6 x 9
30 photos, 2 illustrations
6 x 9
30 photos, 2 illustrations
It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of big environmental challenges—but we need inspiration more than ever. With political leaders who deny climate change, species that are fighting for their very survival, and the planet’s last places of wilderness growing smaller and smaller, what can a single person do? In Nature’s Allies, Larry Nielsen uses the stories of conservation pioneers to show that through passion and perseverance, we can each be a positive force for change.
In eight engaging and diverse biographies—John Muir, Ding Darling, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Chico Mendes, Billy Frank Jr., Wangari Maathai, and Gro Harlem Brundtland—we meet individuals who have little in common except that they all made a lasting mark on our world. Some famous and some little known to readers, they spoke out to protect wilderness, wildlife, fisheries, rainforests, and wetlands. They fought for social justice and exposed polluting practices. They marched, wrote books, testified before Congress, performed acts of civil disobedience, and, in one case, were martyred for their defense of nature. Nature’s Allies pays tribute to them all as it rallies a new generation of conservationists to follow in their footsteps.
These vivid biographies are essential reading for anyone who wants to fight for the environment against today’s political opposition. Nature’s Allies will inspire students, conservationists, and nature lovers to speak up for nature and show the power of one person to make a difference.
"Nielsen...celebrates the work of eight conservationists in the U.S. and abroad in this engaging series of biographical sketches...Paying tribute to their battles and accomplishments, Nielsen effectively showcases the passion and persistence of a remarkable group of individuals."
"A fine primer on some of the most inspirational figures in the history of the environmental movement. Nielsen, dean of the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University, has the command of a practiced lecturer, and his biographical sketches of famous environmentalists zip by like NatGeo profiles."
"The ethnic and gender diversity of the subjects is a major factor in the book's favor...this work represents a step in the direction of correcting the erasure of non-white, non-American environmentalism from mainstream American dialogue."
"Riveting and inspiring...[Nielsen] does a superb job of outlining the lives of these heroic environmentalists."
Manhattan Book Review
"Moving stories, all eight of them."
"This book stands out for the ethnic and gender diversity of its subjects. Nielsen...showcases the passion and dedication the activists had for their causes and presents these profiles as a way to inspire dedication to activism in others."
"This book exudes inspiration. It shows how anyone with a love of the natural environment—and how it is used to support human endeavor—can make a contribution to conservation. Easy to read, hard to put down, and deeply motivating."
Simon Brockington, Executive Secretary, International Whaling Commission
"Nature's Allies is much more than a collection of fascinating stories about the lives of eight great conservationists. It's an account of what it takes to bring about major change. It's a must-read, not only for students of conservation but for all who are interested in the future of this planet and improving the quality of life."
Michael Dombeck, former Chief, US Forest Service, and former Director, US Bureau of Land Management
"Nielsen's captivating stories humanize eight inspiring individuals whose early paths in life are not that different from today's students reading Nature's Allies. That people from rather ordinary and diverse backgrounds can have a revolutionary impact on conservation policy decisions and private actions is an important message to motivate youth to act on their passions."
Barbara A. Knuth, Senior Vice Provost and Dean, Cornell University
Foreword \ Curt Meine
Chapter 1: John Muir, Earth-Citizen, Universe
Chapter 2: Ding Darling, The Best Friend a Duck Ever Had
Chapter 3: Aldo Leopold, “A Very Large and Important Sumpin”
Chapter 4: Rachel Carson, “The Lady Who Started All This”
Chapter 5: Chico Mendes, Gandhi of the Amazon
Chapter 6: Billy Frank, Jr., The Getting-Arrested Guy
Chapter 7: Wangari Maathai, The Green Crusader
Chapter 8: Gro Harlem Brundtland, Godmother of Sustainable Development
About the Author
Sad news came from the wilds of Mexico recently, with reports of the murder of environmental activist Isidro Baldenegro on January 15. Baldenegro was gunned down while visiting relatives, another casualty of the growing war against those who protect the land and its resources.
Baldenegro lived in the rugged Sierra Madre mountains of the southern Chihuahua. The region is home to the Tarahumara people, most of whom still practice a traditional lifestyle dependent on subsistence farming. In recent decades, the area has been subject to increasing logging followed by conversion of the forests, threatening the Tarahumaras’ existence and impacting the sustainable use of the forest. Controlling large-scale logging was the cause for which Baldenegro gave his life.
This is a tragic story in itself, but the horror is multiplied over and over in the continuing murders of environmental activists around the world. According to Global Watch, 2015 was the bloodiest year on record for environmentalists, with a total of 185 environmental workers were murdered—about one every other day. Brazil was the most violent country, with 50 murders, followed by the Philippines and Colombia. Latin American was by far the most violent region, accounting for two-thirds of the murders.
The life and death of Isidro Baldenegro parallels that of another environmental hero who suffered a similar fate a generation ago, Chico Mendes. Mendes, who is one of eight great conservationists I profile in Nature's Allies, was a rubber-tapper in the far southwestern corner of Brazil’s Amazon basin. He became a union organizer and later an advocate for rainforest preservation. Fighting against the giveaway of public lands to rich land-barons who converted the forests to pastures, Mendes made powerful enemies. Eventually, those interests chose violence as a weapon against the peaceful, community-based actions that Mendes employed—and murdered him on his back porch a few days before Christmas, 1988.
Violence against nature is hard to understand—that humans can’t recognize the essential importance of working with nature, not against it, to assure our continued quality of life. But violence against those who protect nature, often the most gentle and giving of people, is impossible to understand. Sharing their stories and continuing to fight for the causes they gave their lives for is the surest way to honor their legacies.
Given election results that have further empowered political leaders who deny climate change, it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of environmental challenges like massive deforestation, biodiversity loss, and dying oceans. At a time when it seems like we are moving backwards and progress is stalled by partisanship and bureaucracy, conservation success stories provide the inspiration and courage needed to move forward. Nature’s Allies, which tells the stories of eight great conservationists who overcame great odds to bring about astonishing change, supplies that inspiration. Here, author Larry A. Nielsen provides ten fun facts about these inspiring conservationists.
In today’s divisive political climate, where meaningful change is often stalled by partisanship and bureaucracy, it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of environmental challenges like climate change, habitat loss, and disappearing species. But environmentalists are no strangers to opposition, and a look back at their stories may provide the inspiration needed to move forward. In Nature’s Allies, Larry A. Nielsen pens eight riveting biographies of great conservationists. Some famous and some little known, their diverse stories are a model for affecting positive, lasting change for the environment.
The subjects of Nielsen’s profiles—John Muir, Ding Darling, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Chico Mendes, Billy Frank Jr., Wangari Maathai, and Gro Harlem Brundtland—are a refreshing move beyond the mainstream of American conservation. These engaging narratives represent a fuller diversity of contributions, including stories from Africa, South America, and Europe. Beyond the value of their accomplishments, these individuals may seem to have little in common. But despite their varied personalities, methods, and causes, the conservationists of Nature’s Allies share one powerful thing in common—they all hail from modest backgrounds, and are a testament to the power of one person to bring about extraordinary change. Their stories are not just for environmentalists, scientists, or students. Nature’s Allies is a powerful, engaging read for anyone who wants to be inspired to make a difference.
Check out an excerpt from the chapter on Gro Harlem Brundtland, known as the godmother of sustainability, below.
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.
February 12 marks the anniversary of one of the 20th Century’s most important judicial decisions, made by Judge George Hugo Boldt in 1974. The decision allocated half of the annual catch of Pacific salmon to Native Americans.
And with that decision, a new era of scientific fisheries management began. Along with 50 percent of the fish, the decision also awarded Native Americans co-management responsibility with state and federal agencies. From the ruling on, everyone needed to know how many fish existed and how many could be caught sustainably. Spurred on by the decision, fisheries scientists developed techniques for estimating population sizes, monitoring catches, and understanding the dynamics of population change over time. Today, Pacific salmon are the most studied and best understood fish populations in the world.
Why did Judge Boldt make such a revolutionary decision? It all began in 1854, when the new governor of the Washington Territory, Isaac Stevens, brokered a treaty with the local Native Americans. The treaty promised that the Native Americans could fish where and how they always fished, forever. For a century no one much cared, but in the 1950s, dams, pollution, and overfishing devastated salmon populations. That’s when state authorities, looking for a scapegoat, started hassling Native American fishermen.
Among those fisherman was Billy Frank Jr., one of the eight conservationists I profile in Nature's Allies. Frank was a young Nisqually Indian who followed in his father’s and grandfather’s waders as a salmon fisherman. He held strongly to his family’s belief that the treaty was sacred—and the law. Consequently, he was always in the middle of the fray: Billy Frank Jr. was arrested more than 50 times for just doing what the treaty had guaranteed.
As the years passed and the arrests accumulated, the plight of Native Americans joined with other social causes in the turbulent 1960s—civil rights, feminism, anti-war, poverty. With the help of Hank Adams, a brilliant Native American strategist and communications savant, Billy Frank’s message reached into the living rooms of Americans across the nation. And when a particularly violent confrontation occurred in 1970, a disgusted federal attorney sued the state of Washington for violating the treaty.
A few years and much legal wrangling later, Judge Boldt ruled for the Native Americans. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled in their favor. And today, because of the bravery and persistence of Billy Frank Jr. on the riverbank and the integrity of Hugo Boldt on the bench, Pacific salmon are again returning to abundance on our northwest Pacific coast.
The lesson here is obvious—never give up. When matters of principle are at stake, and especially when those principles involve sustaining our earth and sharing its resources fairly, never, ever give up.
Surprise! It's an Island Press flash sale! For three days only, from now until Sunday, April 23, you can get the e-book of Larry Nielsen's Nature's Allies for just $0.99, wherever e-books are sold. That's 272 pages of inspiration to stand up for nature for less than the cost of a vending machine snack. Still need convincing? Check out an excerpt from the book below.
Order your copy, and then don't forget to browse Island Press' collection of 1300+ other e-books on sale for $4.99, exclusively on the Island Press website until April 24.
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.
We revel in the glory of the African elephant, giant panda or Galapagos tortoise—the charismatic megafauna that gets most of attention, whether on television or at the zoo. But I think the group that deserves the award as the world’s number one animal group—perhaps we should call it the charismatic omnifauna—is the bird.
We all love birds. According to the 2011 Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Association Recreation, about 50 million Americans feed or observe birds at their homes, spending billions of dollars on sunflower seeds and the like. USA Today reports that eagles are the most common mascots of high school and college sports teams, virtually lapping the mascot in second place (tigers). I won’t bore you with more statistics—suffice it to say that only a bird-brain wouldn’t agree that birds are the greatest.
One dedicated bird-lover was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. On this day in 1784, Mozart went to the contemporary Viennese equivalent of a pet store. He was amazed by a bird that sang a variation on a work that he had just completed—Piano Concerto in G, K. 453—under the utmost secrecy. Bird behaviorists Meredith West and Andrew King have suggested that this particular bird probably had heard snatches of the folk tune on which Mozart’s concerto was patterned, but Mozart, known as a skillful and absent-minded whistler, probably might have stimulated the bird to respond.
He bought the bird, a European Starling, and for the next three years, it was his companion and muse. When his pet died, Mozart mourned as if for a human—a funeral procession accompanied the grieving composer to the graveyard, sang hymns and listened to an elegy Mozart wrote for the occasion (“He was not naughty, quite, But gay and bright, And under all his brag A foolish wag…”).
This day marks the birthday of another important bird lover—Rachel Carson was born on May 27, 1902. Carson started watching birds early and continued throughout her life, whether at the bird feeder in her backyard or on a Pennsylvania overlook as the annual hawk migration passed by.
As explored in Nature’s Allies, Carson’s love of nature expressed itself in her twin loves of science and writing. For decades she nurtured the two loves simultaneously, becoming a leading scientific editor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a nationally acclaimed nature writer. But when her third book, The Sea Around Us, hit the New York Times best-seller list and stayed for 86 weeks, her fate was decided—she would be a writer, full-time.
Her next book, and her last, is the classic for which we universally praise Carson, Silent Spring. She began the book with a fable that laments the loss of bird song:
“On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.”
The cause of this silence? The wanton aerial spraying of pesticides, whose impact Carson detailed in the body of the book. Her perseverance to get to the bottom of this problem and share it with the world, even as she gradually succumbed to breast cancer, has made our world immeasurably healthier and more beautiful.
So, on this final day in late May, let us praise the sounds that fill our lives with beauty and joy, and thank Rachel Carson and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for bringing them to us.
Summer is here! Whether that means slathering on the sunscreen or seeking refuge from the heat in an air conditioned room, this season means one thing for all bookworms: summer reading lists. To help get yours started, our staff have shared their favorite Island Press books, past and present. Check out our recommendations, and share your favorite Island Press summer read in the comments below.
In Nature's Allies, Larry Nielson shares eight riveting biographies of great conservationists. His profiles show how these diverse leaders—including a Native American who was arrested more than 50 times and the first African woman and environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize—brought about extraordinary change for the environment. These stories are powerful, engaging reads for anyone who wants to be inspired to make a difference. But you don't have to take Island Press' word for it...Nature's Allies was also recently recommended as a New York Public Library staff pick.
In this remarkable blend of history, science, and personal observation, acclaimed author Wade Davis tells the story of America’s Nile, how it once flowed freely and how human intervention has left it near exhaustion. A beautifully told story of historical adventue and natural beauty, River Notes is a fascinating journey down the river and through mankind's complicated and destructive relationship with one of its greatest natural resources. Kyler Geoffroy, Online Marketing Manager of the Urban Resilience Project, says this book is the perfect summer read because "we need to stop and appreciate America’s most iconic waterway now more than ever."
As Vice President and Executive Editor Heather Boyer says, "there's no better time than summer to think about how to maintain the increase in interest in urban biking (and try to retain any funding for it in infrastructure budget)." A follow-up to his "fascinating" Roads Were Not Built for Cars, Bike Boom picks up where that story left off: immersing readers in cycling advocacy from 1906 to the doldrums of the 1980s. It is an extensively researched, at times humorous journey through time, flush with optimism for what could be the next, greatest bike boom of all.
Bugs and germs are big problems—and they’re evolving. But in the fight to protect our food and health, bugs and germs may also be part of the solution. Natural Defense by Emily Monosson is the first book to bring readers into this exciting new world, highlighting cutting-edge solutions such as pheromones that send crop-destroying moths into a misguided sexual frenzy, and proteins that promise targed destruction of infectious bacteria. Brooke Borel, contributing editor at Popular Science had this to say about the book: "With deft prose and fascinating anecdotes, Monosson’s survey of the latest scientific research leaves us in awe of humankind’s ingenuity."
If summer is the time for exploring neighborhood creeks and streams, Immersion by Abbie Gascho Landis is the summer read for you. A breathtaking journey into the world of freshwater mussels, Immersion explores the hidden lives of mussels in our rivers and streams, and asks whether our capacity to love these alien creatures can power us to protect freshwater for humans and nature alike. Blending science with artful storytelling, Immersion takes readers from perilous river surveys and dry riverbeds to laboratories where endangered mussels are raised one precious life at a time. Production Assistant Elise Ricotta says this is the perfect book to read at the beach or lake.
Associate Editor and Rights Manager Rebecca Bright picked up Seeking the Sacred Raven while she was preparing for an interview to intern at Island Press (we won't say how many years ago). The book tells the story of Hawaii's 'Alla, a member of the raven family that once flourished on the islands and now survives only in captivity. Mark Jerome Walters chronicles the history of the birds' interactions with humans throughout the centuries, painting a picture of one species' decline that resonates today, as many others face the same fate. The first Island Press book she ever read, Rebecca found the book to be "both fascinating and heartbreaking."
As you fire up the grill for summer barbeques and head to your local farmer's market, consider reading Kitchen Literacy by Ann Vileisis, a sensory-rich journey through two hundred years of making dinner. From eighteenth-century gardens and historic cookbooks to calculated advertising campaigns and sleek supermarket aisles, Vileisis chronicles profound changes in how Americans have shopped, cooked, and thought about their food for five generations. Revealing how knowledge of our food has been lost and how it might now be regained, Kitchen Literacy promises to make us think differently about what we eat.
Water is for Fighting Over by John Fleck makes for perfect reading while sitting by the pool, river, or ocean. In it, he offers a unique, fresh perspective on the catastrophe narrative of the West, showcasing how this region is less of a battlefield and more of a place where individuals and communities find common ground amid a changing geography. This book shows that even in the depths of the worst droughts, positive solution stories can still be found. Vice President and Director of Marketing & Sales Julie Marshall likes "John’s thoughtful and balanced approach to the issue. I also really appreciate the fact he has such deep knowledge based on his many years covering the issues in the west. It gives him great credibility but also makes his explanations of the issues and solutions seem solid based on 'all the facts' and not just a superficial assessment."
While walking around and enjoying the summer sunshine, don't forget to pack Within Walking Distance by Philip Langdon. In it, he takes an in-depth look at six walkable communities—and the citizens, public officials, and planners who are making them satisfying places to live. Civil Engineering said "Within Walking Distance shines...a warm, personal, and heartening depiction of our power to shape our communities in a positive way when we set our minds to it."
Hungry for adventure? Tibet Wild is George B. Schaller's account of three decades of exploration in the most remote stretches of Tibet: the wide, sweeping rangelands of the Chang Tang and the hidden canyons and plunging ravines of the southeastern forests. Throughout, it is an intimate journey through the changing wilderness of Tibet, guided by the careful gaze and unwavering passion of a life-long naturalist. Editor Courtney Lix loves the book because "it transports you to the wildest regions in Tibet, from describing the daily challenges of being a field biologist, to admiring breathtaking landscapes, and encounters with rare and beautiful creatures."
What are your top Island Press reads? Share them below, so others can add them to their summer reading lists.
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.
On September 27, 1962, a highly-anticipated book hit the shelves. Reactions to it were immediate and strong. The author’s best friend called it “the poison book.” A spokesperson for the agricultural chemical industry called it “…gross distortions of the actual facts, completely unsupported by scientific, experimental evidence….” Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas called it “…the most important chronicle of this century for the human race.” Today we call the book—Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring—the origin of the modern environmental movement.
Rachel Carson was an unlikely writer for a book that caused such commotion. Carson, born in 1907 in rural Pennsylvania, was a shy, reclusive woman, never interested in the spotlight. Taught by her mother to observe nature and find her own lessons from those observations, she grew to love both science and literature. Forgoing the usual educational path for young women at the time—go to college, become a teacher or nurse, get married—she studied biology. Not just biology, but marine biology. Once she found her way to the Atlantic coast, she was never again far from the shore.
She became the first scientist ever hired by the U.S. Biological Survey, precursor to today’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But she never gave up on being a writer. Her fellow scientists marveled at her ability to combine scientific ideas and beautiful prose to tell the story of marine ecosystems. She eventually wrote three books about the sea, which met with both critical and commercial success. The New York Times recognized that “Once or twice in a generation does the world get a physical scientist with literary genius….”
Her third book, The Edge of the Sea, is the one that hooked me. As a teenage “nature nerd” growing up in Chicago, I was fascinated by her stories of the seashore and by the book’s drawings of strange and beautiful creatures. When I wrote Nature’s Allies—Eight Conservationists Who Changed Our World, I knew from the beginning that Rachel Carson would be one of the environmental leaders I profiled. She hooked me, just as she hooked an entire generation with Silent Spring.
She didn’t want to write Silent Spring. She wanted to keep writing about the beauty and wonder of nature. But friends kept telling her about the deaths of wildlife after airplanes sprayed their fields and forests with insecticides. Unable to find anyone else who would take up the challenge, Carson dug in. She spent years gathering information about pesticides and their impacts, doing the painstaking research to connect the dots. Her conclusion: the wanton spraying of pesticides was poisoning the earth.
She told the story in Silent Spring. First published as a series of articles in The New Yorker, it became an instant best-seller in book form. Although agricultural interests worked hard to discredit Carson, their efforts were drowned by the overwhelming positive response to the book and the caution that it urged. The Modern Environmental Movement had been born.
Rachel Carson didn’t live long enough to witness her impact. She died 18 months after the book’s publication, consumed by breast cancer. Just as she always had, she sought understanding through nature, this final time through the monarch butterfly. “…For the Monarch, that cycle is measured in a known span of months. For ourselves, the measure is something else, the span of which we cannot know. But the thought is the same: when that intangible cycle has run its course it is a natural and not unhappy thing that a life comes to its end.”