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The Snail Darter and the Dam: How Pork-Barrel Politics Endangered a Little Fish and Killed a River Hardcover – June 18, 2013


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The Snail Darter and the Dam: How Pork-Barrel Politics Endangered a Little Fish and Killed a River + Environmental Policy: New Directions for the Twenty-First Century 8th Edition
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (June 18, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300173245
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300173246
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #373,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“The story of the snail darter and the TVA is the Thermopylae in the history of America’s conservation movement, and this book by Zygmunt Plater deserves to be the classic telling of it.”—Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University
(Edward O. Wilson)

"The Snail Darter and the Dam is an inspiring and informative American story of regular people fighting powerful special interests.  It's about how the public interest lost out to big money and its political allies--and failures by the local and national press to report the story fairly, accurately, and in proper context."—Dan Rather, Anchor and Managing Editor of AXS TV
(Dan Rather 2012-09-19)

"TVA v. Hill is one of my favorite cases. This eminently readable account of the full history of the case is even more interesting than the story told in Warren Burger’s opinion for the Court (or my memory of the oral argument and the shifting positions of the Justices in my book, Five Chiefs). The author’s account of how President Carter rejected the “God Committee’s” verdict about the darter is especially so."—Hon. Justice John Paul Stevens, Supreme Court of the United States [retired]
(Hon. Justice John Paul Stevens [retired] 2012-08-27)

"The inside story of a long and fascinating battle—legal, political, environmental, and personal— that became an icon of its era and remains instructive even today. It’s a blueprint for community action, and—sadly—a still-current roadmap of the way in which Washington works. The legal maneuverings are laid out with wonderful lucidity, but even more the book is by turn compassionate, angry, and intensely humane, and well worth reading.”—Jonathan Harr, author of A Civil Action
(Jonathan Harr 2012-06-25)

"A compelling history . . . that sheds light on the policy process and is fascinating in its own right.  Recommended [for] all readership levels."—Choice
(Choice)

“Plater . . . does a deft job of weaving together the legal framework and context for his fight against TVA, which he ended up winning before the Supreme Court in the landmark case TVA v. Hill. He employs a strict first-person, present-tense perspective that gives the book an engaging, memoiristic tone. [He] provides a wealth of detail that makes for compelling reading, and he has a knack for bringing drama to even the most technical court proceedings."—Clay Risen, Chapter 16
(Clay Risen Chapter 16)

Book Description

In a narrative that dispels widespread misperceptions about the environmental battle against the TVA’s final dam project, a law professor and his students carry the notorious snail darter case through the corridors of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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I thought of him often while reading your book and I know that he'll enjoy reading it.
Howard B.
The snail darter plays a central role in the telling of this story, but the history of the overall conflict over this destructive project is much more rich.
Peter Appel
If you care about politics, or even if you think you're past the point of caring, this story will draw you in.
Mark Lindeman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mark Lindeman on August 22, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I bought this book on a recommendation, but I was 50 pages in before I realized how far off my subliminal expectations had been -- much as many people described within missed the point of the Tellico Dam controversy in the mid-70s. I expected a fairly narrow rehash of legal arguments surrounding, y'know, the snail darter and the dam. Instead, Plater tells a story that involves an astonishing variety of themes in environmental politics -- or, really, American politics generally -- so engagingly that I got out of bed at 11:30 PM to finish it. (It's not that I "couldn't put it down," only that I couldn't sleep when I did!)

Grassroots activists fighting for their land? Bureaucratic intrigue? Strategic and philosophical debates? Courtroom drama? Congressional shenanigans? All those things and more are in here, not as plot contrivances, but as the real deal. If you care about politics, or even if you think you're past the point of caring, this story will draw you in.

Does it really make sense to read a book about some controversy from the 1970s? In this case, absolutely. Not only is the Tellico story compelling in its own right, but as Plater tells it, it provides a template for understanding a broad swath of environmental policy conflicts. Not that Plater shoves some theoretical framework down readers' throats: he simply writes with such clarity and intensity that we can't help but think more clearly about how the parts connect.

Yale University Press has done fabulous work with this book -- it reads better than most best-selling fiction. (Of course Plater deserves huge credit for that, but so does the press.) But the book description does not do justice.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By marika on August 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
As Zyg's daughter, I have heard the story of the snail darter case for as long as I can remember. Reading his accessibly-written and riveting book still added many layers of complexity to my understanding of the case and amplified disturbing revelations about the way that government works. The Snail Darter and the Dam shows how difficult it is for citizen activists with the facts on their side, but without significant funding, to halt an unnecessary, wasteful, and harmful project. Zyg depicts Washington as a labyrinth that is almost impenetrable to outsiders. The amount of effort that he and the Little T River's supporters had to put into trying to be heard over industry lobbyists and biased media is astounding and depressing. Keeping track of all of the people these activists had to appeal to and following the bureaucratic tangles of launching the lawsuit was illuminatingly exhausting. That so many activists came together--working tirelessly to almost achieve the impossible is a message of hope within a story of loss.

The snail darter's home in the last flowing section of the Little T is now a muddy lake, surrounded by mansions, with luxury yachts navigating around silos that stand as eerie reminders of the family farms that once thrived there. I hope that this book helps make this unspeakable loss a lesson in how animals, plants, fish, and humans suffer together when greed wins. I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone interested in environmentalism, politics, or interesting stories!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Martin W. Hatcher on August 9, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
No matter what your opinion of the snail darter case might be this book is a terrific story of how government, private individuals, environmental groups function or more often don't. A well written and valuable book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Howard B. on July 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Well done, Professor Plater. I read the book while on a road trip through Western states impacted by dams. The book created a perfect context for our trip. I was so moved by the story that I sent a copy of the book to my high school history teacher, an old river runner with a terrific sense of humor, a poet's perspective on life, a historian's view of the world, and a deep ecologist's view of our natural surroundings. When I was his student, he opened my mind to adventure, wilderness, and poetry. He also opened my eyes to the often devious nature of governments and the way they actually operate. I thought of him often while reading your book and I know that he'll enjoy reading it. So, thank you for writing this book. It is at once frustrating and tragic, but ultimately inspiring and redeeming to know that, as you described, a well-motivated group of citizens can move mountains. In my opinion, this should be mandatory reading for lawyers, journalists, citizen activists, government employees, and anybody interested in receiving a true civics lesson.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mike Foster on October 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book is a triumph. Not only a page-turner, but it is packed with extremely valuable information, the more so as being so unknown. I was especially moved (and enlightened) by two of the points the author established, and kept reinforcing throughout: (1) that Congress and the federal government operate in a way that is inconsistent with the idealistic notions most of the public believe; and (2) in making decisions, and voting, our national politicians are more swayed by personal or party interest than available facts or the national interest.

As a professional historian, I am especially appreciative of the careful and exhaustive elaboration of the snail darter case. Plater has created the necessary factual record of the case, so at odds with its simplistic perception. This book should be read by every environmentalist in the country, as a guide to how the federal government really works. I have recommended it to a host of such people in Colorado.
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