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Book Review | American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau

The earth is changing everyday more and more natural resources are being used up and the Earth may never be the same. How can we stop further devastation to our planet and what have we done? To be able to save our planet Earth calls for environmental stewards, however this is not a new phenomena this has been going on for some time now. The book American Earth provides different writings from all types of authors since Henry David Thoreau. The only way that we can change the way we have lived is through education and all of the authors in this book edited by Bill McKibben shows how important environmental writing is for the planet’s sake of survival.

Some of the most influential people in American History have realized that American environmentalism may be our toughest fight yet, the fight to save our planet. AL Gore ends the foreword chapter of the book by saying “ Within our rich history, we can find the wisdom and the spirit we need to disenthrall ourselves and fulfill what is perhaps our ultimate manifest destiny: to save our earth.” (Gore, foreword xix) Environmental writings have won many battles in American history; we now have many state and federal parks throughout the country as well as laws that have been passed to protect the land that we do have left. However even with the progress that we have seen we are still loosing the war against expansion that is killing habitats and forcing people to get disconnected from nature.

While the book gives excerpts of famous outdoor environmentalists like Thoreau, Muir and Leopold it also has accounts from some people that you wouldn’t have expected. Lyndon B. Johnson President of the United States is not someone who comes to mind when you think of an environmental steward, but Johnson did a great deal concerning the signing of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. While addressing congress Johnson realized that America is not only about the power of an industrial state trying to conquer its land but one whose land is important to the history and integrity of the country. Johnson states in his remarks at the signing of the highway beautification act that, “ There is a part of America which was here long before we arrived, and will be here if we preserve it, long after we depart: the forests and the flowers, the open prairies and the slope of the hills, the tall mountains, the granite, the limestone, the caliche, the unmarked trails, the winding little streams- well, this is the America that no amount of science or skill can ever recreate or actually ever duplicate.” (Johnson 396) Johnson explains how this country’s great natural areas are not just great scenery but an important part of who we are as Americans.
Rebecca Solnit is another author that has come long after Thoreau who has continued to question and try to find out how we can save our how that we call Earth. She says that we have been only focusing on part of the message and that environmentalism is about who we are and how we are going to live. (Solnit 917) She explains The Thoreau Problem being a personal feeling in the outdoors that doesn’t connect and bring people together many social and political issues as well. This is where she believes Thoreau has been naïve and blind to see that everything is connected where we can only save this planet if we do come together and battle for the greater good of the planet by fighting many issues together.
This compilation of writings from many different authors throughout American history since Henry David Thoreau shows how American environmentalism has changed and where it is going or needs to go in order to preserve what we have left of planet Earth. Since the late 1800’s and early 1900’s Americans have seen a massive change in attitude toward environmental stewards. The landscape of America is always changing, with more and more industrial progress and with further population growth where do we stand in the future? If we don’t listen to the writings of the authors throughout this book we will soon have nothing left to preserve or conserve. This issue will not go away and is only getting worse.

The authors in this book show how education and environmental writings are a crucial part in the attitude change of the common American. Without these writings there is no education on a subject that many people already know needs to be addressed and quickly. So what can you do? How can we save this Earth? By sharing our knowledge and speaking up, this is America right? Will our voice be heard, it has to otherwise we will lose the America that many of us love so much.

McKibben Bill, American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau. Literary Classics of the United States, New York NY, 2008

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