Robert Pogue Harrison, professor of French and Italian literature at Stanford and author of Civilization (University of Chicago Press, 1992). Harrison cites a book by French philosopher Michel Serres, The Natural Contract (originally published in French, 1990; University of Michigan Press, 1995), which "looks at the environmental question from the perspective of the history of law.... The book argues that we need a further declaration of the rights of plants and animals and everything else that exists in nature, because nothing in nature has any real rights." Harrison also calls the former New Yorker staff writer Bill McKibben's The End of Nature (Random House, 1989) "quite inspiring." The book, says Harrison, "addresses not just natural problems ... but also what an environment means for us within a social organization."
Hannah Holmes, book review editor of Garbage, an environmental magazine. "One book that I adore," Holmes says, "is Beyond the Limits: Confronting Global Collapse, Envisioning a Sustainable Future by Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, and Jørgen Randers (Chelsea Green, 1992). The authors are systems scientists who generated via computer a series of apocalyptic scenarios. "How the world is going to end--or not end, hopefully," says Holmes. "For instance, in one scenario the human population crashes in the year 2100, but then the authors show how if we were to reduce the birthrate and increase agricultural output, we could perhaps postpone the crash indefinitely." Holmes's other favorite is Home! A Bioregional Reader, edited by Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant, and Eleanor Wright (New Society Publishers, 1990), a collection of essays, poems, and drawings "based on the idea of the human species settling into intensely local ecosystems," she says. "Bioregionalism focuses attention on all of the species in a given area, or bioregion, on the assumption that all species have to do well for any species to do well."
Max Oelschlaeger, philosophy professor at the University of North Texas and author of The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology (Yale University Press, 1991). Top on Oelschlaeger's list is poet Gary Snyder's The Practice of the Wild (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1990). According to Oelschlaeger, Snyder's tract nudges readers to study "the pattern and order of nature ... in order to move in a direction that's more sustainable and satisfying." Oelschlaeger also cites Calvin Luther Martin's In the Spirit of the Earth: Rethinking History and Time (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), which, he says, "offers a new way of conceptualizing human history that takes us beyond the boundaries we've devised over the past 2,000 years ... to admit categories we've excluded, like nonhuman others and the wilderness."
Francesca Lyman, editor of Amicus, the journal of the National Resources Defense Council. Lyman would "immediately put on the list of bests ... Barry Commoner's Making Peace with the Planet (Pantheon, 1990). This critique of the past two decades of American environmental policy by the director of biology research center (and a former presidential candidate) is, she says, "a very controversial and pointed book.... Rather than preventing pollution, Commoner says we've simply been managing it. A pollution-control ethic has spawned a pollution-control industry that is not very effective. For example, he cites the catalytic converter, which is supposed to trap 96 percent of the carbon monoxide and other pollution in automobile exhaust. It doesn't. And it doesn't solve the problem of there being more and more cars on the road." Lyman also praises Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West 18481893 (Norton, 1991), by Yale University history professor William Cronon. "Cronon's thrust is that ... our mental map is determined by how we control the environment. He's created a whole new field of study--environmental history."
Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature (1989) and The Age of Missing Information (1992). McKibben singles out poet, farmer, and English professor Wendell Berry's latest book, Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work (University Press of Kentucky, 1990), the story of a 20th-century Kentucky painter, writer, goatherd, farmer, and houseboat dweller who traveled up and down the Mississippi River at whim. Says McKibben, "Berry understands some of the essential problems--that we're so far removed from the experience of the land that it's difficult to live in any right relation to it. He presents very beautiful visions of other alternatives."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.