I’m often asked which books about movement I recommend, and which books I’ve read that have informed my thoughts on movement and sedentarism as a feature of a culture. Because the cozy weather of fall seems to mean more reading, I thought I’d create a list of some of my favorite, important, on-my-own-shelf books, with stories ranging from cross-country walks to wild foraging memoirs, cutting-edge info on physical forces and form, movement of and upon the land, where all our movement went, and how moving for your own “stuffs” can be a radical statement. (Note: This list makes the most sense if you’ve read both Move Your DNA and Movement Matters.)
Life is partly defined by the phenomenon of movement, so for all things living, movement and life go hand in hand. For those of us living in modern industrialized society, the potential for movement can seem buried under the concrete and steel hiding the natural world that we continue to live within. The further we separate our need to move from the processes of getting the things we need, the deeper the earth is buried under our artificial materials and the further we as a species move from meeting our biological needs.
While there are many fab exercise books, this isn't a list of those. Rather these are titles that can connect you more with movement and ideas about movement, and in doing so, improve your health, your experience, and as a people, our potential for regeneration and equality.
P.S. Got a book club? Check out some ideas on a dynamic reading group here.
- The Last Great Walk: The True Story of a 1909 Walk from New York to San Francisco, and Why It Matters by Wayne Curtis
“From how our brains and legs evolved to accommodate our ancient traveling needs to the way American cities have been designed to cater to cars and discourage pedestrians, Curtis guides readers through an engaging, intelligent exploration of how something as simple as the way we get from one place to another continues to shape our health, our environment, and even our national identity.” I really loved this book. My only input was WE NEED AN AUDIOBOOK version, because I’d have loved to listen to this while, you know, walking.
- The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann
“In forty years, Earth’s population will reach ten billion. Can our world support that? What kind of world will it be? Those answering these questions generally fall into two deeply divided groups: Wizards and Prophets, as Charles Mann calls them in this balanced, authoritative, nonpolemical new book.” My favorite parts include those that call out technologies and what traditional practice (i.e. which movements) were lost when they were introduced as well as the history of technology—in short, how we all got to this place in time, so to speak.
- Designed to Move: The Science-Backed Program to Fight Sitting Disease and Enjoy Lifelong Health by Joan Vernikos
“Citing her NASA research on the physiology of space travel, Vernikos shows how the health effects of prolonged sitting are identical to the muscle and bone degeneration suffered by astronauts in microgravity. The human body evolved to constantly resist gravity, and removing gravity—either through actual weightlessness or simple inactivity—slowly destroys the body’s health and prematurely ages the body.” A very easy-to-use, almost bullet-point-style book for someone looking for lists of where to slot movement in.
- The Practice of Natural Movement: Reclaim Power, Health, and Freedom by Erwan Le Corre
“Try to imagine an out-of-shape tiger stepping on an exercise machine to get a workout. It doesn’t make any sense, does it? Wild animals simply move the way nature intended, and they become powerful, healthy, and free in the process. So why should it be any different for us?” MovNat offers powerful Natural Movement programming; this book includes lots of at-home practice drills but also excellent insights into the philosophy of why being able to move naturally is important.
- A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom One Step at a Time by Antonia Malchik
I just received this book in the mail (thanks Antonia!) and it’s next to my floor bed, waiting to be read. “Delving into a wealth of science, history, and anecdotes, from our deepest origins as hominins to our first steps as babies, to universal design and social infrastructure, A Walking Life shows exactly how walking is essential, and how deeply reliant our brains and bodies are on this simple pedestrian act—and how we can reclaim it.”
- The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage by Kelly McGonigal (forthcoming Dec. 31, 2019)
I blurbed for this book: “As our culture becomes even more sedentary, it's critical we start moving more—for the things we need, the things we want, and yes, because it holds the power to make us feel so much better! The Joy of Movement is a motivating celebration of the many benefits of human movement.”
The first in a thrilling adventure trilogy, Dark Waters charts one of the longest, most grueling, yet uplifting and at times irreverently funny journeys in history, circling the world using just the power of the human body. I love Jason Lewis’s trilogy—all the movements of his epic journey. I liked it so much, I asked him to write the introduction to Move Your DNA. If you want to hear his voice, check out the MYDNA audiobook.
- Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
The next two books are both by Kimmerer. I love her writing and point of view (and GET THE AUDIOBOOK AND LET HER READ HER STORIES TO YOU!) “Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices.”
- Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer
In case you didn’t realize it yet, I love both essays and RWK. “Robin Wall Kimmerer leads general readers and scientists alike to an understanding of how mosses live and how their lives are intertwined with the lives of countless other beings. Kimmerer explains the biology of mosses clearly and artfully, while at the same time reflecting on what these fascinating organisms have to teach us.”
I first read about Dubois when researchers had included a paragraph by him in a journal article they had written pertaining to mismatch theory. I found an old used copy of this book and I reread it often. “In So Human an Animal, Dubos, a microbiologist and pathologist, explores the thesis that technology is dehumanizing us and that science needs to be humanized. So Human an Animal is an attempt to address this broad concern, and explain why so little is being done to address this issue.”
My way in the world includes presenting the inner-workings and intrinsic benefits of nature movements and food movements, and specifically the labor (read: movement) involved in both. Understanding the barriers to and everyone’s history of “working the land” is essential. If your work/way in the world includes farming, gardening, permaculture, food systems, connection to land or your people (or if you have a feeling it could), read this book to broaden your view. “Farming While Black is the first comprehensive ‘how to’ guide for aspiring African-heritage growers to reclaim their dignity as agriculturists and for all farmers to understand the distinct, technical contributions of African-heritage people to sustainable agriculture.”
- Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer
I think of this book less as a guide and more as a forager’s memoir. I enjoy Sam Thayer’s writings and contributions so much, I had him on my podcast. This is a great book just to read (i.e. even if you’re never going out to look for plants), but it’s also useful, as is his other book Incredible Wild Edibles. Favorite section: ACORNS. “A detailed guide to 41 of the most widespread wild foods in North America, covering how to find and identify them, which parts are used, when and how to harvest them, and how to prepare them for the table.”
- A New Path: To Transcend the Great Forgetting Through Incorporating Ancestral Practices into Contemporary Living by Arthur Haines
Ethology—the scientific study of animal behavior—isn’t a field folks are used to considering, and further, even for those that are familiar with it, it’s not a field of science typically applied to human animals. The bulk of my work hinges on it, though, so I appreciated the expansive coverage in this book and how it relates to mismatch theory. “Whether one is to discuss a wolf, a caribou, or an eagle, there are features of these animal's lives that define them. Given their unique adaptations, they are tailored, through evolution, to living in a particular way (e.g., a caribou cannot enjoy the diet of a wolf). This book presents the forgotten species' norms of Homo sapiens and explains that when we deviate from these patterns, we experience sickness of various kinds: cancer, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc.”
- We, Robots: Staying Human in the Age of Big Data by Curtis White
There’s lots of debate around “humanness” and human behavior; if whatever humans do is human behavior, then when choosing a course of action as a group, it might be more helpful to think it terms of OUTCOMES. There’s a lot of promotion of the idea of technological inevitability. We, Robots offers some counterpoints. “...[T]aking inspiration from artists as disparate as Sufjan Stevens, Lars von Trier, and François Rabelais, White shows us that by looking to art, we can imagine a different kind of future.”
I just loved this for the badassery of it all. “The story of a rugged island and the remarkable woman who has spent decades fighting all takers—including the Carnegies, commercial shrimpers, and the government—to preserve its precious wilderness and save the sea turtles who nest there.”
- On Growth and Form by D’Arcy Thompson
If you haven’t yet listened to the podcast episode I did on adaptation and evolution, start with that. From there, the idea of mechanical environments as a pressure will make more sense! “In this classic of biology and modern science, Sir D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson…sets forth his seminal "theory of transformation": that one species evolves into another not by successive minor changes in individual body parts but by large-scale transformations involving the body as a whole.”
- The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs: Use Outdoor Clues to Find Your Way, Predict the Weather, Locate Water, Track Animals—and Other Forgotten Skills by Tristan Gooley
I have a plethora of tracking guides because, SURPRISE, tracking calls on many skills, including gait patterns, which is right in my wheelhouse. This is such a nice, accessible overview for getting your toes wet in the many ways one can start a practice of nature-observation. “To help you understand nature as he does, Gooley shares more than 850 tips for forecasting, tracking, and more, gathered from decades spent walking the landscape around his home and around the world.”
- The Last Season by Eric Blehm
JUST FUN READING, MY FRIENDS. Also, I learned a ton about national parks, search-and-rescue mechanics, and ranger life! “The Last Season examines the extraordinary life of legendary backcountry ranger Randy Morgenson and his mysterious disappearance in California's unforgiving Sierra Nevada—mountains as perilous as they are beautiful.”
- Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community by H.C. Flores
This book is on the top of my “book club” list, especially if you’re trying to put more regenerative practices into your life. Super helpful and packed with practical exercises. “Food Not Lawns combines practical wisdom on ecological design and community-building with a fresh, green perspective on an age-old subject. “
- Walking Gone Wild: How to Lose Your Age on the Trail by Dami Roelse
Aging is for every body, and so can exploring your local parks and wilderness be.
“Discover a new model of aging with vitality, grace, and a deep connection to life; this book provides the how-to of overcoming obstacles to developing a walking lifestyle.”
- The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind by Seth S. Horowitz, PhD
I’ve always been vision-biased, so I didn’t tune into listening as a practicable skill until I took a Bird Language course at Wilderness Awareness School. Anatomy/physiology/sensory buffs, I think you’ll enjoy this book on this very primal sense. “In this fascinating exploration, research psychologist and sound engineer Seth Horowitz shows how our sense of hearing manipulates the way we think, consume, sleep, and feel.”