Detroiters’ environmental leaders on their must-reads

Here’s a list of books on water, plants, waste, soil, and justice recommended by the city’s local advocates for the environment.

It’s January 2021 and if you’re like us, reading more was one of your New Year’s resolutions. We asked local environmental experts what their top must-reads are. They gave us a mix of books about water, plants, waste, and soil. Many of the suggestions were environmental justice-focused. And, many of our local experts couldn’t pick just one, so we included the full list as well. 

We hope you find these books helpful and interesting in your efforts to learn more about the environment and care for our local environment and communities in Detroit. 

Jeremy Orr 

What The Eyes Don’t See by Mona Hanna- Attisha 

“I loved the book because it had all the elements of Shakespearean tragedy except it was real life and it still provided hope in the end. It shows both the dangers and injustices of placing profit over human and environmental health and also shows how courage and community prevailed in the face of vile opposition to the pursuit of environmental justice and democratic process.”

Michelle Martinez 

Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have to Do Is Ask by Mary Siisip Geniusz

“For 2021 the task before us is not only to review and understand movements to win back our future, but to go deeper into Earth care. Honoring the First Nations of this land means finding out how to do that in a way that is not tokenizing or appropriating that culture, but approaching new knowledge with reverence and respect; learning the many names and stories of the medicines of this land. Siisip Geniusz offers readers the teachings she received to achieve Anishinaabe-bimaadiziwin, ‘Life in the Fullest Sense.’ Anishinaabe ways of knowing these lands have been cultivated for 14,000 years- and it’s time to lift that up for both for Native peoples and settlers alike.

Alice Jennings

Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret by Catherine Coleman Flowers

“Flower’s memoir chronicles her advocacy in Lowndes County Alabama and for improved sanitation systems in rural America and urban America. The book is eye-opening because it focuses on Environmental Justice issues involving disproportionately communities of color,  focused on basic and fundamental rights for sanitation and health in this current time, including through the time of the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

Justin Onwenu 

Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality by Robert Bullard 

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in environmental justice. Minority communities make up 25% of the state of Michigan but 65% of those living near hazardous waste sites. This disparity is emblematic of the environmental justice issues being fought across the country.” 

shane bernardo

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer 

“It resituates the environmental justice movement within the Native perspective. This is essential because a lot of times, the EJ movement is really whitewashed and replicates the erasure of Native people that is the foundation of how the climate crisis started in the first place.” 

Theresa Landrum 

Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution and Residential Mobility by Dorceta Taylor

Tony Reames

Revolutionary Power: An Activist’s Guide to the Energy Transition by Shalanda H. Baker

Antonio Cosme 

The Soul of Soil by Smillie, Gershuny

Donele Wilkins 

Growing Smarter: Achieving Livable Communities, Environmental Justice and Regional Equity edited by Robert D. Bullard

Artina Sadler 

Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry Edited by Camille T. Dungy.

Additional reading: 

This Bridge Called My Back by Cherríe L. Moraga Gloria E. Anzaldúa and Toni Cade Bambara

The Revolution Will Not Be Funded edited by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence

Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown

Environmental Health and Racial Equity in the US by Robert D. Bullard, Glen  S. Johnson and Angel  O. Torres

The Black Metropolis in the 21st center: Race, Power and Politics of Place edited by Robert D. Bullard 

Forgotten Fires Omer Stewart

The Wizard and the Prophet 1491 by Charles Mann 

Freedom Farmers by Monica White

The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits by Tiya Miles  

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein 

The Great Water: A Documentary History of Michigan by Matthew Thick

A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind by Harriet Washington


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