The inaugural selection for our Thinking Like a Mountain subscription club, poet Lisa Wells first book of prose, Believers: Making a Life at the End of the World is a sympathetic look at people on the fringes of our death-spiraling society who are actively working toward making possible futures. Deeply nuanced and beautifully written, Believers is uncommonly comfortable with ambiguity and offers no prescriptions, just a clear-eyed view of what it means to be alive in an emergency. A provocative and vital book.— Stephen
"An essential document of our time." —Charles D’Ambrosio, author of Loitering
In search of answers and action, the award-winning poet and essayist Lisa Wells brings us Believers, introducing trailblazers and outliers from across the globe who have found radically new ways to live and reconnect to the Earth in the face of climate change
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.
About the Author
Lisa Wells is a nonfiction writer and poet from Portland, Oregon. Her debut collection of poetry, The Fix, won the Iowa Poetry Prize. Her essays and poems have appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, Granta, The Believer, n+1, and other publications. She lives in Seattle and is an editor at The Volta and at Letter Machine Editions.
A Finalist for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
“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
“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
“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.”
“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
“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, Observer, A Best Book of the Summer
“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] 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
“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
“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.”
“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
“[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
“[Wells is] a skilled reporter . . . [Believers is] beautifully written.”
—Max Norman, Undark
“Gritty, vivid, and real.”
—Heather Hansman, Outside
“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