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The Green Life: Book Review Wednesday: Stories from the Gulf

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March 30, 2011

Book Review Wednesday: Stories from the Gulf

6a00d83451b96069e20147e3665777970b-200wi Every Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. Today we're recommending books about the Gulf Coast.

Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout (By Bob Cavnar, $15, Chelsea Green, 2011): This author’s insider status sets his book apart — Cavnar is a 30-year veteran of the oil and gas industry and was even the victim of a gas-well fire back in 1981. He explains how exactly the regulatory systems and inner structures of oil companies like BP allowed the 2010 spill to occur. In addition, he delves into how the Obama administration could have improved its response. While serving as an indictment of the workings of the oil industry, the book also provides ways to avoid repeat performances, including lobbying reform, tougher regulations, and technology improvements.

Losing Ground: Identity and Loss in Coastal Louisiana (By David M. Burley, $40, University Press of Mississippi, 2010): This book explores the fragility of the Gulf Coast ecosystem through the voices of those who know it best: residents of coastal Louisiana. Exploring their strong sense of place, Burley revisited the region many times while writing to capture changing perceptions in the wake of disasters. With a land-rate loss of roughly 24 square miles per year, the Gulf Coast is changing fast; nowhere is that more evident than in the voices of Burley’s book.

Blowout in the Gulf: The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America (By William R. Freudenburg and Robert Gramling, $19, MIT Press, 2010): For a comprehensive and systematic walk-through of how the BP spill played out before, during, and after the Macondo blowout, this book's a good pick. Exploring the technical side of things without sacrificing readability, the authors explain the disaster in its social, political, and scientific contexts. In addition to pinpointing those who are at fault, the book takes a wider stance, advocating the need to turn our backs on an oil-based economy in favor of new energy sources.

Shadows on the Gulf: A Journey Through Our Last Great Wetland (By Rowan Jacobsen, $25, Bloomsbury USA, 2011): This book takes a different approach when it comes to the disaster in the Gulf — as bad as the events of April 20, 2010 were, Jacobsen believes the real ecological damage had already been done before the spill. Jacobsen highlights problems such as non-point-source pollution, over-shrimping, and extensive coastal engineering as the culprits of the region's degradation. The author’s passion for the ecosystem is clear; like many others, he's intent on preserving the oyster reefs, fish nurseries, and critical habitat for waterfowl and migratory bird species. However, he believes that once we finally clean up the oil slick, we’ll be starting at square one.

A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout (By Carl Safina, $25, Crown Publishing, 2011): In another comprehensive account of the spill, this work seeks out the voices of those whose livelihoods depend on the Gulf: fishermen, oystermen, and oilmen. Taking a month-by-month approach, Safina punctuates his account with astonishing facts to convey the disaster's sheer magnitude. A seasoned environmental writer, Safina’s mixture of factual reporting and prose makes his account of the spill a gripping read.

--Rosie Spinks

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