Saturday, March 17, 2012

Book review: Visit Sunny Chernobyl

Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World's Most Polluted Places by Andrew Blackwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It sounds like a silly idea at first: visiting seven of the most polluted places on the planet and treating them as vacation spots. But from the moment he hits the ground in Chernobyl and as we follow him to Canada, Texas, the Pacific Garbage Patch, Brazil, China, and India, Blackwell is an engaging story teller, combining anecdotes with facts, philosophy, interesting observations about environmentalism and the environment, and his own personal journey.

It's also fascinating to take a guided tour of some of the places you're least likely to ever visit, including the patch of water in the Pacific where enormous amounts of trash accumulate and few boats ever travel and the radiation zone around Chernobyl.

At times Visit Sunny Chernobyl feels like 7 essays that would have made great magazine articles strung together into an aimless book. But there are two strong themes holds the stories together:
  • Humans aren't just destroying the environment. We're part of it, and we have to live with the consequences. 
  • Even the most polluted places in the world have their charms... people who love them, still live in them, and make the best of what they're given. 
Visit Sunny Chernobyl is surprisingly upbeat for a book about environmental disaster tourism. Instead of focusing on the devastation, Blackwell focuses on showing the world as it is, not as it should be or even could be.

That's not to say we shouldn't try to avoid life-threatening environmental catastrophes and reduce pollution. But that all sort of goes without saying... so it isn't said much in this book, which makes it an unusual alternative to most books about the environment I've read.

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