25 March 2012

Book Review: Last Child in the Woods

When I am in Israel, I imagine America to be a green place full of music, art, and forest.
Then I get there and remember that America is a paved place full of billboards, factoids, and vast shopping malls. I think Jerusalem is actually greener than pretty much any part of America.
Oh, well.
America does have nice public libraries. I checked out a book of which I had heard much: Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv.

I expected Last Child in the Woods to read like a New Yorker article, a thought-provoking treatise on why children no longer spend much time knocking about in the wilderness, and how to fix that. It turned out to contain more worry (campers in such-and-such a camp are not permitted to climb trees, can you believe it) and less analysis than I expected. The author does hint to some of the underlying questions --  What defines interacting with nature? what is the philosophical difference between building a treehouse and building a house? -- but instead of identifying and answering such questions, he gets stuck in dilemmas - e.g., he takes it as a given that treehouse-building is good for us; but he worries along with the government that in certain areas treehouses pose a fire hazard.

He also cites many statistics which may demonstrate correlation, but if they do demonstrate causation, he does not explain how. (Does using the Internet make people depressed, as he says? I could hear that. Or do depressed and lonely people turn to the Internet? Or is the culture responsible for Internet also responsible for depression?) I wound up skimming a lot of the book.

I did find fascinating his account of the planning of nature-saturated towns - in Scandinavia, naturally - in which nature is the given and the houses are arranged to fit into it, rather than the other way round. Why are the Swedes so much better at this sort of thing?

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