Thursday, July 27, 2017

Nature's Allies: Eight Conservationists Who Changed Our World by Larry Nielsen

Today we review a book providing eight succinct biographies of key conservationists - Nature's Allies: Eight Conservationists Who Changed Our World, by Larry Nielsen.

As the subtitle suggests, the book consists of eight chapters, each of which gives a short biography of a highly influential and consequential conservationist. Some of the eight will be familiar to most everyone, others not so much. The book brings their stories in roughly chronological order with respect to their lifespans and periods of activity.

Early chapters deal with well-known conservationists like John Muir and Rachel Carson, along with Aldo Leopold and Ding Darling. Despite being more recent, Chico Mendes, Billy Frank, Wangari Maathai, and Gro Harlem Brundtland may be new names for many people.

Nielsen provides a succinct review of their upbringings and the events that led them to become "nature's allies." There are similarities with all - most spend considerable time roaming in nature during their youth, for example - but also differences. Unexpectedly, most were very comfortable meeting new people and working with others (Carson being the notable exception). All were highly self-motivated and caring of both nature and humanity. Most of them had a primary focus for their attention: Muir for the Yosemite valley, Carson for the sea (as well as the more famous "poison book" about DDT), Mendes for rubber tappers in Brazil, Frank for Native American fishing rights in the northwest.

Three of the eight are women, including the last two profiled. Maathai focused intensely on planting trees with a sustainable ecology in mind; Brundtland was broader, both in terms of seeking a sustainable world and her participation in the political process. Where the others were outsiders working to get insiders attention, Brundtland was Environmental Minister and then Prime Minister in Norway, which allowed her to direct a societal appreciation for sustainable growth.

Overall the book is well written and easy to read. It would be great for anyone wanting quick insights to some key people in the history of conservation.