A worthy tribute and a good lesson on the conservation movement.

THE WILDNESS WITHIN

REMEMBERING DAVID BROWER

A tribute to David Brower (1912–2000), father of the modern environmental movement, on what would have been his 100th birthday.

Nature writer Kenneth Brower (A Song for Satawal, 2009, etc.) interviewed 20 environmental leaders about his father’s influence on their lives and conservation. The result is an engaging compilation that serves as a balanced testimony to Brower's leadership and an eloquent and candid insider reflection on the movement and how it has changed (more institutionalized, less about fundamental grassroots change). The book also works well as an analysis of effective advocacy and business/nonprofit leadership. After dropping out of Berkeley and establishing himself as an elite mountain climber, Brower became the first executive director of the Sierra Club in 1952. He proceeded to transform it from a "hiking fraternity" to an influential conservation advocacy organization. In 1969, the board of directors he built fired him in a controversy that would repeat itself at Friends of the Earth in 1986. These episodes of conflict are never fully deconstructed in the book, but rather referenced in discussions of David Brower's inimitable leadership style. He was a "visionary with the ability to articulate that vision" and a charismatic, bold, decisive speaker who inspired young people. He was uncompromising in his purpose and would act on urgent matters with little consideration for funding, but was personally shy and a bad manager. The interview content can feel rambling, and the litany of names is difficult to navigate for readers unfamiliar with his story. But the informal style captures the energy and immediacy of the contributors' passion for the cause and respect for one another. By addressing the work of others in the field, and not just their impressions of Brower, the author avoids sappy reverence and does justice to his father's cause by tracing the movement as a whole.

A worthy tribute and a good lesson on the conservation movement.

Pub Date: May 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59714-186-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Heyday

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!

SILENT SPRING

It should come as no surprise that the gifted author of The Sea Around Us and its successors can take another branch of science—that phase of biology indicated by the term ecology—and bring it so sharply into focus that any intelligent layman can understand what she is talking about.

Understand, yes, and shudder, for she has drawn a living portrait of what is happening to this balance nature has decreed in the science of life—and what man is doing (and has done) to destroy it and create a science of death. Death to our birds, to fish, to wild creatures of the woods—and, to a degree as yet undetermined, to man himself. World War II hastened the program by releasing lethal chemicals for destruction of insects that threatened man’s health and comfort, vegetation that needed quick disposal. The war against insects had been under way before, but the methods were relatively harmless to other than the insects under attack; the products non-chemical, sometimes even introduction of other insects, enemies of the ones under attack. But with chemicals—increasingly stronger, more potent, more varied, more dangerous—new chain reactions have set in. And ironically, the insects are winning the war, setting up immunities, and re-emerging, their natural enemies destroyed. The peril does not stop here. Waters, even to the underground water tables, are contaminated; soils are poisoned. The birds consume the poisons in their insect and earthworm diet; the cattle, in their fodder; the fish, in the waters and the food those waters provide. And humans? They drink the milk, eat the vegetables, the fish, the poultry. There is enough evidence to point to the far-reaching effects; but this is only the beginning,—in cancer, in liver disorders, in radiation perils…This is the horrifying story. It needed to be told—and by a scientist with a rare gift of communication and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Already the articles taken from the book for publication in The New Yorker are being widely discussed. Book-of-the-Month distribution in October will spread the message yet more widely.

The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!  

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1962

ISBN: 061825305X

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1962

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