Christopher Hallowell, Author . HarperCollins $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-019446-8

Zydeco music and crayfish etouffé may exemplify the exuberance of south Louisiana, but few Americans understand that the state's 3.5 million acres of coastal wetlands—long considered permanently unexploitable wasteland—are vanishing, with dire consequences for the region and the nation, according to Hallowell. With a million acres of marsh irrevocably lost, and an area the size of Manhattan dissolving into the Gulf of Mexico annually, Hallowell forcefully argues why this crisis should be of paramount concern to every American. New Orleans and its environs are already prone to flooding, he observes, and the region's petroleum production infrastructure—a 20,000-mile labyrinth of pipelines crisscrossing sinking marshes (through which nearly a quarter of America's domestic crude oil and natural gas production flow)—remain vulnerable to unimpeded tidal surges from severe hurricanes. Investigating bureaucratic blame games and rivalries, he examines the quandaries and varied ethos of researchers and remediation experts as they struggle to stem the deterioration of this natural buffer zone. From staggering statistics and personal glimpses into the lives and histories of the locals, Hallowell crafts a coherent, engrossing narrative. In his view, the bayou inhabitants display a "bewildering mix of adoration and abuse" of the region's natural beauty and abundance, given their acquiescence to the petroleum industry's rampant dredging and dumping; their conflicting attitudes represent a microcosm of American attitudes toward environmental stewardship. The federal government, Hallowell concludes, must commit to a massive program for saving the wetlands and a balance between preservation and "wise use" of its resources. (July)

Reviewed on: 06/25/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 304 pages - 978-0-06-201341-5
Hardcover - 288 pages - 978-0-06-112268-2
Paperback - 265 pages - 978-0-06-112424-2
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