The Earth is a complex and ever-changing place, full of mysteries, wonders, and challenges that have captivated human curiosity for centuries. From the majesty of the natural world to the impact of human activity on the environment and the species in it, there is always something new to discover.

This selection of books will challenge the way you think about the Earth, its history, and how humans are shaping it - for better, or for worse. If you’re looking forward to whiling away the summer with a good read, check out our round-up of the best science books, or ditch the pseudoscience and TikTok fad psychology in favour of the best books to help you manage anxiety, backed by leading experts.

The best books to challenge the way you think about the Earth

Life Changing: How Humans Are Altering Life On Earth

Dr Helen Pilcher

Humans are fast-tracking the evolution of other species, often simply by the way we live our lives. From the opening where we’re introduced to Dr Pilcher’s very own genetically modified wolf, to how hybrid species are emerging in a warming world, and how the London Underground is shaping the evolution of mosquitoes, Life Changing is a fascinating exploration into our changing relationship with the natural world.

It's a dive into the various ways humans have altered – and are still altering – the DNA of living things, ultimately changing the fate of life on Earth. But it’s not just about those incidental changes, the book also covers some of the deliberate changes we’re making, like coral IVF and CRISPR-Cas9 technology; molecular scissors that allow scientists to edit genes with unprecedented precision.

Witty, engaging, and often comedic, Life Changing is described as a “post-natural history guide”, where you’ll get to know some of the species that have been sculpted by humanity.

The Nature Fix

Florence Williams

The Nature Fix by Florence Williams explores the science behind the surprising power that nature has on the human brain and body. The book examines how exposure to nature, from forests to parks to even the humble houseplant can reduce stress, improve cognitive function, and boost overall well-being.

It’s written in an accessible and non-academic language, and an ideal read as we enter into the warmer months. Williams demonstrates that our connection to nature is much more important to our cognition than we think, and that even small amounts of exposure to nature and the great outdoors can improve our creativity and enhance our mood.

Williams draws on research from around the world and shares her own experiences with nature therapy, offering a compelling argument for the importance of incorporating nature into our daily lives. The Nature Fix highlights the benefits of reconnecting with the natural world in an increasingly digital age, and might just inspire you to get outside this season.

The Scale Of Things: Mind-Blowing Proportions, Remarkable Ratios, Extraordinary Facts

Mike Fairbrass

The Scale Of Things is a fascinating and visually stunning, full-colour exploration of the scale of the Universe and the natural world. Scale is intriguing. Scale is everywhere. Scale is our experience of the world, from our perception of time to physical distance to weights and measures. The human scale is 1:1 – this is the point of reference. Everything is designed around it. Wealth is an example of scale, as is a sculpture, a building, a planet, or a molecule.

The Scale Of Things brings together and presents facts and figures in a visual way, embracing science, space, economics, politics, geography, nature, technology and architecture. There are mind-blowing comparisons, facts and figures, about everything from the very smallest particles to the largest known structures in the Universe, and everything in between.

This design-heavy book is presented in infographic style, with typically one fact to a page. Flick through it and you’ll learn something mind-boggling without even trying. As a quick read, it’s an ideal gift, and will showcase the world in a different light. The Scale Of Things is an entertaining and educational collection of facts, that will inspire awe and wonder about the vastness and complexity of the natural world.

Timefulness: How Thinking Like A Geologist Can Help Save The World

Marcia Bjornerud

Timefulness – How Thinking Like A Geologist Can Help Save The World by Marcia Bjornerud is a compelling read that challenges us to think about the world in a fundamentally different way. Drawing on her expertise as a geologist, Bjornerud argues that our limited perspective of time is at the root of many of the environmental crises facing the planet today, and how “fathoming deep time” is “geology’s greatest single contribution to humanity”.

By understanding the complex and interconnected processes that have shaped the Earth over billions of years, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the fragility of our planet and the increasing need to protect it.

Timefulness presents a new way of thinking about our place in both time and history, enabling us to make decisions on a multigenerational timescale. The lifespan of Earth may seem unfathomable compared to the brevity of human existence, but this view of time denies our deep roots in Earth's history – and the magnitude of our effects on the planet.

A Life On Our Planet: My Witness Statement And A Vision For The Future

David Attenborough

A Life On Our Planet by David Attenborough is a powerful and urgent call to action on the environmental crisis facing our planet. Attenborough draws on his decades of experience as a naturalist and broadcaster to reflect on his life and the changes he has witnessed in the natural world. The book highlights the urgent need to address issues including climate change, deforestation, and biodiversity loss - before it's too late.

However, it also offers hope, outlining practical solutions and highlighting successful conservation efforts around the world. A Life On Our Planet is an inspiring and thought-provoking read for everyone, whether you’re already aware of the challenges we’re facing, or not.

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

David Wallace-Wells

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells is a compelling – if somewhat sobering – examination of the catastrophic consequences of climate change. The book paints a vivid picture of what the world could look like as the planet warms, including extreme heatwaves, droughts, floods, and rising sea levels.

Wallace-Wells also explores the social and political implications of climate change, including how it could exacerbate existing inequalities and trigger mass migration and conflict. One of the main themes is that the effects of climate change are not in some distant future, but are already happening – and are likely to become much worse in the coming years. While the book holds a rather bleak outlook, like A Life On Our Planet, it urges readers to take immediate and meaningful steps to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

The Map That Changed The World: William Smith And The Birth Of Modern Geology

Simon Winchester

The Map That Changed The World: William Smith And The Birth Of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester is the fascinating story of William Smith, a self-taught geologist who revolutionised the field with his creation of the first geological map of England in the early 19th Century.

In 1793, canal digger William Smith, made a startling discovery that was to turn the emerging science of Earth history on its head. He noticed the rocks he was excavating were arranged in layers, and he could clearly see that the fossils found in one layer - were very different from those found in another. An epiphany moment followed, and he realised that we could trace the rock layers by following the fossils; stratigraphy is born.

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The book details Smith's struggles to gain recognition for his ground-breaking work, as well as his personal and financial setbacks. Winchester's engaging writing style brings the story to life and provides insight into the scientific and social context of the time. It’s a captivating read that highlights the importance of scientific discovery, and the perseverance required to achieve it – something that many scientists still have to contend with today.

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Holly SpannerStaff Writer, BBC Science Focus

Holly is the staff writer at BBC Science Focus, and specialises in astronomy. Before joining the team she was a geoenvironmental consultant and holds an MSc in Geoscience (distinction) from UCL.