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Muir Mania | Books | Web


Naturally Republican
The Greening of Conservative America by John R. E. Bliese (Westview Press, $27)

Conservative politics and conservation may seem incompatible, but according to Texas Tech communications professor John Bliese, this was not always the case.

Examining the differences between the two principal strains of American conservative thought, libertarianism and traditionalism, Bliese documents how both call for vastly greater respect for the natural and human environment than most modern conservatives accord them. His citations from the fathers of U.S. conservatism--thinkers like Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, and Frank Meyer--are striking when set against the diatribes of a Tom Delay.

For example, Weaver wrote that nature "is the creation of a Creator. There follows . . . an important deduction, which is that man has a duty of veneration towards nature and the natural. Nature is not something to be fought, conquered, and changed according to any human whims." John Muir never said it better.

Bliese also shows how basic conservative principles should be applied to the management of forests, regulation of toxic chemicals, and protection of endangered species. With an eclectic approach, he draws on analysts not thought of as conservative--like Amory Lovins on energy--but applies their scientific and economic findings within a conservative framework. Bliese's pioneering work will help conservatives reclaim their movement from the ideologues who have stolen it. He also gives environmentalists some powerful arguments against politicians and lobbyists who claim that their ideas are rooted in conservative philosophy, rather than greed.
--Carl Pope

Deconstructing Thoreau
No Man's Garden: Thoreau and a New Vision for Civilization and Nature by Daniel B. Botkin (Island Press, $24.95)

Henry David Thoreau, famed as a hermit and icon of technophobia who escaped to the woods, was actually a sociable fellow who engineered devices for his family's pencil factory and worked as a professional surveyor. While at Walden Pond, writes ecologist Daniel Botkin, "Thoreau went into town almost every day . . . and entertained many guests in his cabin on the lake." He made his premier wilderness excursion with his older brother, and trekked with friends and Indian guides in later years.

Why this matters, Botkin contends, is that the myth of Thoreau as a lone woodsman perpetuates the notion that "real" nature exists apart from ordinary life. "When we focus on the idea of nature, it is a focus on the environment of our vacations and of places we rarely experience directly. This leads to a peculiar idea about nature and our personal relationship with it. . . . The result is a false dualism: Nature is out there, to be admired, preserved, revered; life is here, in the home or on the curb or where the tarmac runs into the mud." Ironically, this dualistic attitude that Botkin criticizes has often damaged the very wilderness it purports to revere. Solitude reduced to mere privacy has become an attractive commodity marketed by developers colonizing the wild. By contrast, Thoreau's solitude gave him an observant intimacy with nature that enriched his relation to others. In helping us understand this through a fresh reading of the neighborly naturalist, Botkin does a great favor both for distant wilderness and the habitat of our own backyards.
--Bob Schildgen

Natural Law
Messages From Frank's Landing: A Story of Salmon, Treaties, and the Indian Way by Charles Wilkinson (University of Washington Press, $22.50)

A dangerous dance is being performed among the Bonneville Power Administration, Northwest tribes, and Californians thirsty for energy. The reality of too many demands on too little water is forcing tough decisions on resource allocation. Nature generally takes a backseat in the Northwest.

As a model for a less reckless relation to the environment, Charles Wilkinson gives us the Nisqually Tribe, whose territory once stretched from Mt. Rainier to south Puget Sound. Using interviews, photos, and maps, as well as his experience in Native-rights law, he sketches the tribe's history from its salmon-fishing basis to the genocidal relocation and integration programs of the U.S. government to modern protest.

Linking civil rights and environmental integrity, Wilkinson vividly recreates the Nisqually struggle to maintain salmon fishing rights guaranteed by an 1854 treaty. Lengthy court battles culminated in the 1974 Boldt decision, which gave the Nisqually rights to half the salmon harvest.

"As a lawyer," writes Wilkinson, "I once believed that law could change the world. I no longer think of it that way. The world changes only as new ethics mature. Then the laws change to reflect the new ethics." In Wilkinson's engaging story, the Nisqually's attempt to balance human needs with nature becomes a parable of these new ethics.
--Christian Martin

At a glance
Texas Mountains Photographs by Laurence Parent; text by Joe Nick Patoski (University of Texas Press, $39.95)
From Guadalupe to Sierra Diablo, Parent and Patoski share the beauty and history, geological and human, of Texas's high country.

New from Sierra Club Books
Wild L.A.: A Celebration of the Natural Areas in and Around the City by James Lawrence. A field of poppies is among the many wildland surprises of Los Angeles. The work of the renowned photographers reveals a rich natural world in and near the megalopolis.

Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Rights, and Oil in the Niger Delta, by Ike Okonta and Oronto Douglas, is a firsthand account of Shell Oil's destruction of the Nigerian environment and the indigenous struggle against the oil giant.

Breaking Gridlock: Moving Toward Transportation That Works, by Jim Motavalli, shows how mass transit can provide relief from sprawl and car wars.

Order these titles from the Sierra Club Store by phone (415) 977-5600, through our Web site, or by writing the store at 85 Second Street, 2nd floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.

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