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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Hot Book Picks

Air Date: Week of November 23, 2007

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Bill McKibben's "Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future" (Photo: Henry and Holt Co.)

From climate solutions to climbing trees....Outside magazine contributing editor Bruce Barcott tells us what’s on his list of the best environmental books of 2007.

Transcript

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. If you’re thinking of some gifts to buy for friends and family this holiday season, you might want to take a listen to Bruce Barcott. He’s a contributing editor of Outside magazine and he’s got some suggestions if you’d like to give those folks some brain food, otherwise known as books. Here’s Bruce Barcott’s list of favorite environmental books for 2007.

BARCOTT: Last year, bookstores were full of titles that documented global warming. This year, we moved on to books that told us what to do about it. The best of the bunch was “Break Through,” by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus. Three years ago the authors raised a ruckus with their provocative essay, “The Death of Environmentalism.”

  


Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger's "Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility" (Photo: Houghton Mifflin Company)

In “Break Through,” the authors argue that global warming will destroy traditional left-right politics. In its place, they say, will emerge a fight between clean energy, pro-growth globalists, and anti-growth, anti-immigration nationalists. I didn’t agree with everything Shellenberger and Nordhaus wrote, but their book sparked the most passionate and constructive debates in green circles this year.

Bill McKibben's "Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future"(Photo: Henry and Holt Co.)

  

One of Shellenberger and Nordhaus’ critics, Bill McKibben, came out with his own book this year. It’s called “Deep Economy.” In it, McKibben calls for a return to the local: locally grown food, local shopping, local communities. In other words, stop buying apple juice from China at the supermarket. Go to the farmer’s market and buy your neighbor’s pressed cider. In “Deep Economy” McKibben forces us to reckon with one of the unspoken truths of modern life: more ‘stuff’ doesn’t mean more satisfaction.

The year’s best book of natural history is paleontologist Michael Novacek’s “Terra.” Novacek lays out the story of life on Earth, from the first single-celled organisms to those strange hominids known as you and me. Novacek’s specialty is evolution and extinction, and his book makes it clear that habitat loss and global warming are bringing about the kind of mass extinction that hasn’t been seen since a killer asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs.

Michael Novacek's "Terra: Our 100-Million-Year-Ols Ecosystem- and the Threats That Now Put It At Risk"
(Photo: Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

  

My favorite book of 2007 contains no prescriptions for saving the Earth. It’s called “The Wild Trees,” by Richard Preston. Preston is famous for thrillers like “The Hot Zone,” but in “The Wild Trees” he tells the true story of a few explorers who set out to find the world’s tallest trees. They didn’t do it in the 1600s. They did it in the 1990s. In the Atlas Grove, a thicket of Northern California redwoods, a handful of tree climbers scale 30-story giants and find a world unknown to science. Preston’s writing conveys all the mystery and majesty of the last great trees. The world he describes is as green, lush, and inviting as that imagined in The Lord of the Rings. The world of tree climbers is so alluring, in fact, that the book includes a warning: ‘If you are inspired to climb trees,’ Preston writes, ‘please remember that it is inherently dangerous.’

Dangerous, but also glorious. For me, 2007 will be the year that Richard Preston inspired me to quit hugging trees and start climbing them.

CURWOOD: Bruce Barcott climbs trees in Boulder, Colorado and reviews books for Outside magazine and The New York Times Book Review. His own book, "The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw," will be published by Random House early next year.

 

Links

Bill McKibben's "Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future"

Richard Preston's "The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring"

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger's "Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility"

Michael Novacek's "Terra: Our 100-Million-Year-Ols Ecosystem- and the Threats That Now Put It At Risk"

 

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