What in Gaia’s name were the folks at the Foundation for Deep Ecology thinking when they decided to publish the humongous photo-driven monstrosity of a book called Thrillcraft: The Environmental Consequences of Motorized Recreation?
The hardcover, which was released in November and distributed by Chelsea Green, has 274 gigantic pages—they’re about the size of an LP record—is an inch and a half thick, and weighs in at nearly six pounds. And although Chelsea Green notes on its website that it “prints . . . on chlorine-free recycled paper, using soy-based inks, whenever possible,” there’s no such disclaimer in Thrillcraft, which is perhaps the Chelsea Green title most in need of greenification.
Presumably, the large format is intended to showcase the photographs, which depict a stream of adrenaline junkies riding ATVs, dirt bikes, dune buggies, personal watercraft, snowmobiles, and the like, along with the resulting destruction: trashed wetlands, trampled desert soils, bullet-blasted trail signs. A few postcardy wilderness photos are thrown in to starkly illustrate the alternative to this “yahoo culture” (the editor’s preferred term).
Problem is, the overall photo quality is quite poor, with grainy low-resolution images and washed-out colors that remind me of those decades-old Time-Life photo books I always see in the “free” box at yard sales. Add in overly earnest, clumsy captions (“A young girl takes time to smell the flowers—a reflective experience antithetical to thrillcraft culture”) and this is a coffee-table book that on first browse isn’t even good enough to display on your sustainably manufactured coffee table.
Editorially, the book is a mixed bag. In between all those photos, it’s got twenty-some essays about various aspects of the gearheads-vs.-greens battle. Some of the pieces, such as those by wilderness essayist-novelist Rick Bass and Audubon editor-at-large Ted Williams, are writerly and engaging, but many others are by academics whose thesis-style explications will have you flipping ahead to the next monster truck rally double-spread. And the overall tenor of Thrillcraft, from the dedication page (“To the late, great public lands”) to the glossary (“abusement parks,” “wreckreation”), comes off as shrill and simplistic.
I’m totally on board with Thrillcraft’s message, that motorized recreation is, on the whole, doing grave and irreparable damage to U.S. public lands, especially in the West. And I can rant against motors with the best of them when the whine of snowmobiles disrupts my cross-country ski trek or a powerboat nearly swamps my canoe. But if an ideological ally like me finds this book tone-deaf in its presentation, over-the-top in its rhetoric, and flat-out wasteful in its production, what exactly is it good for? I suppose you could always chuck it at an annoying off-roader. But at 60 bucks a copy, that would be an expensive projectile.