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Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil.

For author Daniel Hillel, the creation of soil through the marriage of earth and water is a matter of intense personal interest. Writing about it, as he does in Out of the Earth is evidently a labor of love. Perhaps spending a good part of his childhood where this union of elements is incomplete - in the sun-baked desert regions of Israel - had something to do with his choice of avocation.

Hillel brings passion even to his short course on soil formation and the hydrologic cycle, before moving on to his "lessons of the past." Be it salinization, erosion, depletion of groundwater, or wetlands destruction, he reconstructs the abuses of the environment that may have contributed to the collapse of many ancient civilizations.

When one adds to this litany of ecological woes those that modern man has concocted - agricultural chemicals, toxics, industrial waste - the prognosis for humanity would seem rather bleak.

The author, however, ends on a note of "conditional optimism." The raised-bed farming systems in the wetlands of Mesoamerica and Israel's innovative irrigation techniques provide examples of how humans can meet their needs with minimal damage to the rest of the natural world. Provided that these and other environmentally sound practices find widespread application, Hillel believes it within our power to change course before it is too late.

The trick is getting people to act in what Hillel calls a "new climate of opinion" regarding humanity's relationship to the environment. This includes the growing realization that human population growth must be slowed, and that other species must be protected. The only flaw in this otherwise masterfully executed book is that the author doesn't appear to have any groundbreaking solutions to get the process under way.
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Author:Hanford, Heather
Publication:World Watch
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:The Diversity of Life.
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