Whether or not books established the environmental agenda, Stephen Bocking writes in Alternatives Journal, “they certainly record its evolution.” Examining nearly six decades of environmental tracts, Bocking sees trends and revelations in a genre that graduated from relative obscurity to a coffee table mainstay.
No survey of environmental literature can get off the ground without a hat tip to Aldo Leopald’s A Sand County Almanac (1949), but from there, Bocking charts an impressive course, weaving over 25 influential authors into his modest, 1,500-word essay. As a professor of environmental and resource studies at Trent University, Bocking’s familiarity with the genre is palpable, but even more valuable than his fluency is his knack for canny observation.
Environmental lit is vital, Bocking argues, because “only in books do authors have the space to explore big, complex arguments—especially those that connect distinct worlds of ideas,” such as Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature (1969), which called for beneficial collaboration between architects and ecologists. It can be confounding, as well: “It is worth remembering that every book is framed by subjective ideas about how the world works,” Bocking writes. He sees evidence of Cold War anxieties reflected in some texts, rebukes others for “expressing a convenient ideology, while masquerading as objective analysis.” He also observes the way gorgeous coffee table books “are implicitly defensive; they inspire action through visions of what may be lost,” although he reflects that they “neglect those places where humans and nature live in harmony,” as well as the front lines in the battle for environmental justice.