Reviews

People often say that environmental activism is only now getting the attention it deserves. This indispensable anthology of environmental writings shows that the American drive to protect our environment spans more than a century and a half. From Henry David Thoreau to Teddy Roosevelt to Bill McKibben himself, this movement has been growing for as long as Americans have known the beauty of our great country. During my time at EPA, I tried to make decisions that embodied the passion for our environment expressed by these writers, and, thanks to American Earth, I know their passion will continue inspiring Americans to protect our country for generations to come.

Carol Browner
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
(1993-2001)

In his introduction to this superb anthology, McKibben (The End of Nature) proposes that "environmental writing is America's most distinctive contribution to the world's literature." The collected pieces amply prove the point. Arranged chronologically, McKibben’s selection of more than 100 writers includes some of the great early conservationists, such as Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and John Burroughs, and many other eloquent nature writers, including Donald Culross Peattie, Edwin Way Teale and Henry Beston. The early exponents of national parks and wilderness areas have their say, as do writers who have borne witness to environmental degradation—John Steinbeck and Caroline Henderson on the dust bowl, for example, and Berton Roueché and others who have reported on the effects of toxic pollution. Visionaries like Buckminster Fuller and Amory Lovins are represented, as are a wealth of contemporary activist/writers, among them Barry Lopez, Terry Tempest Williams, Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan, Paul Hawken, and Calvin deWitt, cofounder of the Evangelical Environmental Network. McKibben's trenchant introductions to the pieces sum up each writer's thoughts and form a running commentary on the progress of the conservation movement. The book, being published on Earth Day, can be read as a survey of the literature of American environmentalism, but above all, it should be enjoyed for the sheer beauty of the writing.

Publishers Weekly
(2/4/08)

Environmental writing, McKibben explains in his introduction to this unique, much needed anthology, “subsumes and goes beyond” nature writing and takes as its subject “the collision between people and the rest of the world.” An important environmental writer himself, McKibben has selected works by expected seminal figures, beginning with Thoreau, always startling in his prescience and sure-footed clarity, and moving on to Muir, Leopold, and Carson. But he also includes George Perkins Marsh, whose Man and Nature (1864) was the “first major work of scientific environmentalism”; landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted; and song lyrics by Joni Mitchell. McKibben devotes most of the volume to writers of the last quarter-century, such as Wendell Berry, Barbara Kingsolver, and Michael Pollan, who have focused on increasingly urgent environmental dilemmas that affect every aspect of our daily lives. In his foreword, Nobel laureate Al Gore (his 1997 speech at the Kyoto Climate Change conference is included) observes, “a truth eloquently expressed has an influence greater than any elected official,” while McKibben hopes that the eloquence of these 100 pioneering environmentalists “will spur not only reflection but action as well.” If you had to choose but one environmental book this season, make it American Earth.

Donna Seaman
Booklist
(2/15/08)

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