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Monday, July 21, 2008

Book Review: The Bill McKibben Reader

The Bill McKibben Reader: Pieces from an Active Life by Bill McKibben
Holt Paperbacks, 2008

Self-described author-educator-environmentalist Bill McKibben is characteristic of much environmental writing today: he practices outside of academic institutions, he lives what he preaches (namely, outdoors), and he promotes activism and political involvement to counter the environmental problems on which he focuses. He is, in effect, a good person to have around, a voice of reason in an age of an overabundance of (dis)information. McKibben's potential reach is aided by the accessibility of his writing, owing in part to his existence outside academia, but also to his frequent contributions to The New Yorker, Mother Jones, New York Review of Books, and Harper's. This book culls 44 essays from these and other publications, making the collection a fitting addition to his eleven other books.
McKibben's focus is on BIG issues: global warming, globalization (or, more accurately, its counter, local economies), genetic engineering, and the mass media. The ideas he proffers in his essays and books come from some surprising places, most notably from using himself as a test-case. For The Age of Missing Information, he watched one day of television on over 90 cable channels (with a little help with some friends with VCRs), and for part of his most recent book Deep Economy he and his family ate only local foods for a year, not as easy a feat as it sounds. From these scenarios McKibben experiences things that he otherwise might not have or could only have speculated upon, and therefore the deep insight that comes from experienced would be missing. Like Wendell Berry, a farmer who writes about agrarian life, McKibben practices what he preaches, as they say, maybe not to the extreme of Berry (but who does?) but enough that we value his insights and take them to be the voice of honesty.

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