Faculty Favorites: Books for an Engaged Spring

We’re a month into the spring semester, which means frosty temperatures, pond hockey, and of course, reading for class. The Edge Effects editorial staff asked a wide range of professors about which environmentally-minded books they were most excited to share with students this semester. Below are their recommendations, any of which would make a perfect addition to your spring reading list.

Adam Rome, Professor of History, University at Buffalo, SUNY

Course: HIS 556: American Environmental History

Recommendation: Jennifer Anderson’s Mahogany: the Costs of Luxury in Early America (Harvard University Press, 2012)

The subtitle of Anderson’s book says it all: “The Costs of Luxury.” In colonial America, the true price of this newly fashionable wood included exploited workers and degraded landscapes, and Anderson’s account is a fresh take on the history of consumer culture.  I’ve only read the introduction so far, and I’m impressed by the writing.  That’s no surprise, since Mahogany grew out of a dissertation that won the Allen Nevins Prize.


Andrew Case, Teaching Fellow in Environmental Studies, Washington College

Course: ENV 394: Landscapes of Health

Recommendation: Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner’s Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children (University of California Press, 2013)

Although it predates the Flint crisis and is largely focused on paint rather than water pipes, this book is essential for putting lead’s troubled past (and present) in context. Rosner and Markowitz detail how lead became ubiquitous in the built environment of the twentieth century and the shifting politics of scientific knowledge about its dangers as well. Moreover, the book’s discussion of the troubled ethics of research trials on lead abatement open up a number of important avenues for student discussion about health, risk, and social justice.

Ina Möeller, PhD Candidate in Political Science, Lund University, Sweden

Course: Political Science C55: Environmental Governance

Recommendation: Jennifer Clapp and Peter Dauvergne’s Paths to a Green World: The Political Economy of the Global Environment (The MIT Press, 2nd Edition, 2011)

Paths to a Green World provides a simple but convincing framework to understand the different environmental world views that underlie environmental policy making. Apart from offering this framework (which is useful for analysing everything from local policies to international institutions), it also provides a concise analysis of the most critical tensions between the global economy and the global environment. I liked it very much as a student and now enjoy using it as a teacher because of its simple language, its convincing examples and its useful theoretical approach.

Kara Schlichting, Queens College, CUNY

 Course: History 285, The History of New York City

Recommendation: Catherine McNeur’s Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City (Harvard University Press, 2013)

In this engaging history of how New Yorkers wrestled with environmental concerns between 1815 and 1865, McNeur vividly depicts a city that is both fascinating and appalling in its filthiness. From fights over roaming hogs to the uneven distribution of park space, McNeur shows that increased government intervention in the urban environment enabled bourgeois citizens to exert control over the nature and populations of poorer neighborhoods: in the process, social and economic inequalities reinforced environmental inequalities. This book is a good introduction to urban environmental history, forcing readers to reconsider both the urban services and environmental thresholds that we take for granted in modern American cities and how class and power dynamics shape these issues.


Featured image: Photo by Urbán Tamás, source: Creative Commons.

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