Friends of the Earth, A History of American Environmentalism – Book Recommendation

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fr1Title: FRIENDS OF THE EARTH, A history of American Environmentalism

Author: Pat McCarthy

Publisher: Chicago Review Press, to be released in March 2013

Distributed by IPG,

Ages: 9+

Themes: USA environmentalism, biographies, conservationists,

Opening Lines:

For 18 hours, the winds howled and the rain pelted down. Julia Butterfly Hill held onto her tree for dear life. Ninety-mile-per-hour winds tipped the six-by-eight-foot wooden platform on which she lived in the giant red-wood tree.


This book is a collection of essays about individuals who have fought for the flora and fauna conservation in America through the centuries. Brief biographies of ten environmentalists offer a look at the dedication of these early and more recent men and women to protect the epic natural heritage of the USA and the development of the movement.

I encountered people about whom I was already familiar such as: John James Audubon, who introduced the study of birds in North America; Julia “Butterfly” Hill, who in the late 90’s saved a 1,000-year-old redwood by her two year tree-sit-in while bringing to light the devastation of our old growth forests; and Henry David Thoreau, an environmental forerunner. Just as an aside, I discovered that the Alcott sisters attended Henry and John Thoreau’s private school!

I discovered many new activists also, such as Aldo Leopold, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Margaret “Mardy” Murie. Each biography is about six to eight pages long, offering enough detail to provide a flavor of the people’s lives and explain their significance to the movement. Each chapter also includes one or more activities in-keeping with the life of the character cited in that chapter. Examples of these activities include: bird identification, instructions on how to make an organic birdfeeder, starting a compost pile, creating plaster casts of animals tracks, testing for acid rain etc. There are 21 activities in total.

Why I like this book:

FRIENDS OF THE EARTH, A history of American Environmentalism is an inspirational non-fiction book. These environmentalists’ inspiring and often-courageous life stories tell the development of American environmentalism, from its early beginnings among the Native Americans to the present day. I enjoyed discovering that many of these early conservationists were prolific writers, filling journals, publishing articles and books, writing poems, sending letters to newspaper editors etc Details, such as Audubon noting his fear that certain of the birds he was painting would become extinct and the reality of his predictions, add extra meaning to the text.

The book’s value for me is two-fold. Firstly, it offers a great collection of very readable biographies of the main players, for those interested in the history of the environmental movement. Secondly, the activities, mainly simple science experiments, will, I believe, appeal to middle school-aged children. The material is presented in a very accessible format, in short sentences and with plenty of black and white photographs (and occasional illustrations).

It includes a time line of historic environmental milestones, and the resources at the back of the book include: park locations, and books and websites for further study.

Though there is a brief “where do we go from here?” concluding chapter, this is clearly not the focus of the book. The book successfully accomplishes what the title suggests and is a welcome addition to the shelves of conservation enthusiasts like myself as well as the ecology section of any school library.


The author’s website is

The distributor’s website is

Though not affiliated with the book, other great resource are : the Friends of the Earth website and Earthday

This book has been provided to me free of charge by the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the work.

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13 Responses to Friends of the Earth, A History of American Environmentalism – Book Recommendation

  1. Thanks Joanna. This looks like a great book!

  2. Rhythm says:

    This looks like an interesting one. Intense opening! I don’t know about being up in a tree in a storm!! Scary! I think I’d like to know more about that. I’ll have to check this one out! Thanks!

  3. This sounds like something right up our alley (we’re environmentally-minded)! Even though my kids are a bit old for it at ages 15 and 17, I think I’ll still have them read it. I know we’ll enjoy it, learning more about those whom we already know and learning all about people we’ve not heard of. Thanks, Joanna!

  4. Well I do hope what I saw was a musk rat and not a tree eating beaver lol. I love reading about fascinating people, thanks for sharing, Joanna.

  5. Joanna says:

    Yes, I enjoy biographies enormously, Catherine!

  6. ACK! I always get your posts a whole day late unless I happen to see them on FB – sorry to always be last over here! This book looks terrific – a subject near and dear to my heart. I love that Julia is in it – my dad spent part of his childhood near redwood country, so I’ve been to Muir Woods a number of times… they used to have a huge tree you could actually drive your car through a tunnel in the trunk! They are so gorgeous. What inspiring people, and how neat that they’re all in one book!

  7. Joanna says:

    So glad you saw this, Susanna, as I thought of you while I was reading the book, knowing it would be of interest to you. I need to visit Muir Woods next time I’m on the West coast!

  8. Pat McCarthy says:

    Thanks for featuring my book on your blog!

  9. Pingback: If You SPENT a DAY with THOREAU at WALDEN POND – Book Recommendation | Miss Marple's Musings

  10. Pingback: If You SPENT a DAY with THOREAU at WALDEN POND – Book Recommendation | Miss Marple's Musings

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