“A darkly comic romp.” Elizabeth Kolbert, staff writer, The New Yorker
“An environmentalist book that avoids the usual hyperventilation, upending stubborn myths with prosaic facts . . . Blackwell is a smart and often funny writer.” Wall Street Journal
“Witty and disturbing . . . Call this the anti-guide book.” New York Post "Required Reading"
Driving though the irradiated wastes around Chernobyl or traversing the deforested frontiers of the Amazon jungle rarely tops even the most seasoned travelers’ must-see list, but this entertaining, appealing, and thoughtful travelogue covers some of the world’s most befouled spots with lively, agile wit. Journalist and filmmaker Blackwell doesn’t just present a list of environmental woes but undertakes provocative meditations on how to care about the planet while recognizing that plenty of people need to make a living, sometimes to the environment’s detriment. Contemporary environmentalism is rife with contradictions, and as he ponders the impact of western Canada’s oil sands, he notes: “Whether we’re talking about recycling, or voting, or consumer choices... these are all attempts to square the circle, to mitigate—or more often, to atone for—our individual role in the disquietingly unsustainable system that keeps us alive.” As his project to visit the wretched places of the Earth takes its toll on his personal relationship and well-being, he gives considerable thought to why he’s doing it, realizing that he “love the ruined places for all the ways they aren’t ruined.” While he doesn’t offer solutions or answers, the book does offer an astute critique of how visions of blighted spots create an either/or vision of how to care for the environment and live in the world. Agent: Michelle Tessler, Tessler Literary Agency. (June)
In Visit Sunny Chernobyl (Rodale. ISBN 9781605294452. $25.99), Andrew Blackwell willingly, even happily, visits some of the world’s most polluted places: the oil sands of Northern Alberta, the Yamuna River of India, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Is the author some kind of environmental rubbernecker? Armchair travelers who appreciate landscapes (even ruined ones) painted in precise and sharp language as well as readers who enjoy witty exposés filled with wry and sweet humor will enjoy finding out.
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Humor and dry wit lighten a travelogue of the most polluted and ravaged places in the world. Through seven nasty sites, journalist and filmmaker Blackwell teases out complex environmental issues and the history and cultures that surround them. The author conceived of the book because "to chase after the beautiful and pristine was to abandon most of the world." Ultimately, he writes, "instead of finding degraded ecosystems that I could treat as though they were beautiful, I was just finding beauty." The author engagingly chronicles his many adventures: canoeing near Chernobyl, museum-hopping by the oil sands of Northern Alberta, and piloting a ship through the Sabine-Neches Waterway in Port Arthur, Texas, "the pungent centerpiece of America's petrochemical tiara." Along the way, we meet colorful characters and learn what fuels these toxic places. Blackwell then sails off for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, formed by a vortex of currents that gathers buoyant plastic into a huge floating mess. Moving on to the Amazon, where issues are far from black and white, the author delves into the issue of why rainforest destruction is so complicated, particularly when the forest is inhabited. The author also visited Linfen, China, the heart of the country's coal-producing region and reputedly the most polluted place on the planet. The final chapter covers a pilgrimage of sorts along the sacred Yamuna River in India, or at least the former channel of the river--the water has been diverted and its bed is filled with sewage and waste. In each chapter, Blackwell finds he loves the polluted places for all the ways they aren't ruined. With great verve, and without sounding preachy, he exposes the essence and interconnectedness of these environmental problems.