What Can I Do? by Jane Fonda , Penguin Press Jane Fonda, it turns out, is both Grace and Frankie , the hit sitcom about diametrically opposite best friends: one is coiffed and confident (Fonda); the other a freewheeling tree-hugger whose moral compass remains stuck at trouble (Lily Tomlin). That’s not to trivialise Fonda’s latest book, an instructive volume aimed at levering armchair environmentalists out of their comfort zones. Despite her infamous “Hanoi Jane” activism, she writes, “‘Fire Drill Fridays’ were my first (conscious) experience with civil disobedience.” Born of Greta Thunberg’s call to act like “our house is on fire”, the weekly protests saw the actor descend on Washington’s Capitol Hilllast year to demand legislative passage of the Green New Deal. Teach-ins at the events allow Fonda to share the opinions of experts before introducing practical What Can I Do? sections. On the subject of throwaway living, the 82-year-old reminds us she was born “20 or more years before plastic was common in American households”. She suggests demanding bans on unnecessary plastic at schools and workplaces and, ultimately, reducing the availability of fossil fuels, chemicals from which 99 per cent of plastics are produced. For press coverage, Fonda corralled Hollywood stars, including Tomlin and other Grace and Frankie collaborators, most of whom were only too happy to be arrested to make the headlines. A serial offender, Fonda had this to say to a reporter asking why she was willingly going to jail: “To get you to cover climate.” The Planter of Modern Life by Stephen Heyman , WW Norton & Company Rachel Carson may be remembered for Silent Spring (1962), which chronicled the dangers of pesticides, in particular DDT. But 17 years before her book was published, another writer was urging extreme caution over the insecticide’s indiscriminate use – Louis Bromfield, a Renaissance man resurrected because he planted “the seeds of a food revolution”. As Stephen Heyman notes, Bromfield was also an accomplished writer once considered among America’s most promising, alongside F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, with whom he hobnobbed when he wasn’t in the company of Gertrude Stein or Edith Wharton. That Heyman manages to captivate readers owes much to the way he tells the Bromfield story critically and compassionately, while underscoring his subject’s importance six decades after his death. Although Bromfield may no longer be remembered for his 1926 novel, Early Autumn , which won the Pulitzer Prize, the movement he inspired continues to aim for agriculture that is “organic, sustainable, regenerative, permanent”. Not that he knew what would become of his crusade but, “as the country’s most famous farmer, he was frequently invited to Washington to weigh in on contentious matters of food policy”. Among the few places Bromfield’s legacy remains visible is Malabar Farm, in the US state of Iowa. Although a far cry from the agrarian paradise it was meant to be, according to Heyman, the working farm remains fertile ground for food production ideals. World of Wonders by and read by Aimee Nezhukumatathil , Milkweed Editions When was the last time wonder overcame you? Aimee Nezhukumatathil evokes that sensation in her book by turning to nature. In an article about axolotls, for example, she tells of scientists studying the amphibian for its regenerative properties: cut off an arm and another will grow. Remarkable though its potential may be, there are no more axolotls in the wild, she writes, the only kind left being sold as pets. While listeners get their heads around that fact, they may recall how she begins that essay: “If a white girl tells you what your brown skin can and cannot wear for makeup, just remember the [sweet] smile of an axolotl.” Woven into her world of wonders is parochial myopia that, during her peripatetic youth, had difficulty seeing past her brown skin: Nezhukumatathil, who is also the author of four books of poetry, was born in the US to an Indian father and a Filipino mother. Not surprisingly, as a child, she wished she could fold inwards to shake off predators the way the touch-me-not plant tackles trouble. Her most affecting essay – and one to which she returns at the end – follows the plight of the firefly. Outdoor lamps discourage the beetle from emitting their love-light signals, meaning fewer are born and flashy displays increasingly rare. This book will have you heading outdoors to observe and to marvel. It is brilliant.