ANGELS BY THE RIVER by James Gustave Speth


A Memoir
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How a mainstream environmental adviser to two U.S. presidents became a radical activist arrested for chaining himself to a fence outside the White House.

Speth—the former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council and World Resources Institute—tells of his nearly idyllic boyhood in segregated Orangeburg, South Carolina, in the 1940s and 1950s, of his awakening to the evils of racism in the 1960s—he was away at Yale Law School during the infamous Orangeburg Massacre of 1968—and of his growing awareness of the power of social movements. He chronicles how he poured his youthful energy into environmental advocacy because he believed that he “had largely missed one great American struggle, civil rights, and…did not want to miss another.” The author writes modestly of his distinguished career, explaining the jobs he held and the ones he didn’t get, offers generous praise to those who taught him and helped him along the way, and gives a nod to the role played by sheer good luck. Beyond the biographical data, though, Speth is using his memoir to send a message developed in his earlier books: Red Sky at Morning, The Bridge at the Edge of the World and America the Possible. The author pulls no punches in charging that the environmental movement, working within the system, is facing failure, and he asserts that lack of leadership on the issue of climate change “is probably the greatest dereliction of civic responsibility in the history of the Republic.” In Speth’s view, the only option left is to change our political economy from one that gives top priority to profit, production and power to one that values people, place and planet.

Both a personal account of a long career dedicated to the environment and a fervent plea for major reform.

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1603585859
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Chelsea Green
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2014


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