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Why Read the Classics? 

Edited by Sofia Guedes Vaz
July 2012   178 + vi pp   234 x 156 mm  
paperback   ISBN 978-1-906093-75-4   £19.95  

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Six important essays by some of the world’s leading environmental thinkers on six of the most emblematic books ever written on the environment.

Preview samples    Foreword    Introduction

Environment: Why Read the Classics? presents six important essays by some of the world’s leading environmental thinkers on six of the most emblematic books ever written on the environment. The books – Walden; A Sand County Almanac; Small is Beautiful; Silent Spring; The Limits to Growth; and Our Common Future – taken together have been hugely important in the development of global environmental awareness, activism and policy. The essayists – Viriato Soromenho-Marques, J. Baird Callicott, José Lima Santos, Tim O’Riordan, Satish Kumar and Marina Silva – invite readers to reflect on these ground-breaking works and examine their historical importance, as well as what they should mean to us today and what relevance they will have to future generations.

More than just books about the environment, these are also philosophical treatises, in that they increase our understanding of the natural world and of ourselves, calling us ‘to weigh and consider’, as Bacon put it. In particular, they make us reflect on the need to constantly redefine the purposes of progress, the economy and society. How we relate to nature is a crucial aspect in the plans we make as a species, and as individuals; and every one of these books inspires a more respectful relationship, both with nature and humanity, and consequently with ourselves.

The six essays in this book are the result of a series of conferences organised in Lisbon by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation with the support of the American Embassy in Portugal. Its raison d’être was to revisit the ideas that have shaped the environmental movement, seeking inspiration to deal with what looks like a very challenging future. The significance of such timeless concepts is now more apparent than ever; and these evergreen books are full of ideas that retain their spark even in our difficult times. This is what makes them classics.

Environment: Why Read the Classics? is a provocative book and will be essential reading for all those concerned about the state of the world.


... the six classics discussed here ... unsettle common sense, they offer a new perspective of our place in space, in time. They are, in this regard, revolutionary, and we need a revolution of thought and practice if we are to reach the next century, let alone a third millennium, at peace with the natural world.
Andrew Dobson, Professor of Politics, Keele University, UK


Professor Andrew Dobson
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Sofia Guedes Vaz
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1. Walden: A tale on the ‘art of living’
Viriato Soromenho-Marques

2. A Sand County Almanac: An evolutionary-ecological worldview
J. Baird Callicott

3. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring: A legacy for sustainable development
José Lima Santos

4. The Limits to Growth revisited
Tim O’Riordan

5. Small is still beautiful
Satish Kumar

6. An essay on Our Common Future
Marina Silva

Sofia Guedes Vaz graduated as an environmental engineer in 1989. She worked in environmental consultancy and received an MSc in environmental technology in 1993 from Imperial College, London. From 1997 to 2002 she worked at the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, specialising in environmental policy and environmental emerging issues such as the precautionary principle. From 2003 to 2007 she undertook a PhD on environmental political philosophy, focusing on responsibility and virtue politics. Sofia co-edited the books Late Lessons from Early Warnings: The Precautionary Principle 1896–2000 (2001) and Interfaces between Science and Society(2006) and co-authored the Environmental Ethics Handbook (2010). She is currently a researcher on sustainable consumption and on food waste at CENSE (the Centre for Environmental and Sustainability Research), New University of Lisbon. She is part of the group ‘Stand-Up Scientists’, who communicate science through stand-up comedy. Sofia writes a monthly column entitled ‘Positive Environment’ for a Portuguese online magazine. She has two children and lives in Portugal.