Rachel Carson

Building a library of American environmental classics:  (Part One)

Some of the most important environmental books and authors from the late 20th Century.

Building best-of lists is, if nothing else, a wonderful way to start an argument.


In that spirit, here are some of the classic books and authors from the late 20th Century that helped define the environmental movement.

Next week, to keep the argument going, I'll have a list from the first two decades of the 21st Century.

When I was in what we used to call Junior High School back in the day, I used to scour my big brother's bookshelves to read his Ivy League leftovers. One that stuck with me was The Sea Around Us, (1951) one book of an eventual trilogy of tributes to salt water from Rachel Carson, a deceased government biologist whose name I'd never heard before. It was another few years before I read Silent Spring, Carson's epic attack on DDT. Since many of you know Silent Spring, I recommend Carson's ocean books, including The Edge of the Sea and Under the Sea Wind, which is largely an update of The Sea Around Us.

The Everglades: River of Grass (1947): Marjory Stoneman Douglas' name is best known today for the 2018 massacre at her namesake high school. A newspaper reporter and prolific writer, her first book (at age 57) forced America to think of the Everglades as an ecological treasure and not a swamp full of bugs and gators. She's a good reminder, along with Rachel Carson, that the male-dominated journalism field also had women as pioneers.

Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water: Marc Reisner's 1986 epic that accurately reports the West's recent history and presciently tells its future limits.

Dumping in Dixie: (1990): Shakespeare, he's not. But Dr. Bob Bullard led us to a monster hiding in plain sight (hiding, at least to White America). His study of how toxic waste dumps and polluting factories tend to get sited in poor, disempowered communities has an echo in today's Black Lives Matter movement.

Earth in the Balance: Al Gore's 1992 assessment of the challenges and possible solutions to climate change and other growing menaces isn't perfect. But I challenge you to find a more accurate set of global predictions.

Toxic Deception: It's a shame that this 1996 book by Dan Fagin and Marianne Lavelle is mostly forgotten today. The authors make an unprecedented effort to report on massive lobbying, disinformation, and propaganda. Lavelle later became a colleague of ours at Daily Climate and Fagin won a Pulitzer Prize, but more on that Pulitzer next week in Part Two.

A Civil Action: Question—What do Brooklyn disco king Tony Manero and trial lawyer Jan Schlichtmann have in common? Answer—They were both played by John Travolta in Hollywood blockbusters, Saturday Night Fever and A Civil Action. The latter is based on Jonathan Harr's 1995 bestseller of the same name, about the uphill fight for justice for neighbors of an age-old toxic site in Massachusetts. Note that the paperback cover of Harr's book features Travolta, not Schlichtmann.

Our Stolen Future: This 1996 book celebrates its 25th anniversary next year. Authors Dianne Dumanoski, Pete Myers, and Theo Colborn were pioneering reporters on the harm caused by endocrine-disrupting chemicals. As with so many others on this list, they're still battling a powerful counter-lobby. (Myers is the founder of EHN and The Daily Climate).

This is by no means a complete list. Feel free to send me any titles you think I've omitted to pdykstra@ehn.org or tweet @pdykstra.

Next week, the classics from the first two decades of the 21st Century.

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist. His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences.

Banner photo: Author Rachel Carson. (Credit: USDA)

algoma steel sault pollution
Algoma Steel, pictured in 2020. (Credit: Christopher Katsarov Luna/EHN)

Cleaner steelmaking can’t come fast enough for this Northern Ontario city

Algoma Steel continues to exceed Canada’s standard air pollution limits for cancer-causing compounds and struggles with spills as it pushes toward a “green” makeover.

SAULT SAINTE MARIE, Mich. — Peter McLarty technically stopped teaching science in 2000. But the retired high school teacher continues to educate — only now it’s about the dangers of a massive steel-making plant in his Northern Ontario community.

Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less
groundwater conservation aquifer depletion
Credit: kaninw/BigStockPhotos ID: 430959740

Recent court rulings bolster state power to safeguard groundwater

In a significant shift, western states are gaining ground in the battle to conserve their precious groundwater resources.

Christopher Flavelle reports for The New York Times.

Keep reading...Show less
preserving language amid climate change
Credit: Larry Lamsa/Flickr

The struggle to preserve North Sami language amid climate change

In a warming Arctic, the North Sami language, rich in specialized terms for snow, reindeer and fishing, faces the loss of words and knowledge integral to the Sami people's heritage.

Erika Benke reports for the BBC.

Keep reading...Show less
EPA power plant pollution rules
Credit: The White House/Flickr

EPA revises its approach to regulating natural gas plant emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency delays implementing emissions regulations for existing natural gas plants, opting for a more comprehensive review to include more pollutants.

Matthew Daly reports for the Associated Press.

Keep reading...Show less

Vermont moves to protect pollinators by proposing pesticide restrictions

Vermont's legislation to limit neonicotinoid pesticides, known for harming bees, progressed through the House Committee with substantial support.

Abagael Giles reports for Vermont Public.

Keep reading...Show less

West Texas faces a surge in abandoned well blow-outs

An abandoned well explosion in West Texas exposes the broader issue of orphan wells and environmental oversight.

Martha Pskowski reports for Inside Climate News in partnership with Carlos Nogueras of the Texas Tribune.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
petrochemical shell pennsylvania plastic

Tracking petrochemical accidents across the US

A new database monitors fires, flares, spills and other accidents at petrochemical plants.

petrochemical houston gulf coast

Lives “devastated’ by petrochemical industry pollution in Texas: Report

New analysis illustrates the climate, environmental, and human rights tolls linked to petrochemical production surrounding the Houston Ship Channel region.

LNG gulf coast

LNG production comes with a price, Gulf Coast communities warn

US takes the global lead on liquid natural gas production and export, as economic promises and environmental worries collide.

LNG gulf coast

La producción de gas natural licuado tiene un precio, advierten las comunidades la Costa del Golfo

Entre promesas económicas y preocupaciones ambientales, Estados Unidos lidera la producción y exportación de gas natural licuado.

Ante la expansión del GNL en la costa del Golfo, la comunidad espera erigirse como un muro de contención

Ante la expansión del GNL en la costa del Golfo, la comunidad espera erigirse como un muro de contención

“La gente no sabe qué haríamos sin el petróleo y el gas. Esto nos sale muy caro”.

extreme heat

Op-ed: We are undercounting heat-related deaths in the US

Knowing how many people die or get sick from heat-related causes is essential for the policy arguments to equitably adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.