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by Gary Paul Nabhan

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-887178-47-3
Publisher: Counterpoint

 Essays on plants, animals, wild places, and human interactions with them all. Nabhan (The Geography of Childhood, 1994, etc.), a research scientist at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and a MacArthur fellow, has for many years worked to promote the conservation of plants that are culturally and economically important to various indigenous peoples around the world. Many of these essays (most previously published in periodicals) touch on these plants and their use in human cultures. For example, Nabhan discusses the rise of diabetes among the O'odham people of Arizona following their shift from a diet based on native plants to one relying on processed, mass-produced foods; in another, he examines the possible downfall of Mexico's tequila industry, which now relies on a single agave (a kind of succulent) as a source of pulp, though there are dozens of varieties of agave plants. Nabhan writes of the sense of wonderment that comes from a knowledge of the natural world, and of the important work of learning what might be called ``natural literacy'' as a cultural skill. The best piece in the book indirectly addresses this last matter; in it, Nabhan decries the sterility of school playgrounds, which ``seem to squelch life rather than nurture it.'' Nabhan is not a particularly fluent writer, and he often strains for effect (in one not untypical passage, he writes of an ``all-female lizard species with reproductive habits more radical than anything in lesbian literature''). Many of Nabhan's pieces preach to a small choir. Nonetheless, the themes touched on are certain to be of interest to those readers concerned about environmental issues, especially worldwide biodiversity and its conservation.