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American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau (Library of America) Hardcover – April 17, 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 Cultross 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. 80-page color illus, not seen by PW. (Apr. 22 [Earth Day])
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—There have been some excellent collections of nature writing published in recent years (The Norton Anthology of Nature Writing is one fine example), but not until now has there been a definitive anthology of American environmental writing. In this superbly edited volume, McKibben draws a clear distinction between the two. The best of the latter often celebrates nature, but also asks searching questions about the impact of human life on the planet. After a poignant foreword by Al Gore, as well as his own illuminating introduction, McKibben begins with the work of a writer, thinker, and activist ahead of his time, Henry David Thoreau, and ends the volume with Rebecca Solnit's essay, "The Thoreau Problem." She notes that many people think of Thoreau only as a man alone observing nature, but the author of "Civil Disobedience," before enjoying his day of huckleberry picking, spent a night in jail rather than pay taxes to a government guilty of ignoring the higher laws of nature. This vast and varied collection, arranged chronologically, includes many seminal names, such as John Muir, Rachel Carson, and Wendell Berry, and some that are less well known or unexpected, like Benton MacKaye, Caroline Henderson, P. T. Barnum, and Philip K. Dick. Most of the selections derive from longer prose works, but there is also a smattering of poems, song lyrics, and cartoons. Although the heft of the volume might scare away some teens, others may realize that they could easily read bits and pieces, and that they would benefit greatly by any amount of time spent in these pages. Numerous photographs, many in full color, are included.—Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Series: Library of America (Book 182)
  • Hardcover: 900 pages
  • Publisher: Library of America (April 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1598530208
  • ISBN-13: 978-1598530209
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.9 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"In wildness is the preservation of the world," wrote Henry David Thoreau in his groundbreaking book, Walden. With Thoreau as a starting point, Bill McKibben has assembled the finest, most comprehensive anthology of American environmental writing one could hope to find. The combined work of 101 authors, running almost 1,000 pages, American Earth chronicles the changing landscape of environmentalism from Thoreau to Teddy Roosevelt to Al Gore, with 98 more thrown in for good measure.

This one volume provides a rich orientation to the world of environmental writing which McKibben contends is "America's single most distinctive contribution to the world's literature." If Walden is the book everyone claims to revere but few have actually read, American Earth offers an accessible door into not only Walden, but 100 more works of significance in the annals of environmentalism. McKibben, himself the groundbreaking author of The End of Nature, the first account of global warming's consequences, selects each author with the care of a conductor assembling a fine orchestra. Some voices speak of spiritual bonds connecting humankind and nature, others tell true stories of real ecological tragedies, and some are historical markers along the environmental movement's journey from the fringes into mainstream America.

McKibben calls upon Thoreau to set the stage for this anthology -- "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover I had not lived." He continues with the likes of Walt Whitman, P. T. Barnum (raging against billboards), and features the classic writing of John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
With over a hundred authors contributing and Al Gore's blessing, you cannot ask for a better collection of writings from some of the best minds around. After you get a taste, it will inspire you to seek out the full editions of the books. The Library of America series has always selected top notch authors and works; they also print the books on wonderful paper with sturdy bindings. The editor- Bill McKibben was able to give a brief summary of the authors works and life that contributed, which helps put the works into perspective.
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Format: Hardcover
Environmental concerns are not a strictly recent development - it has been heavily discussed ever since the writings of Henry David Thoreau. "American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau" is a complete and comprehensive collection of writing covering scholarly essays and writings throughout history addressing the concerns of America, and how America should manage its relationship with the planet it sits on. Enhanced with a foreword from former Vice President and avid Environmentalist Al Gore, "American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau" is highly recommended to environmental studies collections focusing on college level discussion.
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Format: Hardcover
...to enjoy nature and fine nature writing. This book proves that. I really enjoyed the foreward by Al Gore, and even though I had previously read most of the essays in this book (they are excerpts of famous authors taken from their own books), I found the compilation of them all in one source to be very convenient for taking camping - even though it is a huge book. But the title is deceptive. There are several contemporary authors that deserve to be represented here: Jim Harrison, Daniel J. Rice (just take any chapter from his book THIS SIDE OF A WILDERNESS), and Rick Bass. I gave it four stars because every essay is good, but they are also all by the cliché authors we've all heard of and read - if they create a new edition I think new authors should be present...
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Format: Hardcover
Read at the New York Society Library.

There are so many wonderful essays in this collection that will appeal to almost any nature lover, it seems churlish to pick just one, but the style and substance of this essay by Burroughs is a fair sample of the joys of this collection.

***

The introduction:

After long experience I am convinced that the best place to study nature is at one’s own home,—on the farm, in the mountains, on
the plains, by the sea,—no matter where that may be. One has it all with him then. The seasons bring to his door the great revolving cycle of wild life, floral and faunal, and he need miss no part of the show.

At home one should see and hear with more fondness and sympathy. Nature should touch him a little more closely there than anywhere else. He is better attuned to it than to strange scenes. The birds about his own door are his birds, the flowers in his own fields and wood are his, the rainbow springs its magic arch across his valley, even the ever lasting stars to which one lifts his eye, night after night, and year after year, from his own doorstep, have something private and personal about them.

The clouds and the sunsets one sees in strange lands move one the more they are like the clouds and sunsets one has become familiar with at home. The wild creatures about you become known to you as they cannot be known to a passer-by. The traveler sees little of Nature that is revealed to the home-stayer. You will find she has made her home where you have made yours, and intimacy with her there be-
comes easy.

Familiarity with things about one should not dull the edge of curiosity or interest.
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