Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

The ancient Biblical story of Noah and the Ark tells how humans and God worked together to save the biota of the Earth from an ecological catastrophe. To survive the Flood and repopulate the Earth with humans and animals, Noah brought all the animals on board the Ark with his family – two by two. This provides the template for our Short List – two choices from each section!

If you are looking for a place to start with your reading on the environment, we suggest you begin with one of our favorite recommendations listed below.

Short List of Best Recommended Books on Biodiversity

The Diversity of LifeThe Diversity of Life
Edward O. Wilson

In this book a master scientist tells the story of how life on earth evolved. Pulitzer Prize winner Wilson eloquently describes how the species of the world became diverse and why that diversity is threatened today as never before. "The most important scientific book of the year." The Boston Globe 2010, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

Precious HeritagePrecious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States
Bruce A. Stein

This comprehensive book analyzes patterns of biological diversity in the U.S. The country's 200,000 species are not faring well. Roughly one-third are at risk: 500 are already extinct or missing. Precious Heritage identifies the first ever "hot spots" where conservation efforts would be especially important and challlenges us to consider the scale of habitat conservation that will be needed to protect entire ecological systems. 2000, Oxford University Press

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Conflict Resolution

Contested NatureContested Nature: Promoting International Biodiversity and Social Justice in the Twenty-First Century
Steven R. Brechin

How can the international conservation movement protect biological diversity, while at the same time safeguarding the rights and fulfilling the needs of people, particularly the poor? Contested Nature argues that to be successful in the long term, social justice and biological conservation must go hand in hand. The protection of nature is a complex social enterprise, and much more a process of politics, and of human organization, than ecology. Using case studies, the book shows that pursuing social justice enhances biodiversity conservation rather than diminishing it, and that the fate of local peoples and that of conservation are completely intertwined. 2003, State University of New York Press

Resource WarsResource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict
Michael T. Klare

Demand by rapidly growing populations for scarce resources is the most likely cause of wars in the 21st century, Klare says. He describes rapidly increasing demand for resources as the world industrializes; the concentration of resources in unstable states; and the competing claims to ownership of these resources by neighboring states. He sees the potential for conflict over oil in the Persian Gulf and in the Caspian and South China Seas; over water in the Nile Basin and other multinational river systems; and over timber, gems and minerals from Borneo to Sierra Leone. Finite resources, escalating demand and the location of resources in regions torn by ethnic and political unrest all combine as preconditions of war. Klare presents a persuasive case for paying serious attention to these impending hostilities and furnishes the basic information needed to understand their danger and the importance of international cooperation in staving off conflict. 2002, Holt

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Conservation

Rewilding North AmericaRewilding North America: A Vision For Conservation In The 21St Century
Dave Foreman

Activist Dave Foreman details human impacts on species survival, including direct killing, habitat loss and fragmentation, introduction of exotic species, and climate change. He shows how wildlands networks instead of isolated protected areas are the logical next step for the conservation movement. An inspiring and empowering call to action for scientists, activists and laypeople. 2004, Island

The Unnatural History of the SeaThe Unnatural History of the Sea
Callum Roberts

Marine conservation biologist Roberts presents a devastating account of the effects of fishing on the sea. Once-abundant acquatic life has declined to the point where we probably have less than 5% of the total mass of fish that once swam in Europe's seas. Industrial fishing has virtually eliminated entire species. He argues persuasively for the establishment of marine reserves - protected areas where fish stocks have a chance to recover. This book is a vivid reminder of what we've lost and a plea to save what is left. 2007, Island Press

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Ecological Economics and Sustainability

Natural CapitalismNatural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
Paul Hawken, Amroy Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins

Natural Capitalism shows how leading-edge companies are practicing "a new type of industrialism" that is more efficient and profitable while saving the environment and creating jobs. The authors write that in the next century, cars will get 200 miles per gallon without compromising safety and power, manufacturers will relentlessly recycle their products, and the world's standard of living will jump without further damaging natural resources. They call their approach natural capitalism because it's based on the principle that business can be good for the environment - and the tools are at hand to make it work. A fascinating and provocative read. 2000, Back Bay Books

The Sustainability RevolutionThe Sustainability Revolution: Portrait of a Paradigm Shift
Andres R. Edwards

Edwards examines sustainability issues in five major sectors of society: community, commerce, natural resources, ecological design and the biosphere. Sustainability Revolution emphasizes the importance of an attitude of stewardship of the Earth's resources; the need for economic restructuring promoting no waste and equitable distribution of resources; an understanding and respect for the principles of nature; the restoration of life forms; and an intergeneratinal perspective on solutions. The book describes innovative sustainable projects and policies in Colombia, Brazil, India and the Netherlands. 2005, New Society Publishers

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Ecological Footprint - The Human Impact on the Earth

The Future EatersThe Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australian Lands and People
Tim F. Flannery

Coevolution is the key to survival of all species, maintains Flannery as he uses the isolated lands of Australia and Caledonia as a "lab" to demonstrate what he means. When the landmass of Australia separated itself some 36 million years ago, it began to develop its unique flora and fauna. When the indigenous peoples colonized Australia 50,000 years ago they quickly hunted most large animals to extinction, consuming without replacing resources they would need in the future; later-arriving Europeans destroyed even more. With this domination approach, each new territory that was colonized presented opportunities for wealth, population growth, leisure; but the cost is invariably great - populations soar, then drop as food sources become extinct or soil is exhausted. 2002, Grove Press

Something New Under the SunSomething New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World
J. R. McNeill, John Robert McNeill and Paul Kennedy

In the last century, the authors write, the industrialized and developing nations of the world have wrought damage to nearly every part of the globe. Soil degradation now affects one-third of Earth's land surface, though intensive fertilizer use and genetic engineering of crops have masked the ill effects. From Mexico City to Calcutta, from China to Africa, megacities choke on air pollution as economic development takes priority over other concerns. Acid rain has decimated lake and river life, crops and forests across Europe and North America. Something New documents the pollution of oceans and seas; worldwide deforestation; the unchecked "harvesting" of fish and whales; disruptive invasions by new species; and the massive impact on ecosystems resulting from urbanization, population growth, wars, oil spills,and nuclear power accidents. 2001, W. W. Norton

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Ecology

Earth in the BalanceEarth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit
Al Gore

Former Vice President Al Gore focuses on the threats that everyday choices pose to our climate, water, soil, and diversity of plant and animal life. A passionate, lifelong defender of the environment, Gore describes how human actions and decisions can endanger or safeguard the vulnerable ecosystem that sustains us. 2006, Rodale Books

The World Without UsThe World Without Us
Alan Weisman

Teasing out the consequences of a simple thought experiment - what would happen if the human species were suddenly extinguished? - Weisman has written a sort of pop-science ghost story, in which the whole earth is the haunted house. New York City subways would fill with water, forests would retake the buckled streets, and land freed from mankind's environmentally poisonous footprint would quickly reconstitute itself. After thousands of years, the earth might revert to Eden. Thought-provoking.
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 2007
2007, Thomas Dunne Books

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Environmental Education

Ecological LiteracyEcological Literacy: Educating our Children for a Sustainable World
Michael Stone and Zenobia Barlow, editors

Continually updated, this has been the standard advanced text in ecology for 20 years. This new edition includes new chapters on applied ecology, reflecting a rigorous, scientific approach to the ecological problems now facing mankind. Interdependence between the organisms that constitute an ecosystem is demonstrated by understanding flows of energy and matter through the ecosystem. The essential reference for a thorough understanding of ecology. 2005, Wiley

Last Child in the WoodsLast Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
Richard Louv

Today's kids are increasingly disconnected from the natural world. A 2002 British study reported that 8-year-olds can identify Pokemon characters far more easily than they could name "otter, beetle and oak tree." The author of this stimulating book argues for a return to an awareness of and appreciation for the natural world. Not only can nature teach kids science and nurture their creativity, he says, nature needs its children: where else will its future stewards come from? 2008, Algonquin Books; Updated and Expanded edition

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Environmental Psychology

EcopsychologyEcopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind
Allen D. Kanner

This pathfinding collection shows how the health of the planet is inextricably linked to the psychological health of humanity, individually and collectively. Ecopsychology is both a new beginning for environmentalism and a revolution in modern psychology. 1995, Sierra Club Books

Nature and the Human SoulNature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World
Bill Plotkin

Psychologist, eco-therapist, and wilderness guide Plotkin presents a new model of the whole of human life and spirituality for a world in dire ecological need, spoiled by patho-adolescent society. Nature and the Human Soul calls us to a fresh conception of individual and collective evolutionary life genuinely reconnected to the wild of nature. Using the indigenous template of the four compass directions, Plotkin describes eight stages on the wheel of spiritual development - the Innocent, Explorer, Thespian, Wanderer, Soul Apprentice, Artisan, Master and Sage. The Wheel is a deep-structure portrait of nature-and-soul-oriented cultures, a portrait that encompasses child-raising practices, core values, stages of growth, rites of passage, community organization, and relationship to the greater Earth community. Graceful prose is counterbalanced with diagrams and clear chapter structure. Plotkin offers an essential, weighty book for our perilous times. 2007, New World Library

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Environmentalism and the Environmental Movement

Blessed UnrestBlessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming
Paul Hawken

Environmentalist Paul Hawken believes that we are in the midst of a world-changing rise of activist groups, all "working toward ecological sustainability and social justice." Neither ideological nor centralized, this coalescence of activism is a spontaneous and organic response to the recognition that environmental problems are social-justice problems. Hawken compares this gathering of forces to the human immune system as people are joining together to defend life on Earth. Hopeful and inspiring. 2008, Penguin

Break ThroughBreak Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility
Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus

The authors argue that the politics that dealt with acid rain and smog can't deal with global warming. In short, "environmentalism" must die so that something new can be born. Break Through articulates a new politics for a new century, one focused on aspirations, not complaints; human possibility, not limits. What the new ecological crises demand is that we unleash a new kind of economic development. We cannot tear down the old energy economy before building the new one. The invention of the internet and microchips, the creation of the space program, the birth of the European Union - those break throughs were only made possible by big and bold investments in the future. The era of small thinking is over, the authors claim. We must go beyond small-bore environmentalism and interest-group liberalism to create a politics focused as much on uncommon greatness as the common good. 2007, Houghton Mifflin

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Global Warming and Climate Change

Field Notes from a CatastropheField Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change
Elizabeth Kolbert

Kolbert's calmly persuasive reporting stands out for its sobering clarity. She lets facts rather than polemics tell the story. In essence it's that earth is now nearly as warm as it has been at any time in the last 420,000 years and is on the precipice of an unprecedented "climate regime, one with which modern humans have had no prior experience." 2006, Bloomsbury USA

An Inconvenient TruthAn Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It
Al Gore

Former Vice President Al Gore calls our climate crisis a true planetary emergency and says that it represents both danger and opportunity. He calls for raising fuel ecomony in vehicles, launching a serious renewable energy program, and calls upon Americans to take the lead in taking action to address the issues of global warming. 2006, Rodale Books

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Globalization

Globalization and Its DiscontentsGlobalization and Its Discontents
Joseph E. Stiglitz

Nobel prize-winner Stiglitz, an experienced economist, explains what globalization means in practice and offers a reasoned critique of the main institutions that govern globalization: the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. He strongly believes that globalization can be a positive force around the world, particularly for the poor, but only if the IMF, World Bank, and WTO dramatically alter the way they operate, beginning with increased transparency and a greater willingness to examine their own actions closely. This smart, provocative study contributes significantly to the ongoing debate and provides a model of analytical rigor concerning the process of assisting countries facing the challenges of economic development and transformation. 2003, W. W. Norton

The World Is FlatThe World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century
Thomas L. Friedman

What Friedman means by "flat" is "connected": the lowering of trade and political barriers and the exponential technical advances of the digital revolution that have made it possible to do business, or almost anything else, instantaneously with billions of other people across the planet. Globalization 3.0, as he calls it, is driven not by major corporations or giant trade organizations like the World Bank, but by individuals: desktop freelancers and innovative startups all over the world (but especially in India and China) who can compete - and win - not just for low-wage manufacturing and information labor but, increasingly, for the highest-end research and design work as well. Friedman also highlights the importance of what he calls "uploading" -the direct-from-the-bottom creation of culture, knowledge, and innovation through blogging, podcasts, and open-source software. 2007, Picador

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Green Building, Sustainable Design and Sustainable Development

Cradle to CradleCradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
William McDonough

In Cradle to Cradle the authors present a manifesto calling for a new industrial revolution, one that would render both traditional manufacturing and traditional environmentalism obsolete. Recycling, for instance, is actually "downcycling," creating byproducts which are then unrecoverable and unuseable. The authors want to eliminate the concept of waste alltogether, while preserving commerce and allowing for human nature. This is a handbook for 21st century innovation. 2002, North Point Press

The Green Building RevolutionThe Green Building Revolution
Jerry Yudelson

The green building movement, with its principles of human-centered, environmentally sensitive development is showing us how we can have healthier indoor environments that use far less energy and water than conventional buildings do. This book shows readers how to start thinking about designing, building, and operating high performance, environmentally aware (LEED-certified) buildings on conventional budgets. 2007, Island Press

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Indigenous People - Cultural Survival

A Global History of Indigenous PeoplesA Global History of Indigenous Peoples: Struggle and Survival
Ken S. Coates

This book spans the period from the pivotal migrations which saw the peopling of the world to the present, and examines the processes by which tribal peoples established themselves as separate from surplus-based and more material societies. It considers the impact of the policies of domination and colonization which brought dramatic change to indigenous cultures. 2004, Palgrave Macmillan

Paradigm WarsParadigm Wars: Indigenous Peoples' Resistance to Globalization
Jerry Mander

This book documents the momentous collision of worldviews that pits the forces of economic globalization against the Earth's surviving indigenous peoples. Since many of the planet's dwindling resources are located on lands inhabited by native communities, they are now the direct target of giant global corporations who desperately need them to fuel their own unsustainable growth. In first-hand reports Paradigm Wars details the devastating impacts of extractive industries and bioprospecting, the degrading of cultural artifacts and languages, and even the damage done by some well-meaning conservation groups. The book highlights how indigenous communities are strongly resisting this onslaught, often with amazing success. 2006, Sierra Club Books

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Nature and Spirituality

The CreationThe Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth
Edward O. Wilson

Addressing a hypothetical "Dear Pastor," Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist issues a forthright call for unity between religion and science in order to save the creation - living nature which is in deep trouble. Forget about arguing over life's origins, Wilson suggests, and focus on the fact that while nature achieves sustainability through complexity, human activities are driving myriad species into extinction, thus depleting the biosphere and jeopardizing civilization. Wilson celebrates individual species, each a masterpiece of biology, and acutely analyzes the nexus between nature and the human psyche. He refutes fantasies about humanity's ability to recreate nature's intricate web, and deplores the use of religious belief (God will take care of it) as an impediment to conservation. 2007, W. W. Norton

The Dream of the EarthThe Dream of the Earth
Thomas Berry

Berry explores human - Earth relations and seeks a new, non-anthropocentric approach to the natural world. He says that our immediate danger is not nuclear war but industrial plundering. He urges movement and education toward a "biocracy" that will heal the earth. "This volume quite possibly is one of the ten most important books of the 20th century." Dr. Donald B. Conroy 2006, Sierra Club Books

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Organic Gardening and Organic Farming

Animal, Vegetable, MiracleAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
Barbara Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver and Steven L. Hopp

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle chronicles the year that novelist Barbara Kingsolver, along with her husband and two daughters, made a commitment to become locavores–those who eat only locally grown foods. They moved to the family farm in Virginia, where they began growing and raising their own food and supporting local farmers. For teens who grew up on supermarket offerings, the notion not only of growing one's own produce but also of harvesting one's own poultry was as foreign as the concept that different foods relate to different seasons. While the volume begins as an environmental treatise–the oil consumption related to transporting foodstuffs around the world is enormous–it ends, as the year ends, in a celebration of the food that physically nourishes even as the recipes and the memories of cooks and gardeners past nourish our hearts and souls. 2008, Harper Perennial

Tauton's Complete Guide to Growing Vegetables and HerbsTaunton's Complete Guide to Growing Vegetables and Herbs
Ruth Lively

From planning and planting to harvesting, this is the most comprehensive and authoritative guide to growing your own vegetables and herbs. First-rate gardening pros share their expertise on designing a garden of any size, as well as fundamentals about soil, irrigation, pest control, crop rotation, and more. With detailed advice on growing 85 crops, plus sidebars on how to make a garden as attractive as it is productive, readers will delight in finding all the information they’ll ever need on vegetable gardening in one place. 2011, Taunton Press

Short List of Best Recommended Books on Population Growth

The Empty CradleThe Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity And What to Do About It
Phillip Longman

Overpopulation has long been a global concern. But between modern medicine and reduced fertility, world population may in fact be shrinking--and is almost certain to do so by the time today's children retire. The troubling implications for our economy and culture include: the possibility of a fundamentalist revival due to the decline of secular fertility; the threat to the free market as the supply of workers and consumers declines; and the eventual collapse of the American health care system as inordinate expenses are incurred by an aging population. Phillip Longman's uncompromisingly sensible solutions fly in the face of traditional ideas. State intervention is necessary, he argues, to combat the effects of an aging population. We must provide incentives for young families, and we cannot close our eyes and hope for the best as an entire generation approaches retirement age. 2004, Basic Books

Outgrowing the EarthOutgrowing The Earth
Lester R. Brown

The author dramatically details how human demands are outstripping the earth's capacities - and what we need to do about it. Future security, Brown says, depends on raising water productivity, stabilizing climate by moving beyond fossil fuels, and slowing population growth. 2005, W. W. Norton

Sparing NatureSparing Nature: The Conflict Between Human Population Growth and Earth's Biodiversity
Jeffrey K. McKee

Every day there is a net gain of more than 200,000 people on the planet. McKee demonstrates that nature is too sparing to accomodate both a richly diverse living world and a rapidly expanding number of people. He argues that the single most effective measure to save earth's biodiversity is to slow the growth of human populations. 2005, Rutgers University Press

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Sustainable Agriculture

EcoagricultureEcoagriculture: Strategies To Feed the World and Save Wild Biodiversity
Future Harvest, Jeffrey A. McNeely, Sara J. Scherr

The authors show how agricultural landscapes can be designed more creatively to take the needs of human populations into account while also protecting and enhancing biodiversity. It features a wealth ofreal-world case studies that demonstrate the applicability of the ideas discussed. 2002, Island Press

The Unsettling of AmericaThe Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
Wendell Barry

Poet/farmer Wendell Berry sees the environmental crisis as a crisis of character, agriculture, and culture. Because Americans are divorced from the land, they mistreat it; because they are divorced from each other, they mistreat those around them. Berry argues for thecreation of more meaningful work, the protection of the environment, and the necessity of meaningful community. 1996, Sierra Club Books

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Urbanization

Shadow CitiesShadow Cities: a Billion Squatters, a New Urban World
Robert Neuwirth

In this superbly probing book, investigative reporter Neuwirth relates the struggles and successes of some of the world's most resourceful poor people, among the one billion urban squatters in countries like Brazil, India, Kenya and Turkey. Neuwirth dismantles many common preconceptions about the so-called slums in which they live. The vast, bustling favela of Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro, for example, has distinct neighborhoods, apartments for rent, dance parties in the street and local entrepreneurs, as well as drug lords and gangs. In Nairobi's Kibera, many squatters have white-collar jobs, yet lack the income to rent more than a simple mud hut. Neuwirth closely attends to the characters, historical particularities and human potential of the squatter communities he encounters. 2004, Routledge

Sustainable UrbanismSustainable Urbanism: Urban Design With Nature
Douglas Farr

Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature is both an urgent call to action and a comprehensive introduction to "sustainable urbanism"--the emerging and growing design reform movement that combines the creation and enhancement of walkable and diverse places with the need to build high-performance infrastructure and buildings. Douglas Farr makes a powerful case for sustainable urbanism, explaining how to implement it through leadership and communication in cities, communities, and neighborhoods. The book emphasizes the practical importance of increasing sustainability through density; integrating transportation and land use; and creating sustainable neighborhoods, including housing, car-free areas, locally-owned stores, walkable neighborhoods, and universal accessibility. 2007, Wiley

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Short List of Best Recommended Books on Water Resources and Water Conservation

The Atlas of WaterThe Atlas of Water, Second Edition: Mapping the World's Most Critical Resource
Maggie Black and Jannet King

Climate change and an exponential population explosion threaten the world's supply of fresh water, edging us closer to a global water crisis, with dire implications for agriculture, the economy, the environment, and human health. Completely revised and updated since its first edition, The Atlas of Water is a compelling visual guide to the state of this life-sustaining resource. Using vivid graphics, maps, and charts, it explores the complex human interaction with water over time and across the world. 2009, University of California Press

The Big ThirstThe Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water
Charles Fishman

For the past 100 years, the developed world has enjoyed a cheap, safe, and abundant water supply, but Fishman warns that that is about to change. In an engrossing, globe-trotting narrative, he introduces the reader to people already grappling with water shortages—Patricia Mulroy, Las Vegas's no-nonsense water czar known as the best water manager in the country; the inhabitants of a neighborhood in Delhi who line up twice a day for water they must carry home. Since water cannot be created or destroyed, the challenge we face is not so much about water scarcity but rather how we can use it more equitably and protect it—the meaning of "clean" has a wholly new connotation in an era when we can pollute water in new ways with residues of medicine and plastics. 2011, Free Press

Cadillac DesertCadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water
Marc Reisner

In this stunning work of history and investigative journalism, Reisner tells the story of conflicts over water policy in the West and the resulting damage to the land, wildlife and Indians. He describes massive irrigation projects, funded by the U.S. government, that have caused many arid areas to bloom: the cities of Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles and vast areas of farmland are wholly dependent upon water brought at great cost from long distances. He calls attention to the long-term despoilation of agricultural soil through concentration of salts - the inevitable result of irrigation. A pioneering book that is still immensely valuable.
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 1986
1993, Penguin


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