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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Evergreen Books for the Holiday Season

Air Date: Week of

Steve gets some suggestions for eco-books to give to others from Kathleen Courrier, who reviews books for the Information Please Environmental Almanac.


CURWOOD: It's the holiday season, and if you're like me you haven't prepared all of your gifts yet. I love books, so I thought I'd ask someone who reads for a living what's out this year that would work as presents for my family. Kathleen Courrier directs publications for the World Resources Institute in Washington. And she also reviews books for the Information Please Environmental Almanac. I got her on the line from Washington, and first I asked her what she'd recommend for my twelve-year-old son, who's particularly taken these days by forests and trees.

COURRIER: Actually, there's one with a perfect title: Trees. It's part of a series that Dorling Kindersley does on all aspects of nature and technology. In a way, it's an encyclopedia, but it's been described as a "museum between books" and I think that's the best way to look at it. It's not heavy on the politics, and it has wonderful visuals.

CURWOOD: OK. Well, by the way, what about a book on forest for adults?

COURRIER: Final Forest by William Dietrich is about the best piece of environmental journalism I've seen in years. It's an examination of the spotted owl-logging controversy in the Pacific Northwest, but in this book it's not a two-sided story, it's a 10-sided story and he captures the voices of not just logging interests and not just scientists, but also park rangers who are receiving mixed signals, local politicians, school teachers - people really are real people in this book and not just types. He doesn't show his own hand until the very end.

CURWOOD: Ah - and this is what sets it apart from all the others that we've seen.

COURRIER: Right. I think it's such an emotional issue that most journalists have a hard time not weighing in on about page two.

CURWOOD: Now, what about for my wife? Liza's a psychologist, she loves fine arts. We've also moved into an older house and of course it needs some work. Any books that you would suggest that would interest her?

COURRIER: Janet Marinelli's The Naturally Elegant Home. This is a sumptuous coffee table book on the possibilities for designing with the sun and the land, and it's quite different from the books of the seventies where you were supposed to have a house made out of beer cans of the 90s where your walls were wallpapered in dollar bills. There's this underlying notion of thrift - that things can be beautiful and still not cost the world.

CURWOOD: You mean I can afford the ideas that are in this book?

COURRIER: Most of them. I mean, there are a few homes to die for in this book, but a lot of them embody ideas that you could imagine in your own home.

CURWOOD: OK, now what about my oldest daughter? She's a sophomore at Bryn Mawr, and she's exploring the world, especially from the feminist perspective. Is there something on the environment for her this year?

COURRIER: A book I liked a lot is Joni Seager's Earth Follies. She's a human geographer at the University of Vermont, and she's taken a look at the environmental movement from a feminist perspective, but she doesn't really take a party line. Her main point is that we don't look closely enough at who's doing the damage and who gets hurt. She calls this a question of agency, and she looks at corporations, the military, big government, and decides that they're the problem and that the mainstream has much in common with these three "masculinist institutions", as she calls them.

CURWOOD: Now, what about for my youngest daughter. She's eight, she loves to read, she's got a big collection of Barbies, but I don't figure they're going to fit into the environment too well.

COURRIER: I can't help you with the Barbies part, but there are a couple of books that come to mind. One of them is called Save my Rainforest, by Monica Zak, and it's a book that was first published in Sweden. And it's a true story about a boy in Mexico who single-handedly tried to save the Lincondian Rainforest in southern Mexico and got as far as the president. Now the effort's still on hold, but the message to kids is that one kid can make a lot of difference and a lot of kids can really make a big difference. A series that she might also enjoy is by Judy Allen. One's called Whale, one's called Tiger, and there are Elephant and Panda. In each of these books there's a young adventurer, a child, who sets out to do something with an adult and gets separated, and has a secret knowledge or an intuition that an adult would never have that turns out to save the day.

CURWOOD: OK, now, can you help me with my sister? She's a tough one. She lives out in the country in New Hampshire. She has a cottage, she loves the trees around her, the birds around her. She loves things that really look beautiful. Do you have any ideas for her? Any coffee table book?

COURRIER: Well, Sierra Club Books has come out with a book, Save the Elephants, and I don't think she'll see any elephants looking out her window. But if she wants to fantasize, that might be a choice. I think my favorite coffee table book this year wasn't about the birds and the bees. It's called American Ground Zero and it's about the physical and the psychological fallout from bomb testing in the 50s, primarily in Utah and Nevada. This is a beautiful book - a tragic subject, but there's a kind of dignity in the photographs, and the text is really an attempt to capture the voices of these people, and to get the point across that so many years have passed now that getting a government settlement of cash is not what it's about for these people, but rather exposing what they think are misinformation and neglect.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Book critic Kathleen Courrier's list of the Best Environmental Books is in the Informational Please Environmental Almanac. And for those of you who missed the titles I'll run through her picks once again: Trees, from Dorling Kindersley Publishers; Final Forest, by William Dietrich; The Naturally Elegant Home, by Janet Marinelli; Earth Follies, by Joni Seager; Save My Rainforest, by Monica Zak; the Whale, Tiger, Elephant and Panda series by Judy Allen; the Sierra Club's Save the Elephants; and American Ground Zero: The Secret Nuclear War, by Carol Gallagher.



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