The Forest and the Sea.
If the title is familiar, it should be. Two years before Rachel Carson shocked America with Silent Spring, this much calmer and wittier book helped make ecology a household word. Rachel Carson's name is still well known and her face has graced a postage stamp, but it's Marston Bates whose words are more quotable. Although I have taught Silent Spring in several classes and I've never taught Bates' book, I quote Bates often for both sound and sense.
By way of winning the reader's attention to some of the strange plants and animals in this book, Bates notes that when people find a strange animal they inevitably ask, What good is it?" Bates replies, "Often my reaction is to ask in turn, What good are you?..."
The key is Bates' own humility. Many of today's environmental writers would benefit from the realization that influential books are often written by humble writers. Bates can propose that the human species might carry within it, like a cancer, the doom of the biosphere," but he doesn't think the human race is peculiarly monstrous. "If we examine a pickled specimen of Homo sapiens, it doesn't look very peculiar," he notes.
His observations about the cultural reasons for the devastation of tropical forests are unfortunately farther from serious consideration today than they were when he made them. Latin culture, he suggests, was never imbued with the reverence for nature that welled up in 19th century Europe. "The Romantic Movement never crossed the Pyrenees, " he says.
Bates comes to the human species only after 13 chapters on the rest of nature. He records our number as three billion. The number has since doubled, and so have the reasons for reading this excellent book.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1989|
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