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In 1842, the American popular magazine writer Eliza Leslie wrote a story entitled ‘The Rain King, or a Glance into the Next Century’, which was published in Godey’s Lady’s Book (p. 58). Looking forward to a fictional 1942, Leslie portrayed the so-called Rain King offering weather on demand to the residents of the Philadelphia area.
This is a very small book on a very big topic. Not that I mean this in any derogatory manner. On the contrary, Stephen Mosley sets out to recount the environmental history of the world since 1500 in some 120 pages, as part of the series Themes in World History which aims to provide serious but brief discussions on important historical topics.
Originally seeing the light of day as conference papers or seminar presentations, this collection of environmental history essays brings together a very personalised, and at times highly impassioned journey by Professor Christopher Smout reflecting how he turned his attention to this relatively new field of historical enquiry in the 1980s, a decade after the ‘great efflorescence of environmenta
Debates, disputes, and even injustice lay just beneath the outward signs of vaunted Victorian technological progress. The ascendancy of the imperatives of industrialization and urbanization over all other considerations was not inevitable or automatic; there were moments when those imperatives were challenged and rival ones championed.
This year (2010), the world has seen a number of big earthquake disasters, like those that hit Haiti in January and Chile a month later. Disasters strike when least expected, and the death and destruction that follows represents critical tests of the ability of cities and nations to handle crises and to rebuild.
In our age of climate change and peak oil anxiety, environmental problems loom increasingly large in politics as well as everyday life. Yet even if ecology were to become the preeminent science, it is difficult to imagine a future where the authority of nature will form a unified source of morality, aesthetic value, and scientific truth. Such a world seems irretrievably lost to us.
In the opening of his recent volume, Nature and History in the Potomac Country, historian James D. Rice informs his readers that the idea for the book began with what he perceived as a ‘hole in the map’ (p. 1).
Karl Boyd Brooks, noted environmental historian and now Director of Region 7 of the Environmental Protection Agency, has edited an interesting volume of essays written primarily by environmental, political, and legal scholars, mostly by historians, that, in part, grew out of a 2007 symposium held at Key West, Florida, titled ‘Truman and the Environment: Los Alamos to the Everglades’.
For readers like this reviewer, who do not read Germany fluently, the translation of Joachim Radkau’s Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment is a major event. This is probably the best available overview of the changing human relationship with the biosphere: a subject whose historiographical and political significance is becoming more and more evident.
Most of us who have tried to write of time and place on a large scale resort to a broad framework of ideas, punctuated by an example or two from the literature or even from our own experience. As in his first edition, Donald Hughes does it differently: a series of footprints rather than a superhighway, as he puts it.