Shortlisted for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
We find ourselves at the end of the world. How, then, shall we live?
Like most of us, Lisa Wells has spent years overwhelmed by increasingly urgent news of climate change on an apocalyptic scale. She did not need to be convinced of the stakes, but she could not find practical answers. She embarked on a pilgrimage, seeking wisdom and paths to action from outliers and visionaries, pragmatists and iconoclasts. Believers tracks through the lives of these people who are dedicated to repairing the earth and seemingly undaunted by the task ahead.
Wells meets an itinerant gardener and misanthrope leading a group of nomadic activists in rewilding the American desert. She finds a group of environmentalist Christians practicing “watershed discipleship” in New Mexico and another group in Philadelphia turning the tools of violence into tools of farming—guns into ploughshares. She watches the world’s greatest tracker teach others how to read a trail, and visits botanists who are restoring land overrun by invasive species and destructive humans. She talks with survivors of catastrophic wildfires in California as they try to rebuild in ways that acknowledge the fires will come again.
Through empathic, critical portraits, Wells shows that these trailblazers are not so far beyond the rest of us. They have had the same realization, have accepted that we are living through a global catastrophe, but are trying to answer the next question: How do you make a life at the end of the world? Through this miraculous commingling of acceptance and activism, this focus on seeing clearly and moving forward, Wells is able to take the devastating news facing us all, every day, and inject a possibility of real hope. Believers demands transformation. It will change how you think about your own actions, about how you can still make an impact, and about how we might yet reckon with our inheritance.
“Believers is a young woman’s book of wandering at a time when our human footprint on earth matters more than ever. Lisa Wells follows a cast of unruly and colorful characters who believe their work on the land and with one another is a healing force . . . She never loses sight of her inspired objective, to restore and revive what she refers to as ‘the promised land.’”—Gretel Ehrlich, The New York Times Book Review
“Believers . . . grapples with the question of how to go forward in the shadow of endings—not only our own, but the endings of species and ecosystems, of cultures and of language . . . The question is not of what we face but how we can face it bravely and creatively.”—Lydia Millet, Los Angeles Times
“Wells takes heart in the human tendency to tell and make sense of our lives through storytelling . . . Although she preserves a sense of hope for a better world, this blend of reportage, history, philosophy, and memoir is no rosy prescriptive narrative. Rather, Wells notes, ‘there is a surplus of terror and delusion in the ether, but spare few visions of how you and I, relatively ordinary people, might live otherwise. I believe the future of the world depends on those visions.’”—Lauren LeBlanc, The Observer
“Wells’s prose, rooted in her poetry, gives her a unique advantage when writing about living through this unstable moment in history.”—Andru Okun, High Country News
“Gritty, vivid, and real.”—Heather Hansman, Outside
“Believers chronicles the inventive ways people are forging paths toward living in an increasingly uncertain future . . . [It] is highly motivating.”—Barbara Lloyd McMichael, Our Coast
“[Wells is] a skilled reporter . . . [Believers is] beautifully written.”—Max Norman, Undark
“Brilliant . . . Lisa Wells proves herself a clear-eyed artist we can turn to in the end times . . . Shrewd, erudite, and soulful, Wells’s collection distinguishes itself from the growing body of ‘climate’ nonfiction with its literary beauty; it’s worth reading for the lingering rhythm of Wells’s sentences alone.”—Alex Madison, Full Stop
“An aggressive, persuasive call to arms about fighting climate change . . . We need the kind of jolt that Believers gives us if we’re ever going to become, finally, active caretakers of our planet.”—Andrée Rose Catalfamo, Washington Independent Review of Books
“So few books now feel like they have anything to do with the future, or anything consequential to do with the present, and in the rare event that they do, they only compound my sense of constant dread. Lisa Wells’s Believers is a precious, merciful exception, a work that welds hope and despair, written by a narrator whom I instantly trusted. It made enduring feel more bearable.”—Charlotte Shane, Bookforum
“[Believers] accepts the huge stakes at play, but responds with hope for transformation and asks readers to consider how they can make an impact and ensure a better inheritance for generations to come.”—Danika Ellis, BookRiot
“We are living in an extreme moment, and one where it’s very hard to know what effective action looks like against crises of a scale we’ve not before encountered. These accounts of people trying to grapple with that reality are sometimes inspiring and often cautionary, and always a spur to thinking about how the rest of us might accomplish the most we can.”—Bill McKibben, author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
“Believers is meticulously researched and reasoned and lays out a vast and sophisticated vision like no other writer since Charles Bowden. If some measure of a book’s importance is the noise it makes when it falls in the forest, this project reminds me of The Empathy Exams, by Leslie Jamison, for the conversations that will surely follow. An essential document of our time.”—Charles D’Ambrosio, author of Loitering
“Everyone who lives on this earth needs to read this book. Lisa Wells is whip-smart and insightful, taking us along on her quest to find another way to be. We grow with her, immersed in the poignant, hopeful, and heartbreaking stories of people she meets as she attempts to answer what has been her life’s refrain: How shall we live?”—Tessa Fontaine, author of The Electric Woman
“This adventurous and outlandish book asks us to imagine a relationship to the land that precedes human memory, an act that requires us to shed our idealism in favor of a more radical leap of faith. In that wild leap it arrives, miraculously, a few steps down the path to wisdom.”—Maurice Manning, author of Railsplitter
“Lisa Wells’s writing is brilliant; her conclusions are profound. If you can take only one book with you while wading through the wreckage of the Anthropocene, this is the one.”—Kate Lebo, author of The Book of Difficult Fruit
“Wells offers no pat prescriptions for nurturing 'lived relationships with water and plants and soil'—only an ardent hope that humans will persist in 'fighting and reconciling and reaching across the divide of mutual misapprehension' to save their world. An urgent message gently conveyed.”—Kirkus Reviews
“[An] effective blend of reportage and memoir . . . The resulting chronicle of environmental crises and the often radical actions some are taking to combat them is freshly informative and thought-provoking.”—Colleen Mondor, Booklist
“This impassioned plea and call to action will spark the interest of anyone who cares for our environment.”—Rachel Owens, Library Journal
“Shocking and vivid . . . [Wells’s] descriptions of climate change capture the harsh reality of devastation . . . Climate-minded readers should take note of this roving account of perseverance.”—Publishers Weekly
Reviews from Goodreads
ACROSS THE DESERT OUR BREAD IS BLOOMING!
I want to argue a paradox that the myth asserts: that the origins, liveliness, and durability of cultures require that there be space for figures whose function is to uncover and disrupt...