Readers respond: Enviro-lit 101
Nov. 16, 2012
Journalist Peter Dykstra's essay naming the five best environmental books of all time sparks debate on what else belongs in the pantheon.
Last month, taking a break from teeth-gnashing over election coverage, Daily Climate publisher Peter Dykstra penned a list of the top five environmental books of all time.
The list paid homage to the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring." Not surprisingly, her short tome on the damage caused by "miracle" pesticides took the top slot. Rounding out the list were "A Sand County Almanac," "Cadillac Desert," "Walden," and "Earth in the Balance."
In short order, readers offered up amendments.
Few argued with Dykstra's top five. Almost all offered additional titles for consideration, illustrating the problem tallying any "best of" index: There never is simply a top five, or 40 or even 100.
The selection on Dykstra's list to draw the most debate, however, was Al Gore's "Earth in the Balance." When it was published 20 years ago, it generated a firestorm of controversy. It appears the flames never went out.
Steve Bloom of Oakland, Calif. suggested as substitute Bill McKibben's "End of Nature," which he said "seemed like the obvious one missing." Several others proposed swapping "An Inconvenient Truth," Gore's 2006 book with roots in the slideshow documentary that won an Academy Award and that helped Gore snag a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
One other observation: In the original piece, Dykstra drew attention to an apparent link between environmental authorship and premature death. Cancer claimed Carson at age 56 and "Cadillac Desert" author Marc Reisner at age 52, and Henry David Thoreau died at age 44, he noted. But Dykstra belatedly points out that runner-up Marjory Stoneman Douglas didn't publish her opus, "The Everglades: River of Grass" until she was 57, and she continued to write and argue passionately about the region until her death in 1998 at age 108.
What follows is a list of other noteworthy environmental-themed books from readers.
– Douglas Fischer
Sid Madison of Piscataway, N.J., found himself checking email in the wee hours one night, sleepless because a candidate for the town's school board – a Ph.D. chemist – had declared he did not believe in global warming.
In the dark, he turned to science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, who in 1991 co-wrote with Fred Pohl "Our Angry Earth," an indictment of humanity's treatment of the Earth. "It repeatedly tells us there are no shortcuts," Madison noted. "But there are rational ways of addressing the problems."
Madison also suggested a category Dykstra overlooked in his Oct. 26 piece: "An interesting read that is also semi-biographical about a scientist, illustrates the scientific process and also informs about deeper issues in the global warming arena."
Madison's pick for that slot? "Thin Ice," Mark Bowen's 2005 biography on Ohio State University glaciologist Lonnie Thompson.
John Bolduc of Concord, Mass. offered up Amory Lovin's "Soft Energy Paths." The 1977 book is no bedside reader and could arguably be seen as the polar opposite of Leopold's "Sand Country Almanac." "It's very wonky," Bolduc acknowledged. "But the basic idea was revolutionary and underpins much of the energy argument today."
In the same vein, Bolduc recommended "Resettling America," by Gary Coates. "I read this book in college for a course I can't remember," Bolduc wrote. "I'm sure it's obscure. But it made a big impression on me. It's a collection of essays that collectively make the point that we could live differently but well."
Bolduc also augmented Dykstra's subcategory of best environmentally themed movies, suggesting "Soylent Green," "Blade Runner" and "China Syndrome," among others.
Finally, several readers noted that we omitted a very good bedtime reader, particularly for the 12-and-under crowd: Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax," a fable warning of the danger of corporate greed that became both an animated television special and a feature film.
DailyClimate.org is an independent, foundation-funded news service covering climate change. Contact editor Douglas Fischer at dfischer [at] DailyClimate.org
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