Wednesday, February 09, 2011

"The Quiet World: Saving Alaska's Wilderness Kingdom, 1879-1960"

Fresh off his 800-plus-page Theodore Roosevelt biography, "Wilderness Warrior," historian Douglas Brinkley tackles eight decades of American conservation history in "The Quiet World: Saving Alaska's Wilderness Kingdom, 1879-1960". Comparatively svelte at 576 pages, "A Quiet World" is the second of what Brinkley hopes will be his "Wilderness Cycle."

"Allan Nevins wrote eight volumes on the Civil War and Dumas Malone wrote five volumes on Thomas Jefferson. My plan is to do something similar for U.S. conservation history," Brinkley writes in his acknowledgments.

That's a bold promise. Both authors won Pulitzer Prizes (although Nevins' was for his biography of Grover Cleveland in 1933. He also won for " Hamilton Fish" in 1937), and Malone also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Anyone attempting to move onto their shelf will have to deliver the goods.

Brinkley mostly does, providing an exhaustively detailed account of the evolution of public policy and conservation philosophy that swirled around the 49th state from 1879, when John Muir began his eloquent prose epistles that brought "Seward's Folly" into the popular imagination, to 1960, when what now is known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was established. It's a historical and intellectual terrain as complex and outsized as the state itself — with just as many hazards. Among them are the towering peaks of American conservation: Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold.

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