This is an anthology of many voices—from Henry David Thoreau, writing from Concord in 1837, to Bill McKibben, the editor of this volume, composing his introduction high in the Yosemite backcountry last year. American Earth contains essays, speeches, and poems by roughly one hundred contributors. Everyone in this book is strong-minded, strong-willed, and strong-stomached, and every piece in this anthology is committed at heart to being useful, instructive, and reasonable. There are no Lear-like screams here, nothing like the final dementia of someone who realizes he’s traded his birthright for nothing.
Most of the authors in American Earth would agree in principle with Wendell Berry when he explains that he doesn’t like having to choose sides in a debate between extremists who believe that returning to nature will save us and extremists who think that technology will. “I would prefer to stay in the middle,” Berry writes, “not to avoid taking sides, but because I think the middle is a side, as well as the real location of the problem.” Since those words were written, twenty-one years ago, the edges have closed in. In the late ’90s, the middle of the debate looked to Julia Butterfly Hill like two years living in the crown of a redwood tree. From the bitter end of the Bush administration, Hill’s middle looks like a surprisingly sweet-natured place, as middling as Thoreau’s cabin outside Concord.
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