American Earth – Book Review

American Earth Book CoverAmerican Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau, edited by Bill McKibben, with a foreword by Al Gore, is a hefty tome published in 2008.

The book of over a 1,000 pages covers a period of more than 150 years and includes writing by famous and not so famous people on a wide variety of environmental related topics.

Book Review

Those who embark upon reading American Earth will find a collection of essays, articles, and excerpts written by environmentalists, naturalists, politicians, scientists, activists, and “regular” people.

McKibben introduces each piece of writing with the reason for its inclusion in the book and a brief bio of the author.

The book opens with an excerpt from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and wraps up with an essay by Rebecca Soinit, entitled The Thoreau Problem. In between, readers will find a wealth of writing by diverse authors, including:

  • My First Summer in the Sierra, by naturalist John Muir
  • About Trees, by Arbor Day founder, J. Sterling Morton
  • A Sand County Almanac, by ecologist Aldo Leopold
  • Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks, by Edward Abbey, one-time National Park ranger, and lifelong environmental activist
  • The Beginning, by Earth Day founder, Denis Hayes
  • The Third Planet: Operating Instructions, by David Brower, first executive director of the Sierra Club
  • Love Canal: My Story, by environmentalist Lois Marie Gibbs
  • The Dubious Rewards of Consumption, by Sightline Institute founder and executive director, Alan Durning
  • Planet of Weeds, by science and nature writer, David Quammen
  • The Legacy of Luna, by environmentalist and a literal tree hugger, Julia Butterfly Hill

Rounding out the book is a chronology of the environmental movement, photos, cartoons, and an occasional chart.

The Bottom Line

Bill McKibben is a well-known and respected environmentalist, writer, activist, and the co-founder of He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Although the size of the book may seem daunting, the essays are short, anywhere from 1 to 25 pages or so. This makes it easy to pick up the book, read a few items, set it aside and come back to it later.

Readers of American Earth will come away with a good background in the environmental movement as well as food for thought and action.

I enjoyed reading essays and excerpts by people I knew of but had not read as well as those who were new to me. Some of the pieces I had read before, I liked some better than others, and a few I skipped over.

I recommend American Earth to anyone interested in the environment and the future of planet earth.

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

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