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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7 Things You Can Do to Benefit and Protect Birds

Hundreds of millions of birds are killed each year due to man-made structures and human activities. Our actions can benefit and protect birds and bird habitat.

Threats to Birds

  • Collision – windows, cars, power lines, communication towers, wind turbines, and aircraft.
  • Light Pollution – night sky brightness affects the ability of birds to navigate at night and may draw them toward structures.
  • Pets – cats and dogs, mostly cats.
  • Contaminants – pesticides, herbicides, lead, heavy metals, oil, and marine trash.
  • Fishing – some birds end up as unintended by-catch from commercial fishing.
  • Global Warming – causes loss of habitat and food, disruption of migratory cycles.

7 Things You Can Do to Benefit and Protect Birds

Prevent Home Window Collisions

Prevent birds from colliding with your windows by making them visible with decals or window coverings and keeping light inside your house at night.

Buy a Bird Bath

A bird bath is an inexpensive, fun, and easy way to provide birds with water to drink and bathe in. Keep it clean and filled with water.

Author's Bird BathA couple years ago, after a lengthy search, I found a suitable bird bath for our yard. It looks beat up and old. Many different birds visit to drink and bathe in it, from swifts to crows. Once, I saw a green and yellow parakeet (probably an escapee from a nearby home) perched on one side of the bird bath and several larger birds on the other. I wondered if the parakeet felt happy to be free or scared, proud to be different or like the odd one out.

Support Bird Conservation

Support birds by joining a bird conservation organization or making a donation to one. Use your right to freedom of speech to advocate for bird conservation and habitat protection at the local, state, national or international level.

Prevent Pet Predation

For those living with domestic cats, be mindful of your pet’s whereabouts and activities.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Cardinal Flower - Photo: Bill Buchanan, USFWSI like cats and we lived with cats for many years. Our cats lived outside and came in the house to be fed and when they felt like companionship. They left dead field mice and an occasional bird on the back porch. Cats are natural predators so they were just being cats. I admit at the time I did not think about how our cats contributed to the millions of birds killed by cats each year.

Provide and Protect Bird Habitat

Migratory birds need safe places to rest and eat, and all birds need safe places to live. Native plants supply food, cover, and nesting sites for birds. Bird feeders and bird houses can also provide food and shelter.

Dead Tree and Fallen Tree Provide Bird and Insect Habit in Author's YardWe live in a Monterey Pine forest and dead trees can pose a hazard to homes and utility lines (power outages are not infrequent during storms). In our yard, two dead trees near the power lines were cut off below the lines and now provide habit for birds and other wildlife. The woodpeckers seem to prefer them to pecking on our house. Small trees that have fallen down and not hit anything are left to naturally decay and provide food (insects) for birds and other animals.

Buy Bird Friendly Products

Farming methods that protect land from erosion and degradation are good for farmers, birds, and other wildlife. Buy bird friendly products like shade-grown coffee and cacao (chocolate).

Skip Pesticides, Herbicides, and Fertilizers

Author's Aphid-Free Lavender BushPesticides, herbicides, and some fertilizers are not healthful for birds or humans for that matter. Eliminate these often toxic products and save money too. Insects provide necessary food for birds. Pulling weeds by hand is good exercise. Compost helps keep soils healthy.

We now offer a toxin free yard. I do not  like creepy crawlies and was amazed at how well birds keep insect pests under control. For instance, a flock of tiny birds make short work of a new aphid colony on a lavender bush.

“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.”
—John James Audubon

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