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Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families Paperback – June 1, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Here's the bottom line according to Bill McKibben: the earth will not be able to sustain its ever increasing population indefinitely. But the population problem is not just a phenomenon of developing nations--the United States is a major environmental threat, gobbling up a huge piece of the resources pie as our numbers grow larger every year. To avoid worldwide catastrophe, McKibben believes that the United States must reduce its birthrate.

Maybe One is more about the concept of having only one child per family, than a sanctimonious sermon on the perils producing more than that lone baby will have on the world. Understandably the implications of overpopulation for the planet's resources isn't something the average American cries into his Cheerios about every morning, but Maybe One argues that we must start thinking about family size and stop thinking of population as an "abstract issue" that has no bearing on our lives. McKibben produces compelling if not controversial arguments for curbing the U.S. population explosion, a population which he believes could grow by at least 50 percent by the year 2050 to possibly 400 million people. That's a lot of mouths to feed, fuel to burn, and waste to dispose! McKibben's arguments are a mixture of the highly personal (he speaks in great detail of his decision to have a vasectomy) to the highly global (McKibben cites scary statistics about the greenhouse effect, species extinction, soil erosion, and food shortages). He is particularly passionate about "only children" and that it really is okay to have just one child, arguing that only children are often more intelligent and confident than their multiple-sibling friends.

Like in The End of Nature an earlier McKibben book concerned with man's catastrophic contribution to the greenhouse effect, McKibben urges us in Maybe One to really think about our relationship with the earth. He writes, "No decision any of us makes will have more effect on the world (and on our lives) than whether to bear another child." Prophetic words, but words many parents will find difficult by which to abide. --Naomi Gesinger --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In his arresting debut, The End of Nature, McKibben eloquently argued that saving the planet required immediate sacrifice from each one of us. Passionately signing up for the most radical measures himself, the author declared in that book that he and his wife "try very hard not to think about how much we'd like a baby." His new book describes how he has altered his view, although he remains committed to curbing life choices that unduly stress the environment. Now that McKibben and his wife are happily living with a four-year-old daughter, Sophie, he speaks to the reader not as an isolated prophet in the wilderness but as a father affirming the value of family life while still bringing vast environmental issues into the realm of personal decisions. Careful not to insist that single-child families are the solution, McKibben vividly portrays the conditions that will worsen if our population continues to grow at its current rate: denuded lands, rising oceans, extinct species, choking pollution. Blending scripture and the words of ancient philosophers with a welter of statistical projections, McKibben explores the hopes and fears that attach themselves to the birth of babies, including the racism that often colors discussion of immigration and family planning. What stands out in this eloquent book, however, is McKibben's wonderfully illuminating and entertaining work in tracking down our national prejudice against only children and single-child families. There and throughout this call to arms, the reader feels the added dimension of a father's love. First serial to Atlantic Monthly; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; First edition (June 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452280923
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452280922
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,036,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bill McKibben is the author of The End of Nature, Deep Economy, and numerous other books. He is the founder of the environmental organizations Step It Up and, and was among the first to warn of the dangers of global warming. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and lives in Vermont with his wife, the writer Sue Halpern, and their daughter.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By on December 15, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Maybe One by Bill McKibben
The importance of this book to the near future of the United States is hard to exaggerate. It is a must for every young American, and everyone who cares about the quality of human life and of the environment.
McKibben's premise is this: if large numbers of people choose to limit their families to one child, the maximum population of the United States will be lower by a critical amount.
Most environmental thinkers recognize the central role of population growth in environment issues, including in this country. The United States is the third most populous country in the world, and the fastest growing industrialized nation. Bill McKibben has the courage to tell the truth: the only way to limit population growth is to choose small families. Deciding how many children to have, like it or not, is more than a private decision. It is very much a decision that will effect the quality of life of all Americans over the next 100 years.
McKibben gently demolishes long-held beliefs in the poor adjustment of only children. He also argues against legislated population control, though one might make the case that such measures may become necessary if voluntary family limits fail.
McKibben's relaxed, peppy style makes this book accessible to everyone, and his topic is the most important one for contemporary America.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on June 20, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bill McKibben has written a book that is not only much needed but a wake up call to those who care about the entire earth environment and what effect multi-child families have.
As the mother of one child, a son who is now raised and responsible and happy I am always looking for books that dispel the myths about only children being selfish, spoiled, maladjusted loners (the authors words). The author doesn't just talk theory. And he walks his talk, in sharing the personal choice and experience of having a vasectomy.
His work is thorough in showing how misplaced and out of context religious admonishments to go forth and multiply are. How we no longer need large families to work the farms much less the nine month school year. That we as a society need to rethink what children should be to society at large and get over the whole lug headed logic that as women we are not complete unless we reproduce and do so more than once. Or that real men are only the ones who create an heir, and usually a male one at that.
I also appreciated immensely his challenging people to stop seeing a child as a hobby and start looking at the child as an individual with rights and that an only child that is reared with a mindset of personal responsibility is the best future citizen. And the fact is as his work shows, is this. Todays family with more than one child is the very family who succumbs to guilt buying. Over consuming and children with poor health i.e.obesity and altruistic thought that is not embraced but if taught is done so out of guilt feelings.
the book is split into four sections. Part One: Family Part Two: Species Part Three: Nation Part Four: Self. And am so grateful the author has noted the works of Granville Stanley Hall who was born in 1844 and would go on to John Hopkins and do some earthshaking research as well as create the first research university in psychology.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Puncturevine on June 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a fine book that gives a measured, objective (as much as possible) analysis on the decision of whether to add another human being to the surface of the earth. I'm constantly amazed how often population is neglected entirely (or casually brushed off) when discussing policies from urban sprawl to species loss to global warming. Of course population isn't the only factor (wealth and lifestyle are obviously key as well), but who can seriously question that our environmental impact on the earth would be more manageable if we had fewer people? Think about your average day....waking up and showering, eating breakfast, driving to work, etc. Go out and surf the Internet and start calculating your individual environmental impact (there are a host of useful sites out there). The coal burned to light your house, your office and all of the places you visit during the day. The metals, woods and plastics harvested, processed, stored and shipped to build your home, the appliances within it, your automobile, your consumer electronics, books, dishes and your clothes. The water, herbicides and fuel used to produce the food you consume. And don't forget waste. Start adding up your sewer impact, the amount of garbage you generate week after week, month after month. And don't forget the garbage you contribute to at work, the park and the restaurant. And so on.... The final toll is staggering. Simply in terms of home electricity use, for example, the average American household will easily burn more than 300 pounds of coal and generate more than 600 pounds of atmospheric CO2 per month. Then start multiplying these numbers by 280 million (Americans), and (although using different and lower multipliers) 6 billion+ human beings.Read more ›
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Edward F. Glaze III on May 1, 1998
Format: Hardcover
An environmental writer tends to think about the future more than most of us. His stock in trade is what is happening to the world around us and the probability trends describing what is to come. But that investigative concern is heightened by having a child - it becomes much more personal. Bill McKibben is just that kind of environmental writer and his young daughter inspired the research that led to this book.
Unlike many environmental books this one is a quick and easy read. It touches on the personal, social, economic, and ecological aspects of starting a family that all of us should discuss. The book keeps a positive tone even though the facts presented warn of a future few parents would wish on their child. The book is both educational and a call to action on a personal and societal level.
The theme of the book could be his statement that we may live in a special time. "We may live in the strangest, most thoroughly different moment since humans took up farming 10,000 years ago and time more or less commenced. Since then time has flowed in one direction - toward more, which we have taken to be progress. At first the momentum was gradual, almost imperceptible, checked by wars and dark ages and plagues and taboos; but in recent centuries it has accelerated, the curve of every graph steepening like the Himalayas rising from the Asian steppe. We need to see if we're finally running up against some limits."
McKibben thinks part of the answer to our growing population will be to encourage single-child families. With additional children there's a dilution of family resources. "Money, yes, but more important, the parents" time and emotional and physical energy.
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