Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism (Anglais) Broché – 1 janvier 2004
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A better justification would have emphasized that Miller gives serious attention to Pinchot's two terms as the governor of Pennsylvania. This part of the story allows Miller to pick up non-forestry themes such as economic justice, and to show how they shaped Pinchot's earlier career as Chief Forester. The coverage of Pinchot's later career is a real strength of the book, as are the comparisons between progressive Republican governor Pinchot (PA) and progressive Democratic governor FDR (NY) during the Great Depression. Both argued for a "New Deal," and the Republican rejection of Pinchot reflects fundamental changes in that party just as much as FDR's recasting of the Democrats changed American politics for 50 years.
Interesting as many of these stories are, the book has its frustrations for the reader. Miller often tells a part of Pinchot's story and then reaches back to grab narrative bits that belong earlier in the book, both chronologically and analytically. For example, Miller's story of Pinchot's campaign for governor gets him elected, and then reaches back to discuss his key support coalition. That coalition included prohibitionists, mineworkers, and women (suffragettes). Each of those groups reflects an important feature of Pinchot's character - - he was practically a teetotaler, he was socially progressive, and he had evolved toward gender equality. Each could have been part of the story much earlier, but all three come more or less as a surprise (the mineworkers are a partial exception). That surprise highlights an important flaw in Miller's strategy, in that he does not lay a sufficient foundation for the events he discusses.
The discussion of Pinchot's family life is similarly incoherent. It is the subject of some chapters but also appears as passages in other chapters, but does not appear in chronological order. The death of a near-fiancée, for example, appears mid-book despite its implications for both his professional and personal life.
Those are but two illustrations of a pattern throughout this book. It may be that the book consists of independently-written essays that Miller didn't edit sufficiently before including them in the book. Or it may be that Miller was trying to avoid a purely chronological biography but did not write a fully thematic one. Whatever the explanation, the organizational weakness detracts from what is otherwise an interesting story about an important figure in American political and environmental history.
Reviewed by Theresa Young
Char Miller investigates Gifford Pinchot's impact on forestry and how he is misrepresented as an extreme utilitarian conservative. The author proves Pinchot's morals originated from his conservative family and they helped evolve his standards of forestry. Miller claims these standards still connect to environmental topics and can be applied at the present time. The author introduces new primary source documents formally un-researched or used in prior books on the subject. Miller represents Pinchot as an evolving man, heavily influenced by the Trans-Atlantic Progressive Connection and assures his readers Pinchot's words are relevant in today's world. Miller proves Gifford Pinchot advanced the world of forestry and created a long-lived debate in his wake concerning the correct path of preserving our Nations forests with his progressive actions in a non-progressive world.
The overall theme of Miller's book is to correct historians like Roderick Nash and Stephen Fox, who claim Gifford Pinchot was but a stepping stone in the path of the budding field of environmentalism. These authors claim John Muir is the central figure in developing the ecological vision we now know and both authors, Miller states, sweep Gifford Pinchot to the side (p. 8). According to Miller, Pinchot was not a quiet nature lover who enjoyed pleasing his critics, "[h]e felt most at home swimming against the tides," (p.272) thus making people feel passionate about their ideals and more apt to engage in debates. Miller explains how Pinchot combined political, economic, and natural landscapes into his conservation agenda in search of the best options for the public good. The combination of these three issues, Miller states, is why Pinchot made many enemies in the field of forestry and debated them frequently.
The author devotes a considerable amount of pages to the Pinchot family and how Gifford was raised to appreciate all aspects of nature. The first two chapters discuss his parents and their heritage at length; in chapter three the reader learns more about Gifford himself. Miller mentions the author George P. Marsh as an influence on Gifford Pinchot: a new copy of Marsh's book The Earth as Modified by Human Action or Man and Nature (1882) was presented to Pinchot for his twenty-first birthday (p. 55). This is an important key to remember - Marsh's book spoke of the evils of clear cutting forests, a tactic some people said Pinchot supported and practiced. Miller writes in chapter fourteen about Al Wiener, a specialist with the Forest Service in the 1970s, and how he selected Pinchot's earliest writings deliberately to find excerpts in support of clear-cutting. Wiener reduced Pinchot's ideas to provide evidence in support of clear cutting parts of Montana's forests (p. 358). This is central to the book. Miller shows how people narrow and misinterpret Pinchot's work: he seemed conservative in the beginning, when he was barely educated, but Miller reminds us Pinchot evolved into a fully Progressive forester with his eye on the public good. Marsh's words are mentioned numerous times throughout the book, leading one to wonder why Pinchot would ever support clear cutting of forests when his favorite author was adamantly against it.
Gifford Pinchot and the Making of a Modern Environmentalism does not proceed in chronological order, the chapters are written surrounding a single topic. Donald Worster notes this in his review of the book, the chapters are, "chronologically disjointed and [written in a] confusing way" (Worster 2002). The chapter sequence I feel made for a better book; following one issue through completely no matter the time-line providing a more leisurely read. Almost every chapter also includes a photo or two, allowing the reader to connect with the characters easily. James A. Pritchard describes the book as, "[w]ritten with verve and insight and richly illustrated with anecdotes and photographs, this book deserves the widest possible audience" (Pritchard 2002) and this reviewer agrees with him.
Char Miller is professor and chair of the history department at Trinity University in Texas. He wrote a great book about a topic in a new light. He successfully achieved his goal with this reader; Gifford Pinchot is no longer bastardized in my mind. The author brought exciting sources forward for historians to formulate new ideas about the environmental movement of the twentieth century. The personal correspondence between the immediate family members is a main key to understanding the characters on a deeper level: Pinchot became civic minded due to his strong familiar ties. Gifford Pinchot was an evolving man without a static frame of mind; modern environmentalist should copy his methods of governmental legislation persuasion and they will love this book.
Pritchard, James A. "Review." Oregon Historical Quarterly 103 (2002): 387-389.
Worster, Donald. " Review." The Western Historical Quarterly 33 (2002): 491-492.