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Books for when you’re worried about the state of the world

Bee on flower in summer
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Reading the news lately, I’ve been wondering if any of the book recommendations I can pass on will really cut it. War, climate change, nuclear threat… it’s a time of unimaginable trauma and stress for many people.

Can a book really help you feel better considering the state of the world right now? And what’s more, will this post seem like encouragement to turn a blind eye to situations we really need to be paying attention to?

Here’s my current answer to those questions. We can strive to do what’s in our power to change, but we also need to take care of ourselves. If we can do that while connecting our own human heart with those of others – and stumbling into the rabbit hole of another culture and worldview – then all the better.

I’ll be honest – my reading has become very low-key lately. I’ve been practicing my Danish by reading Harry Potter og Fangen fra Azkaban at the slowest pace imaginable, and also listening to the audiobook of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

In the following recommendations, you’ll find a few different angles to relieve your own anxiety at the state of the world – or, alternatively, to just sit with your feelings and learn more about the place humankind is in and where we might go from here.

You might also like: 6 books to read during burnout when you feel exhausted

10 books to read when you’re worried about the world and its future

1. How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery

If you’re feeling anxious, what’s in your control that you can change? To begin with, think of the kindness, generosity, and love that are innate parts of you. This beautiful memoir of a life well-lived with animals is a wonderful reminder to do so.

“Thousands of billions of mothers—from the gelatinous ancestors of Octavia, to my own mother—have taught their kind to love, and to know that love is the highest and best use of a life. Love alone matters, and makes its object worthy. And love is a living thing, even if Octavia’s eggs were not.”

How to be a Good Creature

2. The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim

If you’re feeling burnt out and need a retreat from the world, Elizabeth von Arnim is an excellent starting point. She’s best known for The Enchanted April, which is another fantastic choice, but I’d also recommend The Solitary Summer.

Our protagonist in this little book intends to spend a summer wholly alone to rediscover the joy of life. She isn’t wholly successful, but her effort is valiant, and we can share her enjoyment of magnificent larkspurs and nasturtiums, cooling forest walks, and the refuge of her beloved plants and books.

“Everybody must love something, and I know of no objects of love that give such substantial and unfailing returns as books and a garden.”

3. The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet by John Green

Reddit user beastie_boo described John Green’s new essay collection as “the right balance of ‘everything is pointless but I’m still hopeful about the world'”. That’s just what some of us need right now. It can be the best reminder to notice beauty, appreciate what matters, share our kindness and love with others, and limit what leads to stress, dread, and agonising over hypothetical questions.

In The Anthropocene Reviewed, John Green brings both humour and food for thought via his reviews of different facets of our human-centered life on Earth on a five-star scale. Dive into the book as he charts the contradictions of contemporary humanity with reviews spanning the QWERTY keyboard, sunsets, Canada geese, and Penguins of Madagascar.

4. Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World by Tim Marshall

If your way of dealing with the stress and uncertainty of geopolitics is to learn more about it, Prisoners of Geography is an accessible and intriguing place to start.

Tim Marshall offers a fascinating look at how the world’s political landscape is shaped by its physical landscape: the mountains, rivers, deserts, and terrain of our world. Iain and I listened to it as an audiobook a few years ago, and we’ve just revisited the first chapter (conveniently focused on Russia) this week.

5. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

What better book to help you to breathe deeper and marvel at the wonder of nature and its seasons than Braiding Sweetgrass?

Admiring the natural world is a first step to protecting it, even in the smaller ways accessible to us via our day-to-day choices about how to live our own lives, alongside the miniature ecosystems we create in our window boxes, balconies, and gardens.

“How do I show my girls I love them on a morning in June? I pick them wild strawberries. On a February afternoon we build snowmen and then sit by the fire. In March we make maple syrup. We pick violets in May and go swimming in July. On an August night we lay out blankets and watch meteor showers. In November, that great teacher the woodpile comes into our lives. That’s just the beginning. How do we show our children our love? Each in our own way by a shower of gifts and a heavy rain of lessons.”

6. Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert

One way to look at human civilization, says Elizabeth Kolbert, is as a ten-thousand-year exercise in defying nature. In Under a White Sky, she examines how the very sorts of interventions that have imperiled our planet are increasingly seen as the best hope for its salvation.

Along the way, she meets biologists who are trying to preserve the world’s rarest fish in a single tiny pool in the middle of the Mojave; engineers who are turning carbon emissions to stone in Iceland; Australian researchers who are trying to develop a “super coral” that can survive on a hotter globe; and physicists who are contemplating shooting tiny diamonds into the stratosphere to cool the earth.

7. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

The House in the Cerulean Sea is one of the most popular “hug in a book” recommendations from the last few years (especially if you frequent bookish parts of Reddit).

It’s the heartwarming fantasy tale of Linus Baker, a 40-year old who leads a quiet life and has a dull job at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. But one day, he’s summoned by Extremely Upper Management and given a highly classified assignment – travelling to an orphanage where six dangerous children reside, and deciding their future.

8. Peace Is a Practice: An Invitation to Breathe Deep and Find a New Rhythm for Life by Morgan Harper Nichols

Morgan Harper Nichols has a voice of such beauty and comfort, and her writing offers a welcome balm for the soul during difficult times. Her latest book, Peace is a Practice, was published in February 2022 and offers an invitation to breathe deeper and find a new rhythm for your life.

9. Modern Nature by Derek Jarman

In 1986, Derek Jarman was suddenly faced with an uncertain future as he discovered he was HIV positive. To find solace, he decided to make a garden at his cottage on the barren coast of Dungeness in England’s southeast. While some plants perished beneath wind and sea spray, others flourished and created brilliant, unexpected beauty.

Modern Nature is both a diary of the garden and a meditation by Jarman on his own life: from his childhood to his time as a young gay man in the 1960s and his renowned career as an artist, writer, and filmmaker.

“But the wind does not stop for my thoughts. It whips across the flooded gravel pits drumming up waves on their waters that glint hard and metallic in the night, over the shingle, rustling the dead gorse and skeletal bugloss, running in rivulets through the parched grass – while I sit here in the dark holding a candle that throws my divided shadow across the room and gathers my thoughts to the flame like moths.

10. 10% Happier by Dan Harris

After having a nationally televised panic attack on Good Morning America, Dan Harris knew he had to make some changes. On a bizarre adventure of self-discovery, Harris learned that what he always thought was his greatest asset – the incessant voice in his head – was actually the source of his problems (and as he writes, “kind of an asshole.”)

Something he always presumed to be either impossible or useless became the quietly powerful tool to change everything: meditation.

“There’s no point in being unhappy about things you can’t change, and no point being unhappy about things you can.”


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