THE BOOKS OF LIFE
By Jeff Stark
The summer reading season is approaching. This might be a good time to review the impact books can have on presenting environmental topics and ideas. It is also a good time to consider the fact that many of our old favorites, and our new favorites are life-affirming. By and large, the environmental literature educates and informs us and then gives us hope that we can make positive changes in our daily lives. This has been true since the early days of the environmental movement.
Many environmental volumes have written primarily by scientists, have led the way to education, enlightenment and action. Scientists have done the science, measured and observed, recorded their data and written their articles for the scientific journals. Most of those articles went mostly unreported and were noticed only in the scientific community if at all. Others, a small number, broke out and made an impact on the non-scientific community. Even fewer rose to prominence across all levels of society and have major impacts on the state of our knowledge and the way we live.
The history of scientific based writing impacting the general population is rich and varied. One of the most important of these writing is "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson. Originally published in 1962, this work focused on the effect of pesticides on the natural world. Carson focused her work, and her writings, on the dangers to birds that chemicals presented. She documented the impacts of DDT, at that point a relatively new compound originally developed during WW II. DDT was used as a pesticide in the Pacific in WW 2 and was credited with saving large numbers of American soldiers by preventing large outbreaks of malaria and other insect-borne diseases. In the decades after the war DDT became a widely used pesticide. It was typically sprayed on food crops and thus entered the bodies of humans and other species. Silent Spring documented the damage and became one of the most important scientific works of the last century.
Also on most lists of influential environmental books is "State of the World." This book is actually an ongoing yearly report of global environmental conditions. It is a presentation of Worldwatch Institute and is a joint effort shared by many scientists. New editions are publishes yearly. This presents an excellent way to keep to date on issues and track their progress over time.
By necessity these and other environmental science tomes are disturbing. In most ways that is not only to be expected, it is a measure of how seriously the environmental science community takes its work and its responsibilities. One such book, "The End of Nature" was published in 1989 By Bill McKibben, a prolific writer and advocate with academic and journalistic credentials. In "The End of Nature" he describes how our species' interactions with nature grew over time until mankind developed into the rapacious anti-nature force it is today. His output has been prolific for three decades and he has inspired readers in many locations.
McKibben's arguments are persuasive and bring to mind one of the earliest American books on the conflict between man and Nature. "Walden, Or Life In the Woods" was originally published in 1854. Author Henry David Thoreau was one of the most influential Americans of his or any other time. In his classic reflection Thoreau created a compelling, insightful and personal argument for a life close to nature. The fact that his book is still on most university must-read lists testifies to his timeless commitment to a life well lived. For many of his readers his simple advice - "Simplify, simplify, simplify" - remains a viable mantra even now.
All of these books are classics, or destined to become classics, and offer those of us in the environmental movement opportunities to reflect on why and how we became committed to a life of advocacy and environmental protection. One thing all our selections have in common is a core belief in how reading can affirm life and our commitment to saving nature. We know how well reading books like these serves us. The question now is to help awaken our friends, families, coworkers, local and national political leaders and others to the positive impact environmental literature can have on their lives. These are the books of life, our job is to share them the best way we can.
WHAT WE CAN DO
If ever there was a project designed for the internet this is it. Generatiing a personal top ten or a complete list of a certain author's work, a grab bag of topics, or a reminder to get a book to gift to a friend has never been easier. The best place to start? You guessed it, the purveyor of everything, Amazon.com. We can start out with a top ten list, then segue over to top ten books about humpback whales and Maui,
if we are shopping for a birthday gift for a sixth grader a review of sharks and their habitats might work .
Teachers might like a current review of books on climate change and global warming .
Finally, a Google search on environmental success stories is a sure winner, and, one we all hope continues to grow. Happy reading.