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The Green Life: Wednesday Book Roundup: Books By and About Eco-Heroes

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February 17, 2010

Wednesday Book Roundup: Books By and About Eco-Heroes

Books about environmentalismEvery Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. This week, we're recommending books by and about eco-heroes.

100 Heartbeats: The Race to Save Earth's Most Endangered Species (by Jeff Corwin, $25, Rodale, Nov. 2009): Jeff Corwin introduces us, in this accompaniment to the documentary which aired last November, to some of the planet’s most endangered species and the efforts being undertaken to save them. He alternates between cautionary tales about already extinct species and inspiring, globe-trotting anecdotes about those recovering from near extinction. He also describes the main threats to various species. Corwin fans will certainly enjoy his ecological musings.

Animal Investigators: How the World's First Wildlife Forensics Lab Is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species (by Laurel A. Neme, $25, Simon and Schuster, Apr. 2009): This book offers a fascinating glimpse into the animal kingdom’s CSI equivalent: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory. It's a one-of-a-kind institution fully dedicated to investigating wildlife crimes and staffed by scientists who painstakingly piece together the physical evidence needed to bring criminals to justice. Neme examines three particular cases involving bear gallbladders, walrus heads, and a feathered headdress from the Amazon, detailing the challenges researchers faced and how they overcame them to help stem illegal hunting and trafficking. It’s a technical read, but conservationists and the science-minded will appreciate the in-depth look at this critical line of work.

Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution (by Caroline Fraser, $28.50, Metropolitan Books, Dec. 2009): Fraser presents us with the grim reality of mass, human-induced extinction, then offers a path of retreat through a movement known as rewilding. Its three basic tenants are cores, corridors and carnivores. That is, preserve entire ecosystems, create corridors to connect them, and replenish the carnivores who keep ecosystems in balance. Fraser visits projects around the world and the heroic conservationists who tirelessly advance their cause. She also tracks the successes and pitfalls of this nascent movement, ultimately making the case for rewilding as a unifying paradigm for a global environmental movement. This is a big-picture book that genuinely inspires.

Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountain Top Removal (by Silas House and Jason Howard, $28, University Press of Kentucky, Apr. 2009): This volume recounts the testimonies of 11 people ranging from 26 to 86 years old who live, struggle, and fight in Appalachia. Each wage in their own way a relentless battle against the mining industry and its destructive practice of mountaintop removal, which has destroyed more than 1 million acres of land.  All are inspired to action by their love of home and anger at the injustice around them. A warm, personable piece of work, this book gives voice to ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things.

Taking Back Eden: Eight Environmental Cases that Changed the World (by Oliver A. Houck, $27.50, Island Press, Nov. 2010): In this work, Houck gives a historical account of something we might take for granted now – the right of an individual to litigate against major corporations in defense of the environment. He describes eight landmark cases, beginning in the early 1960s with a group of citizens who successfully halted the construction of a power plant in the Hudson River Valley, a precedent-setting case that was soon emulated worldwide. Houck takes us to Japan, the Taj Mahal, and other places where eco-heroes dared to take on powerful entities through force of law, often at extraordinary personal cost. Written in straightforward, compelling prose, this book reminds us of hard-won environmental protections.

--Wendy Becktold

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