Browsing in the Era of the Web

Those of us who enjoy reading the old fashioned way do so in part because we love browsing. We roam the shelves of bookstores and libraries across the land, awaiting that small moment of surprise, curiosity and intrigue that tells us that we may have found an exciting new reading adventure.

Browsing is different from searching. When you browse, you are in the mode of hope, rather than specific intent. You hope to find a book, one that you can’t be sure even exists, that somehow meets a more general desire – for a hard-to-solve mystery, a new poetic voice, an exploration of a philosophical question, perhaps a narration of a moment in history, or an account which sheds new light on some ear that you’d like to know more about.

There are a thousand ways to browse. But there is also one thing most of us browsers have in common – a deep and abiding frustration with the internet. Face it – the web, the ultimate search vehicle, is a lousy browsing platform. It’s so bad that if you punch in the subject term ‘philosophy’, the second entry after the Wikipedia definition takes you to a high-end brand for women’s clothing and accessories (see end note for citation). A five minute visit to your local public library would be more edifying.

But don’t give up hope. Booklovers around the world have been working on this problem, and there are some interesting innovations afoot. One that’s come to my attention is a new program that you can find at This program allows authors to recommend books in areas of interest to them and to give readers a quick description as to why they might be interested. The folks at Shepherd recently asked me to recommend some books with nature conservation themes, and here’s my list for your enjoyment  I was also intrigued by this book shelf The best books about protecting the environment (

Try some of them, and let me know what you think!