Angels by the River
Reflections on race, environment, politics, and living on the front lines of change
In Angels by the River, James Gustave “Gus” Speth recounts his unlikely path from a southern boyhood through his years as one of the nation’s most influential mainstream environmentalists and eventually to the system-changing activism that shapes his current work. Born and raised in an idyllic but racially divided town that later became the scene of South Carolina’s horrific Orangeburg Massacre, Speth explores how the civil rights movement and the South’s agrarian roots shaped his later work in the heyday of the environmental movement, when he founded two landmark environmental groups, fought for the nation’s toughest environmental laws, spearheaded programs in the United Nations, advised the White House, and moved into a leading academic role as dean of Yale’s prestigious School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Yet, in the end, he arrived somewhere quite unexpected–still believing change is possible, but not within the current political and economic system. Throughout this compelling memoir, Speth intertwines three stories–his own, his hometown’s, and his country’s–focusing mainly on his early years and the lessons he drew from them, and his later years, in which he comes full circle in applying those lessons. In the process he invites others to join him politically at or near the place at which he has arrived, wherever they may have started.
Reviews and Praise
"I have been fortunate to know this remarkable man, and now readers can, too. I urge you to accompany Gus Speth through his early life in the segregated South, the liberal North, the heady days of the environmental movement and his disenchantment with inside-the-system fixes. You will find the journey engrossing, eye opening, inspiring, and deeply moving.”--Juliet Schor, co-founder of the Center for a New American Dream and author of True Wealth
More Reviews and Praise
"Speth—the former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council and World Resources Institute—tells of his nearly idyllic boyhood in segregated Orangeburg, South Carolina, in the 1940s and 1950s, of his awakening to the evils of racism in the 1960s—he was away at Yale Law School during the infamous Orangeburg Massacre of 1968—and of his growing awareness of the power of social movements. He chronicles how he poured his youthful energy into environmental advocacy because he believed that he 'had largely missed one great American struggle, civil rights, and…did not want to miss another.' The author writes modestly of his distinguished career, explaining the jobs he held and the ones he didn't get, offers generous praise to those who taught him and helped him along the way, and gives a nod to the role played by sheer good luck. Beyond the biographical data, though, Speth is using his memoir to send a message developed in his earlier books: Red Sky at Morning, The Bridge at the Edge of the World and America the Possible. The author pulls no punches in charging that the environmental movement, working within the system, is facing failure, and he asserts that lack of leadership on the issue of climate change 'is probably the greatest dereliction of civic responsibility in the history of the Republic.' In Speth's view, the only option left is to change our political economy from one that gives top priority to profit, production and power to one that values people, place and planet. Both a personal account of a long career dedicated to the environment and a fervent plea for major reform.”
"Angels by the River does what the best memoirs hope to do—launch the reader into a larger collective story. Gus Speth, a native son of the Deep South, has spent his life in the service of justice. He has not only been part of America's social and environmental history, but his leadership has helped shape it. This book is a testament to spirited engagement, showing us how 'the gift of having a cause beyond ourselves' can translate to personal and political transformation. Angels by the River is an antidote against despair and a prayer for action."--Terry Tempest Williams, author of The Open Space of Democracy
"This book is a true gem. While guiding us through the remarkable currents of his life, Gus Speth thrills us with the breadth of his thinking and the depths of his insights. His voice is absolutely essential when it comes to the environment. And he is never less than compelling as he makes the case for transformational change on any number of other important issues, from our obsession with economic growth to US policy in the Middle East."--Bob Herbert, distinguished senior fellow at Demos and former Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times
"Angels by the River is a personal look at the forces that shaped one of America’s great environmental leaders and climate activists. Gus doesn’t shy away from the dangers of climate change, but he maintains an enduring faith that people can and will make the difference. This book will engage, enlighten, and spur readers to action—just as Gus has inspired so many of us with his commitment and drive."--Frances Beinecke, president, Natural Resources Defense Council
"Speth's story is a moving, well-told tale of transcendence: from a segregated southern town, to the forefront of the environmental struggle, to a new understanding of the deep changes we need to put our nation on a just and livable path. A critical book for change agents, young and old."--Van Jones, author, Rebuild The Dream and The Green Collar Economy
“A longtime friend and ally, Gus Speth is a tireless advocate for the environment. His accumulated stories and knowledge, the kind that could only come from decades of experience at the highest levels, provide a unique and insightful look into our history, and the way forward from here.”--Al Gore, former vice president of the United States
"You will not soon read a better or more instructive memoir–a profoundly wise reflection on a life dedicated to solving the largest challenges of our time written by an insider who grew into a radical in the best sense of the word."--David W. Orr, counselor to the president of Oberlin College, and Steven Minter Fellow, the Cleveland Foundation
"Gus Speth is the great environmentalist of our age, and this book chronicles not just his life's journey, but his mind's. It will make you think anew about many things, including where change comes from!"--Bill McKibben, author of Wandering Home and founder of 350.org
"Gus Speth offers the gift of his own struggle to confront the systemic challenge we face as an example to anyone, young or old, seeking to find a new and possible way forward. His deeply thoughtful book is marvelous, hopeful, and above all life-affirming."--Gar Alperovitz, cofounder of The Democracy Collaborative and author of What Then Must We Do?
About The Author
|Size:||6 x 9 inch|
|Publisher:||Chelsea Green Publishing|
|Pub. Date:||October 31, 2014|
Available In/Retail PriceHardcover, 224 pages, $25.00
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