“In Nature,” said Coleridge, “there is nothing melancholy.” I don’t know about that. I suppose there are lots of people who will greet American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau with joy, but both politics and temperament predisposed me against the book.1  I had agreed to review it in a moment of weakness, but when it thumped down onto my desk—115 extracts from 101 authors in close to a thousand galley pages of almost nothing but text (“80 pages of color inserts” will be included in the finished product, the publisher assures me), melancholy is what ensued.

Politics. The presence of that foreword by Al Gore and the inclusion of his 1997 speech at the Kyoto conference on climate change alert us to the fact that writing about nature has...


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