The American Response to the Environment in the Twentieth Century
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Rothman (Devil’s Bargains, not reviewed) examines the factors that have influenced Americans’ perceptions of their natural

world over the last 100 years and explains how those factors have shaped and reshaped our national environmental consciousness.

During the 20th century, Rothman argues, there grew an American sensibility that moved beyond the rhapsodizings and

pleadings of Emerson, Thoreau, and Marsh to an active and protective embrace of nature, sometimes communally, if more often

for individual motives. He charts that shift in outlook starting with the turn-of-the-century revulsion from the inequities wrought

by industrialization: the skewed distribution of wealth and, particularly, the plunder of resources. Such disgust paved the way for

Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressivism and Gifford Pinchot’s call to conservation. But this was a politics of bounty, contends

Rothman, and when the economy faltered, we were happy to pillage nature anew to get things back on track: Witness Teapot

Dome and the damming of the Colorado. In FDR’s environmental ministerings—including the WPA and CCC as well as the

TVA—Rothman sees the eastern elitist approach, which, buttressed again by a boom economy, held sway into the coming decades.

While he nods in passing to the zeitgeist, he too often ascribes the sparks that lit the countercultural environmental movement

to prosperity and entitlement (call it "full-stomach environmentalism") and gives short shrift to ethical dimensions, ignoring the

influential likes of Barry Commoner and Murray Bookchin. Better is his detailing of the effects of earlier defining

moments—Echo Park Dam, Silent Spring—and the later local and grassroots efforts of such groups as the Love Canal

Homeowners Association to establish a balanced approach to economic development and preservation and manifest a sense of

decency and responsibility.

A thoughtful tracking of the American environmental sympathies during this century that suffers only from its urge to grant

the economy an imperious, overarching role.

Pub Date: April 7th, 2000
ISBN: 1-56663-288-9
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2000


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