on December 11, 2007
A friend who said he was reminded of Joan Didion by these essays only made clear to me how much more there is to Solnit: one of the most gifted writers we have, for one thing, who brings to bear sensitivities to political questions, her own personal interactions with the environment, historical and philosophic musings, at the same time researching her topics and presenting pertinent and sometimes obscure facts with a casualness that belies the rigor that must have gone into their research.
Readers new to Solnit might be steered first to her celebrated classic, "River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West," but these essays sacrifice none of the intellectual reach and sweep of that earlier work. Some are slightly dated, as might be predicted from their topicality, but all are well enough written to maintain interest as snippets out of time. I particularly enjoyed one in which, having invited Solnit to visit, Susan Sontag seemed to welcome her "into the republic of literature;" in another, Solnit makes a breathtaking connection between the bikini waxes of Playboy bunnies and clear-cutting in the Sequoia National forest--and makes a pertinent point of it.
I'm not especially driven to read about the ingenious ways rapacious corporations have skirted laws and ethics to plunder the American landscape, still less about our own disregard; but Solnit makes interesting not only those subjects but many others in this volume. Each essay is an example of a wonderful writer plying her craft, a reflective citizen and highly cultivated mind never so self-indulgent as to forego hard information that you've never heard before, historical facts that have been overlooked or suppressed.
I suspect that some of these essays will be classics fifty years hence. In the meantime, enjoy the literary champagne, even as you become better informed citizens of this, our beleaguered planet.