“I care to live only to entice people to look at Nature’s loveliness,” said John Muir in 1874. Born in Scotland, reared in rural Wisconsin; resistant to industrial and agricultural life, yet a talented carpenter, engineer and fruit rancher; an autodidact of botany and geology; and given to taking walks, long walks, of, say 1,000 miles or so, Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, indeed exhibited A Passion For Nature (Oxford Univ., $34.95). Until discovering the beauty of the Sierra Nevada and falling in love with California in general, Muir felt restless and alienated from both farming and urban life. Donald Worster’s biography sets Muir within the currents of his time, showing his struggles to harmonize scientific views of nature with spiritual belief, and to advocate wilderness preservation in the face of civilization’s relentless expansion. Generous quotations from Muir’s letters and sketches from his notebooks bring the man to life.
You Are Here (Harper One, $25.95) is seasoned environmental writer Thomas Kostigen’s tour of global climate change. As he examines how local activities can have a global impact, he moves beyond vague platitudes and green trends to link environmental degradation to our own actions. Beginning with Jerusalem and moving on to Mumbai—and a particularly prescient primer on electronic waste—Kostigen’s survey plots human environmental impact, from illicit gangster logging in Borneo to “the largest man-made structure on earth”: a landfill outside of New York City. Kostigen’s compilation is a timely travelogue of the marvels and morals of globalization.
Our relationship with the environmental activist Terry Tempest Williams dates back to her reading from Refuge, a lyrical essay about the deaths of her mother and grandmother, the radiation emitted from nuclear testing in Nevada, and shattered eggs in bird sanctuaries. Terry continues to practice her unique and beautiful skill of connecting disparate things, and with Finding Beauty In A Broken World (Pantheon, $26), she makes associations between her apprenticeship in a mosaic workshop in Ravenna, Italy; the ecosystem of the grasslands and Colorado plateau, in which she discovers metaphorical and ecological mosaics, along with the threatened extinction of prairie dogs; and Rwanda, where she works with a Chinese-American artist to make a Tree of Life memorial mosaic on the one wall left standing in a village destroyed in 1993. For Williams the mosaic images, fashioned from shards of shattered glass, resurrect beauty from brokenness.