Customer Reviews: My Green Manifesto: Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism
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on July 23, 2011
No one wearing a T-shirt with the popular "Think Global Act Local" slogan emblazoned on it will find anything "new" in David Gessner's "New Environmentalism." What makes this book important is not its ideology but its positive example of what acting locally means. He puts flesh on the abstract slogan and thereby gives it life.
Despite his many "Nature Books," Gessner continues to protest, rightly, that he is a writer, not a nature writer, that his writing is his priority and environmentalism perhaps a means to that end. The oldest writing-teacher cliche of them all is "Show it; Don't tell it." That is exactly what Gessner does.
Ok, Gessner doesn't do it exactly. His friend Dan Driscoll does. But Gessner shows us how Driscoll, working from within the state bureaucracy slowly and painfully over many years was able to save parts of the Charles, the river that ends up as the famous "muddy water" of Boston. For Gessner, who grew up in Massachusetts and went to Harvard, this is as local as it gets, and Driscoll is deservedly his hero.
Driscoll's story is told interspersed with the tale of a paddle down the Charles from its headwaters to the Basin, camping along the shore, ending up on the Esplanade on the 4th of July. Not since Ray Mungo in the '60s paddled up Thoreau's Concord and Merrimack Rivers have we been invited to view so closely what an urban river looks like, from its industrial garbage-strewn worst to its hidden idyllic best.
The best part of Gessner's style may be his honest uncertainty. In a field in which so many people are so certain they have the answers, Gessner humbly confesses his confusion. Like many of us, he knows what he would like to see happen but hasn't much faith in the mystic and dogmatic answers that so many others insist upon. Every time he begins to succumb to romantic discourse, which is often, he manages to pull himself back to the muddy reality. Nor does he think we can be saved by the schemes of global-warming technologists who scorn the sentiment of Wendell Berry and John Hay, two of his heroes.
There is a bit of the Puritan in him, in the good use of that misused word. He wants us to get out of our dreary selves, "admit that we are limited, human," and remember that there is something larger we are part of and somehow learn to love it. His friend, Dan, definitely fits the Puritan ideal of a man "In the world but not of it," living in the corrupt systems of practical reality but able to keep his eye on a higher vision.
Not entirely a romantic, but not free of the romantic's temptations either, Gessner makes us "love that muddy water" whether or not Boston is our home.
-- Dave Williams, author of
Sin Boldly!: Dr. Dave's Guide To Writing The College Paper and of
Searching for God in the Sixties
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on October 1, 2011
This is a great idea of a book marred by a flawed execution. As a fellow exiled Bostonian with a long history with the Charles River, I was very excited to see this book. I love the book's thesis that one can find find value and natural beauty in environments far from the pristine grandeur of a Yosemite or even a Walden. There are some great stories here about the history of people's relationship with the river, about the changes in the river's surroundings in the last couple of decades, and about the bird life to be found in the river.

On the other hand, the promise of the book is somewhat buried by its problems. For each paragraph describing the river, Gessner could have written ten pages instead. I would like to know more about how the Charles got so polluted and how it got cleaned up. Gessner spent hours hanging out with Dan Driscoll, the state environmental worker who apparently instigated a major change in the way the river is treated, yet the book only gives glimpses of the battles Driscoll fought. The river itself, and how it fits into the natural and man-made environment of Boston and vicinity, could have gotten much more attention in the book. Instead, the river appears to be a backdrop for Gessner's musings on the environmental movement. These musings were not very clear or very original; he criticises environmentalists for being dull scolds but then becomes somewhat of a scold himself as he exhorts the masses to get out doors and experience nature more. He doesn't marshall logical arguments or factual evidence when he complains about Shellenberger and Nordhous or other, unnamed environmentalists; he just states his opinions.

While reading the book I visited Boston and discovered a part of the river I had never seen. My uncle lives near the Needham border where a wall of trees press close to either side of the black water. The river, itself no wider than a road, slides under Chestnut Street and on to its gleaming destination near Back Bay, MIT, and the Museum of Science. It was a thrill receiving a glimpse of the hidden life of the Charles. The book also gives such thrills, but could have given them in far greater measure.
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on November 1, 2013
The book. Brought memories of the Charles River. Since I live in a city where we have a lot of wildlife I could relate to David's experiences in the "wilds of Boston suburbia".
It definitely was a new slant on environmentalism.
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on January 6, 2014
And I enjoyed reading it. I am a realistic environmentalist. Some of my favorite books are THIS SIDE OF A WILDERNESS, Desert Solitaire, and anything by Loren Eisely. Mr. Gessner's book deserves mention in this same genre. While it's not the poetically soothing account found in THIS SIDE OF A WILDERNESS, or as gripping as Desert Solitaire, it makes up for this with witty realisms, insight, and adventure. I recommend this title to all my bookie friends looking for a new nature based read...
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on March 12, 2014
This is a quick read and a different take than most books on the environment. It got me thinking differently about how we approach our problems with the environment. I happen to live in the Boston area so it was probably more meaningful to me than someone who's never been around here.
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on October 11, 2011
This heart of this book is the story of Dan Driscoll and his heroic actions to bring nature back to the Charles River. The rest of the book is weak, uninteresting, uninspired musings about the environmental movement and it's philosophy. It's definitely not a "manifesto", at least by the popular definition of that word since there is no clear intent, direction, or opinion. Gessner offers nothing new and knowingly contributes to the excessive repetition of Henry Thoreau's words. Worse still, he attacks Derrick Jensen (the best environmental writer of our current times) based on a faulty understanding of his essay on hope. He obviously either did not read the essay himself or did not understand what Derrick was writing about. And finally, I realize that the book business is weak and editing has suffered, but how is it possible that on page 94 he mistakenly says that Glen Canyon Dam formed Lake "Meade"? Lake Mead is behind Hoover Dam; Glen Canyon Dam is responsible for the atrocity known as Lake Powell.

Overall, the book is a sad commentary on the state of the environmental movement in the USA. We need more people like Edward Abbey, Derrick Jensen, Paul Watson, David Brower, John Muir, Judi Bari, Julia Butterfly, Mike Roselle, Dave Foreman, etc. and less of these comfortable middle-aged guys who are too willing to settle for a few tiny stretches of degraded wilderness in a vast industrial wasteland. I'm not talking about Dan Driscoll here, just the author).
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on September 20, 2011
My wife and I heard David Gessner speak this summer. As a follow up we wanted to read his book. Very easy reading. Enjoyed it.
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