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Bookmarks Issue: 
52-May-June-2011
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Saving Alaska's Wilderness Kingdom, 1879–1960

A-The Quiet WorldA professor of American history at Rice University, Douglas Brinkley has written books on a wide variety of historical subjects. The Quiet World, released on the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, is the second in his planned Wilderness Cycle, after The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America ( 4 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2009).

The Topic: Following his environmentally focused (and critically acclaimed) biography of Theodore Roosevelt, Douglas Brinkley set out to write a series of books on the creation of America's conservation movement. As a transitional book between The Wilderness Warrior and a future work focusing on modern activist figures like Rachel Carson, The Quiet World positions Alaska as a testing ground for the nation's ecological consciousness. Brinkley writes of the role Alaska played not only in the thought of well-known environmentalists like John Muir but also in nature's advocates in the courts (Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas), in business (Walt Disney), and in the arts (Ansel Adams--and even the Beat Generation). But above all, The Quiet World is a sweeping tribute to the state's wildness and a plea to preserve it.
HarperCollins. 592 pages. $29.99. ISBN: 9780062005960

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"In Brinkley's hands, the still-raging battle to save Alaska's wild character is riveting. ... As John McPhee did so eloquently with Coming Into The Country, Brinkley in The Quiet World reminds us why Alaska matters to the national psyche." Todd Wilkinson

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"It is hardly surprising that the renowned Douglas Brinkley's new book, The Quiet World, succeeds as a steadily paced and well-researched history. But what happily makes this sprawling story so readable is how the Rice University scholar lovingly spins a tale of how ‘a noble band of conservationist revolutionaries' saved Alaska--from its exploiters and for the rest of us." Michael Scott

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Brinkley provides a richly detailed, passionate and partisan account of the efforts of an environmentalist minority to buck and block corporate ‘extractors' from despoiling and destroying Alaska's wilderness. ... Clearly, Brinkley is preaching to the choir. Nonetheless, his sermon is often compelling." Glenn C. Altschuler

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"What makes the scope of this book so remarkable is that Brinkley doesn't limit it to those who wielded direct political or economic power. Painters, poets, writers, scientists, naturalists, mystics and seemingly ordinary people--all of whom share the distinction of devoting their lives to a great cause, a lifework, no matter the cost--are given their due as well." Marc Covert

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This volume is required reading for anyone even mildly interested in the antecedents to U.S. environmental policy in the 21st century--particularly as politicians such as Sarah Palin resurrect the atavistic view of the West as a natural-resource larder. With a newly emboldened Republican right in the House of Representatives, expect another rekindling of the debate over drilling for oil in ANWR. It's worth plowing through this iconoclastic tome if only to arm yourself." Geoffrey Mohan

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This 499-page chronicle of the American conservation movement and the 80-year battle to establish the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge features a cast of environmentalists worthy of a Cecil B. DeMille movie. ... Mr. Brinkley is mostly a dispassionate storyteller, though his bias shows through at times when he drops words such as ‘fortunately' or ‘luckily' when he's describing a conservationist victory." Bill Eichenberger

Critical Summary

Douglas Brinkley has called his planned Wilderness Cycle his "lifework." In general, critics seemed to respect the scope of what Brinkley is trying to do, but they were more likely to praise The Quiet World as an important work than one that deeply moved them. A few critics faulted the work for spending too much time on the biographies of various environmental figures and not enough time on the land itself. A couple also thought that the work, despite its lush prose, might be too academic for the casual reader. But overall, reviewers felt that The Quiet World clearly demonstrates the role Alaska has played in the environmental movement and the country as a whole. It is surely a book for those interested in conservation and environmentalism.