the grocery store the next time you go shopping. This is only a small slice of the big environmental health pie, unfortunately, so if you’ve read any books in this category, let me know what they are! I’m also interested in books about air pollution, medical waste, and occupational health, which are a lot harder to find.

Have you read any environmental health or public health-related non-fiction? If so, what are your favorites? What books are you looking forward (or not looking forward) to reading, and what do you think I should add to my list?


7 thoughts on “Nonfiction November: Become the Expert

  1. I haven’t read any of these, although I’ve always meant to read “Silent SPring”–but I couldn’t help but notice that your avatar includes a couple of books by Jodi Picoult–one of my very favorite authors–and it looks like it also includes “The Memory Keepers Daughter” which I loved!

    • Silent Spring has been on my to-read list for a long time now, and I definitely need to prioritize it (after all the other books that I’m prioritizing…)!

      Yay, fellow Jodi Picoult fan! And yes, I do have The Memory Keeper’s Daughter – I’m sorry that my jar of peanut butter is in the way, haha, but good eye! 🙂 Have you read any Ann Tyler or Alice Hoffman books? Their books are in my stack too, just more obscured by the peanut butter. I also like your Lilly avatar!

      • I don’t think I’ve read any Alice Hoffman. I like a lot of Anne Tyler’s books, but she’s kind of hit-or-miss for me. I loved her book “Digging To America”–it’s about two extended families who become linked when they both adopt babies from Korea.

        • I really liked my first Alice Hoffman book (Aquamarine) when I read it as a kid, and I’m trying to get back into reading her works. I really like Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant! I haven’t read Digging To America yet, but that sounds like an interesting premise. 🙂

  2. This is a great list! One book I read on pollution that I really liked was Moby Duck by Donovan Hohn. It has one of my favorite subtitles of all time, “The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author,Who Went in Search of Them.”

    • Thanks, Kim! And I’ll be adding Moby-Duck to my TBR list – love the subtitle and the punny title, haha. Things being thrown into the ocean reminds me of the old mindset that any chemical or waste dumped into a large body of water makes everything okay (or “the solution to pollution is dilution”), which is definitely not true, so this is a topic I’m very interested in. Thanks for the suggestion! 🙂

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