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Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth Hardcover – October, 1995

4.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In The End of Nature, McKibben aptly demonstrated that we are in the midst of an environmental crisis. Now he argues that there is reason for optimism, that, perhaps, there is the possibility that environmental "damage can be limited and contained." To achieve this transformation, he argues, it's necessary "to imagine a future vastly different from the present, one where people consume much less and restrain themselves much more." McKibben analyzes two Third World environmental successes, Curitiba, Brazil, and Kerala, India. In both cases, quality of life is high although money is scarce. McKibben's purpose in looking abroad is to see what lessons can be brought home; indeed, the chapters on Brazil and India are sandwiched inside a discussion of the environmental state of New England. Unfortunately, for all his optimism, the two common threads in the successful case studies are a shared sense of community and extremely nonmaterial lifestyles and cultures. It is unclear how a similar ethos might be transplanted to this country. While there are many thought-provoking moments, the book fails to gel as an integrated whole.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

McKibben, an accomplished and popular ecological author, here joins other nature writers expressing a cautious optimism about the possibility of saving the global environment from further devastation. Close to home, McKibben writes of the wildlife returning to upstate New York and New England. In Curitika, Brazil, he finds an urban planner who has designed a city that works on a human scale, caring for the less fortunate while providing the means for commerce to flourish. And in Kerala, India, he tells of a state that has made enormous progress with a per capita income 1/17th the American average. McKibben concludes by calling for a new local politics, coupled with devolution of the global economy. Tantalizing, infuriating, and intelligent, this book is recommended for popular collections.
--Randy Dykhuis, OHIONET, Columbus, Ohio
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 226 pages
  • Publisher: Little Brown & Co (T); 1st edition (October 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316560642
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316560641
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #948,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 31, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is an exploration into what's right and what's wrong with the planet and our relationship with it. It was written as a sequel to an earlier book by McKibben, "The End of Nature." In this book, McKibben starts by identifying some areas where there is hope for improvement in the environment in the future. The book is arranged in four parts. In the first part, McKibben considers examples of environmental recovery in his own region. He then turns to two parts of the world with very different local solutions to global problems. The first of these is Curataiba, Brazil, a city made famously livable by some very forward-thinking city planners. He then turns to Kerala, India, noting that a relatively high quality of life can be achieved with extremely limited resources, provided one addresses the key structural problems of society first. In the last section of the book, he reflects on his observations from the three regions.

McKibben hardly needed to look any further than his own backyard for proof that the environment can indeed bounce back to some extent from extreme abuse. His backyard in the Adirondacks is now full of trees, a condition that is now common throughout the Eastern United States. Much more common, in fact, than it was just fifty years ago. A little over a hundred years ago, most landscapes in the Northeast were treeless. The trees had been cut down to clear fields, to use for ship building and house construction, and most notably, to use for fuel. With the invention of a plow that could at last turn the thick prairie soil, many of the New England farmers pushed westward, glad to leave their cold, stony fields to grow up into forest again. But changes in fuel usage played an even larger role in the recovery of the trees.
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Format: Hardcover
Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth
Bill McKibben (Little, Brown, 1995) 239 pp; $ cloth

The book under review here I the author's third. It follows The End of Nature, which argues that human society has now become big enough to alter "the most basic vital sign of the planet, its climate," and The Age of Missing Information, a book in which two dramatically divergent experiences are juxtaposed: watching 2,000 hours of consecutive cable television broadcasts, and spending 24 hours camped beside a pond on a mountain. McKibben aspires to write a kind of essay that is journalistically vivid, but also very personal - even, to use an old-fashioned phrase, "soul-searching."

The search in this new book is reactive as well as affirmative. Like many of his likely readers, McKibben is deeply distressed by his knowledge of the damages human beings have visited upon the natural world. As a writer who has covered political and social issues for dozens of national magazines, he has gone to some effort to grasp the scientific analyses by which contemporary ecology measures the dimensions of our catastrophe. The other primary factor in setting McKibben's new book in motion, as he explains lucidly in the first chapter, is love for the landscape and people of his Northern Forest home, a very small town in the Adirondacks.

Having found himself "depressed" by the writing of his previous books, McKibben deliberately set out to find occasions for hope, beginning with the astonishing recovery of the forests of the northeast. He recalls the observations of Timothy Dwight, who in the early 19th century traveled from Boston to New York City and passed no more than twenty miles of forest on his 240-mile journey.
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Format: Paperback
This book's descriptions of Curitiba Brazil, and Kerala India are priceless, and unavailable most anywhere else. If you're not a botanist, the third of the book that talks about the reforestation of the U.S. may be a little tedious.
What irks me is that this stuff is very important if we're serious about "living lightly," but McKibben doesn't do such obvious things as include photos. The entire book could use a serious edit just for readability...
Don't get me wrong; the book is definitely worth reading, especially for the account of Curitiba. We're deprived, here in the U.S., compared to those third-worlders.
A real eye-opener about civic possibilities.
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Format: Paperback
Hope, Human and Wild is a kind of sequel to The End of Nature in which Bill McKibben highlights some positive, hopeful examples of sustainable human activity. He quotes Al Gore as saying, essentially, that our environmental problems now exceed our political ability to solve them. This is a deeply disturbing statement, so McKibben profiles a pair of cities in Brazil and India where sustainability and quality of life movements have taken hold and are actually succeeding. The implications are obvious: if two Third World cities can pull this off despite long odds, both political and environmental, then why can't we?

McKibben's studies of Curitiba, Brazil, and Kerala, India are both informative and uplifting, containing concrete examples of what creative thinking and political courage can achieve. We long, then, for a chapter or so in which these examples are applied to American urban centers; we long for a roadmap of possibilities applied to our culture of greed and consumerism. We long for an idea-or even the hint of an idea-we can use to break our cycle of destructive consumption. Instead, McKibben returns to his beloved Adirondacks and editorializes about the need for community, local economies, and so on. He demonstrates (I believe correctly) that sustainable agrarian communities beget sustainable wild lands and open space as well as a healthier human psyche. Trouble is, though, succeeding on this small scale will not make a dent in the larger problem.

McKibben does not use this book to explore a more global vision. The seeds are there, but once the harvest begins he falls back upon his mountains and the good, community life one is often able to achieve when living on an urban income in a rural area.
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