Over the past several years, Yale Climate Connections has highlighted several titles from Patagonia Books including the just-released Sweet in Tooth & Claw by Kristin Ohlson. (See that September 2022 bookshelf feature here.)

And then Yvon Chouinard, the founder of the much larger Patagonia outdoor wear and gear company (valued at about $3 billion) of which Patagonia Books is a small part, announced his decision to give away the entire company:  The recipient: the newly established nonprofit Holdfast Collective. The purpose, as Chouinard explained it to The New York Times: “to give away the maximum amount of money to people who are actively working on saving this planet.”

Based on that unprecedented act of charitable giving, YCC decided to take a closer look at the book program Chouinard instigated and nurtured.

The list of titles below complements YCC’s interview with Karla Olson, director of Patagonia Books. (See that feature article here.) It includes both the first title ever published by Patagonia Books, Yosemite in the Sixties, and its first-ever children’s book Better Than New, which was released in May. In between are examples of the different genres that established the Patagonia brand: outdoor sports memoirs and training guides, business/management spinoffs from those memoirs, “climate memoirs,” natural histories, and revitalized science/nature classics. Three of these titles had been included in previous YCC bookshelves.

As always, the descriptions of the titles are adapted from copy provided by the publisher. When two dates of publication are listed, the second is for the paperback edition.

A black and white photo of a rock climber on a book cover.

Yosemite in the Sixties by Glen Denny (Patagonia Books 2007, 144 pages, $60.00)

The sheer granite walls of Yosemite Valley galvanized a dedicated group of rock climbers in the 1960s, who saw the nearly holdless, glacier-polished faces as the purest form of challenge. The awesome Half Dome and El Capitan were first climbed in the late 1950s, ushering in a new era of rock climbing later known as the golden age of Yosemite climbing. This austere, boulder-strewn campground became the epicenter of the climbing world, serving both as a launching pad and a refuge from them. Camp 4, in particular was recently recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. Glen Denny’s collection of rare black-and-white photographs, including intimate portraits of Yosemite’s big-wall pioneers during the early sixties, captures this formative time.

A brown book cover with a red stripe in the middle and three other book covers in it.

The Patagonia Business Library: A Toolkit for Shareholders of the Planet, with Let My People Go Surfing (2005); The Responsible Company (2012), and Tools for Grassroots Activists (2016) by Yvon Chouinard et al (Patagonia Books 2017, 724 pages, $49.95 for three paperbacks in a cardboard “keepsake” box)

In Let My People Go Surfing (revised and updated 2016), Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard lays out his business and nature-based philosophies, which are the foundation of this always iconoclastic, visionary, and increasingly influential company. The Responsible Company and Tools for Grassroots Activists present the practical applications, strategies, and tools to execute those philosophies. These three best-selling books are a primer for the future of doing business on a planet with finite resources. They provide readers what they need to operate responsibly and effectively – in both business and environmental activism.

A book cover with a photo of a surfer and yellow text.

Surf Is Where You Find It: The Wisdom of the Waves, Anytime, Anywhere, Any Way, 3rd Ed. by Gerry Lopez (Patagonia Books, 416 pages, $24.95 paperback)

Gerry Lopez, one of the most revered surfers of all time brings readers a collection of stories of harrowing waves, epic wipeouts, and heroes encountered over a lifetime on the water. From growing up in Hawaii and finding the tube in the early days at Pipeline, to pioneering legendary spots like Uluwatu and G-Land, Surf Is Where You Find It preserves memories of surf eras gone by and commemorates those who helped shape the surfing world today. Originally published in 2008, more than 50,000 copies later, this re-launch is redesigned with new photos. Timed with the release of a new documentary, The Yin & Yang of Gerry Lopez, produced by equally legendary surfer and skateboarder Stacy Peralta, these 38 stories and hundreds of photos offer more Gerry than ever before.

A book cover with a photo of alpine peaks.

Beyond the Mountain by Steve House (Patagonia Books 2009/2012, 288 pages, $17.95 paperback)

What does it take to be one of the world’s best high-altitude mountain climbers? A lot of fundraising; traveling in some of the world’s most dangerous countries; enduring cold bivouacs, searing lungs, and a cloudy mind when you can least afford one. In 2005, Steve and alpinist Vince Anderson pioneered a direct new route on the Rupal Face of 26,600-foot Nanga Parbat, which had never before been climbed in alpine style. It was the third ascent of the face, and the achievement earned Steve and Vince the first Piolet d”or (Golden Ice Axe) awarded to North Americans. Steve is a spellbinding storyteller in the tradition of Maurice Herzog and Lionel Terray. Beyond the Mountain is a gripping read destined to be a mountain classic. 

A book cover with jagged mountain peaks.

Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete by Steve House and Scott Johnston (Patagonia Books 2104, 464 pages, $34.95 paperback)

Applying training practices from other endurance sports, House and Johnston demonstrate that following a carefully designed regimen is as effective for alpinism and leads to better performance. They deliver detailed instruction on how to plan and execute training tailored to your individual circumstances. Whether you work as a banker or a mountain guide, live in the city or the country, are a mountaineer heading to Denali or a veteran of 8,000-meter peaks, your understanding of how to achieve your goals will grow exponentially as you work with this book. Chapters cover endurance and strength training theory and methodology, application and planning, nutrition, altitude, mental fitness, and assessing your goals and your strengths.

An image of a man in a yellow hat against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

Life Lived Wild: Adventures at the Edge of the Map by Rick Ridgeway (Patagonia Books 2021, 424 pages, $30.00)

Rick Ridgeway calculates that he’s spent over five years of his life sleeping in “small tents pitched in the world’s most remote regions.” Some of his adventures made news: the first American ascent of K2; the first traverse of Borneo; the first crossing on foot of a corner of Tibet so remote no outsider had ever seen it. But Rick also kept an eye out for the quiet surprises, like the butterflies he encounters at 23,000 feet on K2. What really comes alive in Life Lived Wild are his relationships with his fellow travelers, such as Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, The North Face founder Doug Tompkins, and filmmaker Jimmy Chin. Rick treats them all with candor and straightforward tenderness. And through their commitments to protecting the wild places they shared, he discovers his own.

A book cover with a photo of a woman standing on the sea floor.

Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening by Liz Clark (Patagonia Books 2018, 320 pages, $34.95)

Captain Liz Clark spent her youth dreaming of traveling the world by sailboat and surfing remote waves. When she was 22, she met a mentor who helped turn her desire into reality. Embarking on an adventure that most only fantasize about, she set sail from Santa Barbara, California, as captain of her 40-foot sailboat, In true stories overflowing with wild waves and constant challenges, at the whim of the weather, of relationships sweet and sour, and of nature’s colorful marvels, Liz captures her voyage in gripping detail. She shares tales of sailing in high seas, of solitude and surprises, of finding connection to the earth and commitment to living in harmony with it. More than ten years, 20,000 miles, and one cat later, she’s still out there.

A brown book cover with a photo of a bear on it.

Tracking Gobi Grizzlies: Surviving Beyond the Back of Beyond by Douglas Chadwick (Patagonia 2016, 286 pages, $24.95)

An adventure memoir and an environmental parable emerge from this portrait of a mysterious but critical species living in a seemingly desolate but actually widely diverse and threatened ecosystem. In the tradition of Douglas Chadwick’s best-selling book, The Wolverine Way, Tracking Gobi Grizzlies creates a portrait of these rarest of bears’ fight for survival in one of the toughest, most remote settings on Earth. He demonstrates why saving this endangered animal supports an entire ecosystem made up of hundreds of interconnected plants and animals, from desert roses to Asiatic lynx and wild double-humped camels, all adapting as best they can to the effects of climate change. A parable of environmental stewardship in a legendary realm.

A beige book cover with a photo of a man and a bear.

Four-Fifths a Grizzly: A New Perspective on Nature that Just Might Save Us All, by Douglas Chadwick (Patagonia 2021, 256 pages, $27.95)

Veteran environmental writer Douglas Chadwick presents an engaging series of personal essays that argue for the amazing interconnectedness of nature, advocating that the path toward conservation begins with how we see our place in the world. Four-Fifths a Grizzly shows that human DNA is not all that different from any other creature. We have a surprisingly close relationship with grizzly bears, sharing 80 percent of our DNA, (versus 60 percent similar to salmon, 40 percent the same as many insects). At the same time, our bodies are teeming with organisms, separate from ourselves but upon which we depend for survival. In fun, accessible stories. Chadwick presents examples of successful recoveries of species and habitats, with the thought that “we really can save a whole lot in a hurry.”

A photo of a salmon swimming.

Salmon: A Fish, the Earth and the History of Their Common Fate, by Mark Kurlansky  (Patagonia Books 2020, 448 pages, $30.00)

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “‘Who hears the fishes when they cry?’ Maybe we need to go down to the river bank and try to listen.” In what he says is the most important book in his long and award-winning career, Mark Kurlansky – best-selling author of Cod, Salt, and The Big Oyster – employs his signature multi-century storytelling to chronicle the harrowing yet awe-inspiring life cycle of salmon. Kurlansky’s research shows that all over the world these fish, uniquely connected to both marine and terrestrial ecology, are a natural barometer for the health of the planet. With stunning historical and contemporary photographs and illustrations throughout, Kurlansky’s insightful conclusion is that the only way to save salmon is to save the planet and, at the same time, the only way to save the planet is to save the mighty, heroic salmon.

A blue book cover with waves on it.

Waves and Beaches: The Powerful Dynamics of Sea and Coast by Willard Bascom & Kim McCoy (Patagonia Books 2021, 400 pages, $29.95)

First published in 1963 and updated in 1979, Willard Bascom’s classic was an essential handbook for anyone who studies, surfs, protects, or is fascinated by the ocean. This revision by Kim McCoy updates the book for the time of climate change. One of the most significant effects of global warming will be sea-level rise. What will this mean to waves and beaches, and what effects are we already seeing? New text and photos cover events such as the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, Hurricane Katrina flooding of 2005, and the 2011 earthquake and resulting devastation in Fukishima. Providing extensive resources for the constant battle to preserve the shore, this Waves and Beaches is an essential handbook for climate scientists and ocean activists.

A blue book cover with orange text in a circle.

Better Than New: A Recycle Tale by Robert Broder and Lake Buckley (Patagonia Books 2022, 44 pages, $18.95)

“Will You Help Me?” Isidora and Julian, playing in the Chilean ocean, hear a plaintive cry — a sea lion is tangled in an abandoned fishing net. They free their ocean friend then consider what to do with the net. With the help of a nest-building bird, they recycle it into something useful again, something better than new. In fact, abandoned fishing nets can be collected and made into other things – like Patagonia’s classic baggy shorts. Presented in both English and Spanish, Better than New: A Recycle Tale is an inspiring story that presents children with a problem and shows how they can find a solution. And kids will think it super cool that they could wear old fishing nets! You can help the planet, they will learn, with the choices you make in what you wear.

Also see: Hope and action: The mission of Patagonia Books

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is the Yale Climate Connections books editor. He is a professor in the University Writing Program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since...