|Teddy Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir at Yosemite|
The Quiet World: Saving Alaska's Wilderness Kingdom - 1879 to 1960.
Brinkley said he decided to write his latest book when he realized that his previous book The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and His Crusade for America had failed to convey the complete story of Roosevelt and Alaska. In fact, Brinkley said a book he currently is working on will pick up the Alaskan story and feature the contributions of President John Kennedy, Stewart Udall, and Rachel Carson.
Brinkley said his research has convinced him that, as Roosevelt so often preached, America must continue to protect its environment and natural resources.
"We don't understand what we have and it saddens me," Brinkley said. "Roosevelt was convinced that if we lost the wilderness, we would lose our moral compass. We have to fight to keep these places. It takes govenment and it takes resilience."
That battle between environmentalists and capitalists intensifies during bad economic times, Brinkley noted. "It always happens when our economy is in trouble," he noted. "When you hear today 'drill, baby, drill' it's the same war that TR was fighting 100 years ago. Alaska was 1 of his last great crusades."
Of course, Roosevelt was not alone in his Alaskan fight. Some of the greatest later support came from Walt Disney, who produced a series of documentaries detailing life in America's extreme north which renewed interest in Alaskan preservation.
But, in his time, Roosevelt was the main force. "We had a naturalist president at just the right time," Brinkley said. "He said things like the loss of a species 'would be like slashing all the Rembrandts in a museum.' He injected Darwinism into the national bloodstream.When he died in 1919, he left a void in conservationism."
In the 1960s, as pollution threatened, the movement shifted to environmentalism. But no matter what the name, Brinkley said we must keep at the fight that Roosevelt began.
"We have this great system and we've let it decay," Brinkley said. "It's a sign we've got to wake up and save these things that Roosevelt thought were so important."
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf is the definite work on that American tragedy. But my favorite Brinkley book is The Majic Bus: An American Odyssey, written early is his career. Concerned that his students at Hofstra University were not grasping key elements of the American story, Brinkley outfitted a bus, grabbed a driver, and with specially selected music and a required reading list on board, headed across the country for 6 weeks with a group of his students so they could come to understand America by that most American invention, the road trip. If you haven't read Majic Bus, read it. You will not only learn about history, you will learn how history can and should be taught and how it can be made to live today.