Since 2007, Orion has given an annual award to a book that deepens our connection to the natural world, presents new ideas about the relationship between people and nature, and achieves excellence in writing. What follows are short reports from Orion staff on some of their favorite Orion Book Award contenders. In April, five books published in 2013 will be chosen as finalists for the 2014 Orion Book Award; one will win.
If you’ve never been on a field study course that merges biology with social ecology with philosophy of science, then here’s your chance. Telling Our Way to the Sea, by Aaron Hirsh, is the story of a field course taught by the author and his two colleagues, one of them his wife, Veronica, the other, Orion contributor D. Graham Burnett. It is part travel writing, part science lecture, part social experiment in group dynamics, and part—by far the best part—compelling natural history narrative. The story is based in Baja California, in and around the Sea of Cortez, where the group explores both past and present biodiversity, experiences transcendental delight as well as hurricane-force winds, and learns to ask questions about the future of humanity’s relationship with the ecological systems that sustain us. —Jennifer Sahn
Pests in the City, by Dawn Day Biehler, is a fascinating exploration of a seldom-discussed aspect of urban ecology. Usually, we hear about pigeons, coyotes, hawks, and other more charismatic creatures when an author takes a natural view of the city. But Biehler has made a fascinating study of its most difficult denizens—flies, bedbugs, cockroaches, and rats—and shows how approaches to dealing with these pests has implications for environmental justice. Activists and journalists may not use the word ecology when talking about the problem, but they are keenly aware that efforts to control or eradicate our non-human urban neighbors are deeply affected by a complex web of racial injustice, urban politics, and federal housing policy. This is an environmental history of an important new kind. —Erik Hoffner
Margaret Atwood is known for her brilliant cultural critiques, great wit, and hard-to-put-down, dystopic stories, and MaddAddam (third in the MaddAddam trilogy, which began with Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood) does not disappoint. Dystopian fiction always runs the risk of being gloomy, but Atwood’s writing is anything but. Her witty insights into the lay of our cultural and environmental landscape infuse this book with just the right balance of devastation and humor. Atwood has a masterful grasp of how storytelling is intimately tied to resilience, and nowhere is that more evident than in this new book. —Kristen Hewitt