Out of this clutch will emerge a memorable few, and Shabecoff's offering, despite its flaws, has the breadth and acuity to...

A FIERCE GREEN FIRE

THE AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT

A wide-ranging and detailed survey of the U.S. environmental tradition from ancient Americans to Al Gore, with cogitations on the squandering, sullying, and disfiguring of our land; by former veteran New York Times correspondent Shabecoff.

Ever since Americans decided to subdue nature rather than to work with it, Shabecoff observes, we have also shown an interest in protecting the environment, if only vaguely. This ambivalence has informed our way of looking at the land—as beautiful country, indeed, but also as capable of yielding a profit. The personalities and events that shaped the American environmental ethos, good and bad, are what interest Shabecoff: From Columbus to Edward Abbey by way of Jefferson, Thoreau, Muir, Commoner, Times Beach, Love Canal, Three Mile Island, Earth Day, and many more, their influence and importance appraised with the discernment only an old hand commands. Shabecoff is particularly taken with the grass-roots movements that hoisted the banner after the Reagan/Bush presidencies abdicated (he says) governmental responsibility toward the environment, and he turns a leery eye on the revamped professional environmental organizations that are inclined to cooperate with existing political and economic forces. As a reporter and historian, Shabecoff comes across smartly, his style breezy and graceful, his reach sweeping; but as a philosopher, he is less successful. He admits to being anthropocentric, but his defense for such a viewpoint in one so sensitive to the land just doesn't float. And some of his conclusions are more wishful than real—e.g., "The environmental impulse became deeply enmeshed in the nation's institutions, laws, and daily life.'' New eco-volumes have been thick on the ground since the Rio summit.

Out of this clutch will emerge a memorable few, and Shabecoff's offering, despite its flaws, has the breadth and acuity to be among them.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-8090-8459-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1992

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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