19 August 2022

Second Nature, by Nathaniel Rich

Posted by Callan Bentley

This volume is a compilation of reporting that author Nathaniel Rich previously published (sometimes in rather different form) in a variety of periodicals, but mainly the New York Times Magazine. The general theme is humanity’s alteration of the natural world, for good or (usually) for ill. The first piece, on West Virginian lawyer Robert Bilott, was the basis of the recent Mark Ruffalo film Dark Waters. Other essays examine a mysterious disease killing Pacific starfish, toxic gas leaks in residential coastal California, artificial (lab cultured) meat, the rewilding of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the tug-of-war of eco-sensitive development in Aspen, Colorado, efforts toward the de-extinction of the passenger pigeon, and more. A trio of pieces examines the impact of sea level rise along the Louisiana coast. Each was a well-reported, well-written read, and collections like this are valuable as tributes to the range of a writer’s interests. It’s mostly glum, partly uncanny, and not especially hopeful. These are interesting times in which to live, and Rich’s book documents some of the reasons why.