Category Archives: Book Reviews

Cut it all down and plow it all under?

Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great WestNature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West by William Cronon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I was more into the Midwest I might have given this title yet another star. Even so, the perspective of the mid to late 19th century conversion of the Midwest from natural landscape to a completely extracted farm was enlightening. Excruciating, but enlightening. The prairies were plowed under on farms made possible by converting the great northern forests to lumber. Chicago markets and finance made it all possible.

The voraciousness of markets and the shortsighted lure of immediate profits spell doom and destruction for natural and wild landscapes. The 19th century mindset held no conception that the natural world was a limited resource. And one that is necessary to the maintenance of life.

How does the culture get changed to become aware and develop some reverence for the natural world? Books like this help.

View all my reviews

Review: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great example of how to distill a lot of history and political philosophy down to a pocket primer of pragmatic advice. I would feel better if everyone I knew read this and kept it handy and then asked everyone they knew to read it too. Continue reading

Review: Environmentalists: An Eyewitness Account from the Heart of America

Environmentalists: An Eyewitness Account from the Heart of America
Environmentalists: An Eyewitness Account from the Heart of America by Steven D. Paulson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Round about 2007-2008 my son had graduated from Prescott College with a degree in environmental studies and was searching for his place in the workforce. Judging by the magazine covers on my coffee table at the time, I thought Nick might be catching a wave. Going “green” was all the rage. Then the Great Recession hit, the smartphone came out, and the culture wars erupted, knocking the nascent environmental movement off the front page and on to the back of the bus, perhaps under the bus. “Environmentalist” weirdly even became a negative, dismissive epithet.

Which is absurd. Continue reading

Review: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was given this book by Kirtly Parker Jones, the chair of our board at Torrey House Press. I tell my kids they can put “Better Lucky Than Smart” on my tombstone and Kirtly is an example of why. She is as wise, gentle and insightful as they come and I know her simply because I built a house prominently in her viewshed in Torrey. Continue reading

Review: Raising Wild: Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness

Raising Wild: Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness
Raising Wild: Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness by Michael Branch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Michael Branch completely had me at “Bug.” I too have a vivacious, curious, energetic daughter I raised in the Great Basin and that I nicknamed “Bug.” Although mine was raised not in the wild but in the suburbs of Salt Lake City on the east edge of the Basin with only frequent trips to the Wasatch Mountains and to a remote second home high in the center of the Colorado Plateau. That and she is 32 years old already. Continue reading

Review: All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found

All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found
All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found by Philip Connors

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ALL THE WRONG PLACES is a hero’s journey and the story of the emergence of one of the best of the West’s new writers.

I had the pleasure of meeting Phil Connors at an Association for the Study of Literature and Environment writer’s conference where he was a speaker. Dave Foreman was there too and the three of us had lunch along with my wife and publisher at Torrey House Press, Kirsten Allen. Kirsten ended up sitting with three men who had lost their brothers by their brother’s own hand. It was a moving experience for me, one I still feel and am grateful for. Continue reading

A Book Can Still Make a Difference

Spine-Continent_CVRLast night Kirsten and went to a lecture by Michael Soule’, father of the conservation biology movement. I credit Soule for adding value back to his science of ecology by doing something about it, including founding the Wildlands Network to create wildlife corridors that enable adequate migration to protect species’ necessary genetic diversity.

The fight to conserve the environment is a never ending battle but one Soule’, quoting the Dalai Lama, reminds us to never give up on. Soule’ mentioned it is tougher now because with the advent of smart phones people read less. Conservation can be a bit complex but it is hard to get such ideas across in a tweet. Yet he did have a success story. Our friend Mary Ellen Hannibal’s recent book, The Spine of the Continentwhile not quite on best seller lists was nonetheless read by Jody Allen, billionaire Paul Allen’s sister and Ms. Allen is perhaps interested in pointing some money in the direction of Wildlands Network.  Soule was obviously thrilled.

We fortuitously met Mary Ellen when she was researching the book, camping with her and other friends of the Grand Canyon Trust in the high forests of southern Utah.  It will be fun to watch how any contribution Wildlands Network might get as a result of Mary Ellen’s book works out.  I’ll keep an eye out.