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The Green Life: Book Review Wednesday: Environmental History Books

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December 02, 2009

Book Review Wednesday: Environmental History Books

Book.tree Every Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. This week we’re recommending books that connect history with the natural world.

Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City (by Eric W. Sanderson, $40, Abrams, 2009) Using computer models, Sanderson and illustrator Markley Boyer have painstakingly recreated New York City circa 1609, when explorer Henry Hudson arrived. This beautiful book features detailed graphics and photos that depict an island home to the Lenape people, thousands of animal and plant species, and fifty-five distinct ecosystems. The book is the perfect gift for New Yorkers, conservationists, or anyone who's ever walked in a city and wondered what secrets the concrete hides.

Historical Atlas of the American West (by Derek Hayes, $40, University of California Press, 2009) Got a map geek or cartography nerd on your holiday gift list? This big, colorful collection features reproductions of over 600 original maps of the western half of the country, with some dating back to the 1700s. It's an enlightening look at what people thought about the environment and landscape of the West when it was still considered new, frontier territory.

Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose: Natural History in Early America (by Lee Alan Dugatkin, $26, University of Chicago Press, 2009) In the early days of the U.S., many scientists considered American flora and fauna inferior to European species. Incensed, Thomas Jefferson set out to prove them wrong, and used the majestic, native giant moose as a way to flaunt the natural wonders of the new country. If you want a shot of environmental patriotism, this book is a good choice.

Imperial (by William T. Vollmann, $55, Penguin, 2009) To call this massive, 1,366-page tome a mere "book" feels wrong. Award-winning writer William Vollmann spent over ten years researching California's Imperial County in the southeast corner of the state. What emerged from his study is an all-encompassing, sometimes rambling but always passionate account of the people who live and work in this harsh desert. It delves into topics like immigration, agribusiness, and exploitation of people and the environment.

The Dawn of Green (by Harriet Ritvo, $26, University of Chicago Press, 2009) In the 1870s, Manchester, England purchased Thirlmere, a country lake, and turned it into a reservoir for the city to use. The conflict surrounding the construction of the reservoir pitted industrialists against conservationists and helped launch the modern environmental movement. The book serves as a reminder that people in other places and times have struggled to preserve nature, just like us.

-- Année Tousseau



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