Algonquin, 2011, 318 pp

ISBN: 978-1-56512-581-0

Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain


Richard Louv’s previous book Last Child in the Woods was a powerful reminder to all of us that the modern, mostly indoor, push-button, technological lifestyle that so many people are living in the 21st century is really not a healthy one. There’s a well-known saying that whereas a frog would automatically jump out of boiling water, if you put it in a pan of cold water and brought it to a slow boil it may well leave its jump too late and end up dead. It’s a tale we would do well to heed, as we may not realize until it is too late the damage we are doing to ourselves—and our planet—by our futile habit of trying to separate ourselves from the rest of the natural world, both physically and conceptually.

For most people over 40, whose early lives were spent in a pre-internet era when the only telephones were landlines and many children still roamed free, today’s high-tech lifestyle is still a fascinating novelty. But the shocking reality is that for many children nowadays, it is the only lifestyle they know. The changes have taken place by means of slow creep, just like the water that boils the unwary frog. Louv is one of the voices urgently reminding us that it is time to jump out of the pot before we boil ourselves to death.

Whereas Last Child in the Woods pointed out the problem of Nature- Deficiency Disorder in children, Louv’s new book The Nature Principle points out that adults themselves can suffer from the same disorder—and many already are. Though we tend to forget it, we too are animals; we co-evolved with the natural world and we need it as much as ever. Being isolated from green and growing things predisposes us to a range of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, behaviour disorders, depression and a lack of connection with community and place. We ignore these warnings at our peril.

Some of the valuable take-away messages I brought from this book were that:

– We don’t have to leave our towns and cities to be ‘amongst Nature.’ Not only is Nature within and all around us, wherever we are, it is also possible to re-green our human settlements to an amazing degree if we just give some thought to it.

– Just because the frequent use of modern electronic gadgets affects the synaptic pathways in our brains, that doesn’t mean that our brains can’t still operate in the old ways too. We are capable of developing a wonderful and enriching combination of both that Louv calls  ‘the hybrid mind.’

– restoring the balance between humans and the rest of Nature will come not necessarily through legislation or via a greening of corporate consciousness—though both would be welcome developments—but through grassroots networking and the social media. This is already beginning to happen.

Like Louv’s previous book, and written in the same journalistic style, this is an encouraging work, full of hope, promise, and encouraging stories of good stuff happening here there and everywhere.