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The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise
Synopses & Reviews
The Everglades was once reviled as a liquid wasteland, and Americans dreamed of draining it. Now it is revered as a national treasure, and Americans have launched the largest environmental project in history to try to save it. The Swamp is the stunning story of the destruction and possible resurrection of the Everglades, the saga of man's abuse of nature in southern Florida and his unprecedented efforts to make amends. Michael Grunwald, a prize-winning national reporter for The Washington Post, takes readers on a riveting journey from the Ice Ages to the present, illuminating the natural, social and political history of one of America's most beguiling but least understood patches of land.
The Everglades was America's last frontier, a wild country long after the West was won. Grunwald chronicles how a series of visionaries tried to drain and "reclaim" it, and how Mother Nature refused to bend to their will; in the most harrowing tale, a 1928 hurricane drowned 2,500 people in the Everglades. But the Army Corps of Engineers finally tamed the beast with levees and canals, converting half the Everglades into sprawling suburbs and sugar plantations. And though the southern Everglades was preserved as a national park, it soon deteriorated into an ecological mess. The River of Grass stopped flowing, and 90 percent of its wading birds vanished.
Now America wants its swamp back. Grunwald shows how a new breed of visionaries transformed Everglades politics, producing the $8 billion rescue plan. That plan is already the blueprint for a new worldwide era of ecosystem restoration. And this book is a cautionary tale for that era. Through gripping narrative and dogged reporting, Grunwald shows how the Everglades is still threatened by the same hubris, greed and well-intentioned folly that led to its decline.
"Washington Post reporter Grunwald brings the zeal of his profession — and the skill that won him a Society of Environmental Journalists Award in 2003 — to this enthralling story of 'the river of grass' that starry-eyed social engineers and greedy developers have diverted, drained and exploited for more than a century. In 1838, fewer than 50 white people lived in south Florida, and the Everglades was seen as a vast and useless bog. By the turn of this century, more than seven million people lived there (and 40 million tourists visited annually). Escalating demands of new residents after WWII were sapping the Everglades of its water and decimating the shrinking swamp's wildlife. But in a remarkable political and environmental turnaround, chronicled here with a Washington insider's savvy, Republicans and Democrats came together in 2000 to launch the largest ecosystem restoration project in America's history. This detailed account doesn't shortchange the environmental story — including an account of the senseless fowl hunts that provoked abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1877 broadside 'Protect the Birds.' But Grunwald's emphasis on the role politics played in first despoiling and now reclaiming the Everglades gives this important book remarkable heft. 18 pages of b&w photos; 7 maps." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In recent years, writers have devoted a lot of ink to the tortured history of south Florida's Everglades. But no one has nailed that story as effectively, as hauntingly and as dramatically as Michael Grunwald does in 'The Swamp,' a brilliant work of research and reportage about the evolution of a reviled bog into America's — if not the world's — most valuable wetland. Grunwald, a prize-winning... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) reporter for The Washington Post, explains that the true, original Everglades were not a swamp in any botanically correct sense of the word but rather a marsh, 'a vast sheet of shallow water spread across a seemingly infinite prairie of serrated sawgrass,' often called the River of Grass. But Grunwald's sweep is bigger than that. It embraces the entire south Florida hydrosystem, a 100-mile long funnel that seeps from the Kissimmee lakes near Orlando, spills into Lake Okeechobee, then overflows through the Everglades and the Big Cypress Swamp to the mangroves of Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. At least that's the way it used to be. Now, despite recent efforts to undo some of the engineered damage inflicted on it over the past 150 years, the swamp remains imperiled. 'Half the Everglades is gone,' Grunwald writes. 'The other half is an ecological mess. Wading birds no longer darken the skies above it.' Okeechobee is choking on algal blooms. Sprawl continues to nibble the edge of the Big Cypress. Unsustainable communities 'are at risk from the next killer hurricane — and the one after that.' Risk has been south Florida's leitmotif since Europeans first pushed their way into its wild interior. The region was certainly risky for the Seminole Indians, who barely escaped annihilation by the U.S. Army in the 1830s. Unconquered, a few hundred managed to hang on in the Big Cypress. Later in the 19th century, risk shifted to the great flocks of wading birds — spoonbills, flamingos, herons and egrets — whose plumage was thought better adorning milady's stylish hats. Before laws brought that slaughter to a halt, one report fixed the kill at 5 million birds a year. The most enduring risks were framed by the dreamers and schemers who believed that the Everglades must be drained to make the country fit for settlement and cultivation. Grunwald chronicles each successive (though not always successful) effort to dry out the swamp and describes the devastating hurricanes of 1926 and 1928, which uncorked the backed-up waters of Lake Okeechobee, drowning nearly 3,000 people (mostly poor blacks — a foretaste of Hurricane Katrina) and prompting the Army Corps of Engineers to construct a four-story concrete dike around the lake, thus stifling much of the flow to the Everglades. Grunwald is at his best in dissecting the political wars that rattled the region after Everglades National Park was established at the toe of the hydrosystem in 1947 — which meant that upstream city folks and cattlemen and sugar growers got first dibs on releases of fresh water while the park had to settle for the leftovers, now tainted with pesticides and fertilizers. Meanwhile, the Corps of Engineers, presiding over 'the largest earth-moving effort since the Panama Canal,' crisscrossed the peninsula with hundreds of miles of levees and canals designed not so much to save human lives as to boost the Sunshine State's economy. A reader might become numb from Grunwald's stacking of the details were it not for his skill at profiling the characters who, by the late 1960s, were trying to turn the flow of events back Nature's way. Among them: activist-writer Marjory Stoneman Douglas, grand dame of the River of Grass; and Nathaniel Pryor Reed, the 'blue-blooded outdoorsman' whose 6-foot-5-inch frame 'evoked a great blue heron' and whose eloquence convinced two pro-development Republican politicians, Florida Gov. Claude Kirk Jr. and U.S. Interior Secretary Walter Hickel, to scuttle Dade County's plan to build the world's largest jetport just a coconut-throw north of Everglades National Park. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew leveled Homestead Air Force Base, located between Everglades and Biscayne national parks. Afterward, Dade County's high rollers, including some who had lost out on that earlier jetport scheme, said this would be a fine place to build a big commercial airport — never mind that the result would darken both parks' skies with 600 flights a day. The Clinton administration juggled that one for several years even as it cobbled together a $7.8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and billed it as the most expensive and extensive environmental initiative in history. Calculated to undo much of the damage inflicted on the 'glades over the years, the restoration plan was unveiled by Vice President Al Gore in West Palm Beach in 1998. Environmentalists cheered. But few Florida enviros cheered for Gore in 2000. The greenest presidential candidate in American history declined to renounce the Homestead jetport and was punished for it. According to Grunwald, of the 96,000 votes received by Ralph Nader in Florida that November, some 10,000 were probably attributable to Gore's waffling on the airport. And the final irony? Four days before Clinton turned over the Oval Office to the anti-green George W. Bush, Clinton's administration announced that the Homestead deal was dead in the water — what little there was left of it. John G. Mitchell, a former editor at Newsweek and National Geographic, has been writing about the Everglades since 1967." Reviewed by John G. Mitchell, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Starred Review. Washington Post reporter Grunwald brings the zeal of his profession ? and the skill that won him a Society of Environmental Journalists Award in 2003 ? to this enthralling story of "the river of grass" that starry-eyed social engineers and greedy developers have diverted, drained and exploited for more than a century. In 1838, fewer than 50 white people lived in south Florida, and the Everglades was seen as a vast and useless bog. By the turn of this century, more than seven million people lived there (and 40 million tourists visited annually). Escalating demands of new residents after WWII were sapping the Everglades of its water and decimating the shrinking swamp's wildlife. But in a remarkable political and environmental turnaround, chronicled here with a Washington insider's savvy, Republicans and Democrats came together in 2000 to launch the largest ecosystem restoration project in America's history. This detailed account doesn't shortchange the environmental story ? including an account of the senseless fowl hunts that provoked abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1877 broadside "Protect the Birds." But Grunwald's emphasis on the role politics played in first despoiling and now reclaiming the Everglades gives this important book remarkable heft. 18 pages of b&w photos; 7 maps. (Mar.) Publishers Weekly. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"The colorful, infuriating, and instructive story of the Everglades is a riveting tale of ambition versus ecological reality, politics versus science, and, on the upside, our gradual awakening to the true nature of nature." Donna Seaman, Booklist. Starred Review
"This is a wonderfully written, provocative and important book. It combines history and investigative journalism to explore not only the Everglades but the larger tensions of a society's relationship with the environment. It's also a riveting story, the definitive account of south Florida's incredible journey from natural marshland to man-made megalopolis. There are many lessons here, and in the wake of Katrina it's time we learned them." John Barry, author of Rising Tide and The Great Influenza
"In The Swamp, Michael Grunwald has produced a masterly narrative, a story of ambition and greed in the Everglades that is rich with character, entertainment and revelation. This is a quintessential chapter of American history and also an urgently important work of contemporary journalism." Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars
"Michael Grunwald is tough and clear-eyed and writes like a dream. Here, in The Swamp, he has found the perfect story — man's long struggle between destruction and salvation, played out in the Everglades of Florida. With its interwoven threads of history, science, politics and biography, Grunwald's work has brought a beautiful, dying place to life as never before." David Maraniss, author of They Marched into Sunlight and When Pride Still Mattered
Table of Contents
Introduction: "A Treasure for Our Country"
Part One The Natural Everglades
1 Grassy Water
2 The Intruders
4 A New Vision
5 Drainage Gets Railroaded
Part Two Draining the Everglades
6 The Reclamation of a Kingly Domain
7 The Father of South Florida
8 Protect the Birds
9 "Water Will Run Downhill!"
10 Land by the Gallon
11 Nature's Revenge
12 "Everglades Permanence Now Assured"
13 Taming the Everglades
Part Three Restoring the Everglades
14 Making Peace with Nature
15 Repairing the Everglades
16 Something in the Water
17 Something for Everyone
Epilogue: The Future of the Everglades
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