Na­ture’s Al­lies

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews Climate Change -

Larry A. Nielsen, Is­land Press Hard­cover $28 (248pp), 978-1-61091-795-7

Fea­tur­ing short but de­tailed bi­ogra­phies, Na­ture’s Al­lies el­e­vates past and present icons of the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist move­ment.

From John Muir to Wan­gari Muta Maati, this book cov­ers ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal fig­ures roughly chrono­log­i­cally from the mid-1800s to the present day. In do­ing so, it ini­tially fo­cuses on the US but tran­si­tions to a wider world per­spec­tive about half­way through. The eth­nic and gen­der di­ver­sity of the sub­jects is a ma­jor fac­tor in the book’s fa­vor. Though the largest per­cent­age of the sub­jects are still white Amer­i­cans, this work rep­re­sents a step in the di­rec­tion of cor­rect­ing the era­sure of non-white, non-amer­i­can en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism from main­stream Amer­i­can di­a­logue. The mes­sage, one that Amer­i­cans may not of­ten hear, is that en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism is uni­ver­sal and global in scope. Na­ture’s Al­lies seems tar­geted to­ward Amer­i­cans, specif­i­cally, and could func­tion as a con­scious­ness-broad­en­ing tool for ac­tivists and stu­dents who are un­fa­mil­iar with the names of Billy Frank and Chico Men­des.

The book is brief in length, and some pro­files are more en­gag­ing than oth­ers. Oc­ca­sion­ally, as in the case of John Muir, the bios nearly be­come odes. Even with char­ac­ters who, like Aldo Leopold, might have con­sid­ered them­selves prag­matic peo­ple, the au­thor goes out of his way to high­light their ide­al­ism and moral brav­ery. He at­tempts a tricky bal­anc­ing act in ad­dress­ing the prac­ti­cal con­cerns faced by th­ese eight in­di­vid­u­als while at the same time fo­cus­ing on their en­vi­ron­men­tal pur­suits—all in un­der three hun­dred pages—and if he oc­ca­sion­ally tips into en­thu­si­asm or glosses over a rough patch, that may be for­giv­able. Re­gard­less, the notes are thor­ough and in­clude a bevy of ref­er­ences for follow-up.

Stu­dents would take well to Na­ture’s Al­lies, es­pe­cially teenagers and col­lege fresh­men con­sid­er­ing en­try into en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies. It could also func­tion well as a pop­u­lar in­tro­duc­tion to en­vi­ron­men­tal he­roes who aren’t nec­es­sar­ily house­hold names, in­clud­ing Ding Dar­ling and Gro Har­lem Brundt­land.

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