Customer Reviews: American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau (Library of America)
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on November 19, 2008
"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.

His list of contributors ranges from the designer of Central Park in NYC (Frederick Law Olmsted), to an American author and journalist (Theodore Dreiser), to another writer of the depression (John Steinbeck). Books you may have read are excerpted, such as Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities; and, Rachel Carson's, Silent Spring, the classic that influenced Al Gore and resulted in a ban on DDT.

You may not agree with all the pieces included. Lynn White's essay, "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis" lays the blame (in 1967) for the environmental problems of the US on the Christian worldview. Or, at least the popular Christian worldview that saw the world as man's plaything, to use or use up as he chose. White concludes his essay with the life of St. Francis of Assisi, and nominates Francis as patron saint of environmentalists because of Francis' teaching on humility and his love for all of God's creation. The activist Cesar Chavez is also included, but on the lighter side is Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," which was set to the tune of an old Baptist hymn, When The World's on Fire -- more appropriate than even Guthrie might have thought when he chose it.

If you want to get up to speed in Environmentalism 101, McKibben's American Earth is the book you need. A comprehensive survey of literature on environmentalism, the book contains scores of great quotes, real life stories, like The Fog by Berton Roueche', and contemporary voices like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver. My newly discovered friend, Wendell Berry, is included, as are all of the other great names in the movement -- the Nearings, Buckminster Fuller, Scott Russell Sanders, Al Gore, and Paul Hawken, plus many more.

I have several of the books referenced by McKibben, including his Deep Economy, and a comparable library would run hundreds of dollars. You'll find yourself doing what I have done -- pulling out American Earth to read another essay or chapter or poem in America's great chronicle of all things environmental.
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on June 18, 2008
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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on February 2, 2016
There is perhaps no book more influential to my thoughts about our world, our environment, and our contributions — good and bad. One need not read through this giant collection all at once; however, its progression is lovely. I recommend American Earth for any classroom studying the sciences, sociology, political science, law or literature. There are so many themes to explore regarding how "environmental" writings have shaped our cultural landscape.
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on June 8, 2008
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 31, 2016
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. The walk you take to-day through the fields and woods, or along the river-bank, is the walk you should take tomorrow, and next day, and next. What you miss once, you will hit upon next time.


Wonderful writing in this essay, and in many of the others in this fine collection.

Robert C. Ross
January 2016
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on September 13, 2014
This is a great compilation of environmental writing. I originally bought this book as a college textbook but enjoyed it so much that I actually gave a copy to my friend as a Christmas gift. It is a very well done book.
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on February 10, 2014 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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HALL OF FAMEon October 14, 2008
This very unique book offers 1000 pages of environmental thought and wisdom from dozens of important writers. Through a unique and masterful editing process, Bill McKibben has arranged the selections not just chronologically but also in order of influence. The end result is a rewarding illustration of the history of American environmental thought, as Thoreau's wisdom on the sanctity of wilderness has slowly converged with matters of social justice and the analysis of power, as evidenced here by lesser-known modern writers whose works will surely become classics in the near future. McKibben has also included writers from a wide variety of backgrounds, with fairly typical outdoor essayists and community organizers sharing space with everyone from physicists to economists to politicians, not to mention some surprises like interested cartoonist R. Crumb and sympathetic songwriters Joni Mitchell and Marvin Gaye. Some of the selections may raise questions from the concerned reader, such as the crass boosterism of P.T. Barnum; and sometimes McKibben had trouble distilling a writer's voluminous offerings into useful introductory excerpts, like in the 26 repetitive pages from William Cronon. But the book also benefits immeasurably from a robust collection of illustrations and a masterful chronology of developments in environmental history and literary works about it.

This massive tome offers a lifetime of inspiring thoughts and pointed observations for everyone from the most ardent activist to the leisurely outdoor lover, and the book will find a premier spot on your bookshelf for years to come. [~doomsdayer520~]
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on November 1, 2009
This book is very inspiring. The men and women featured in "American Earth" were clearly ahead of their time. Reading of - what was for most of them - their life's work is a lesson that any adversity can be overcome with vision, patience, hard work and an ability to communicate. I understand that my belief in the "cathedral of nature" is not just my own, but many others and I learn from them reading this book. The author does a fine job of introducing these essays as well. Of John Muir he writes; "But his lone treks across the granite vastness of the Sierra had doubtless left him with joy enough for a lifetime." What a fine turn of a phrase! It describes how I often feel when I am in the wilderness, on those supreme,fine days when I know I can die happy. I expect to read and consult this "bible" often. Well Done!
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on January 7, 2013
This is a good collection and I recommend it to sit side by side with your copy of Norton's Anthology of Nature writing. This collection is considered "environmental writing" which is a subset of nature writing that can often sound the alarm concerning environment problems. Silent Spring being the most obvious example. In this regard I believe this collection attains the goal and is worthy to own.

To me however, an anthology which considers itself capturing American Nature related writing since Thoreau but does not include the man who is perhaps the greatest American Nature writer of the second half of the 20th century would have to be considered lacking. Peter Matthiessen is an obvious miss in these pages.
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