320 pages, b/w illustrations
Although Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) is often cited as the founding text of the U.S. environmental movement, in The Malthusian Moment Thomas Robertson locates the origins of modern American environmentalism in twentieth-century adaptations of Thomas Malthus's concerns about population growth. For many environmentalists, managing population growth became the key to unlocking the most intractable problems facing Americans after World War II – everything from war and the spread of communism overseas to poverty, race riots, and suburban sprawl at home.
Weaving together the international and the domestic in creative new ways, The Malthusian Moment charts the explosion of Malthusian thinking in the United States from World War I to Earth Day 1970, then traces the just-as-surprising decline in concern beginning in the mid-1970s. In addition to offering an unconventional look at World War II and the Cold War through a balanced study of the environmental movement's most contentious theory, The Malthusian Moment sheds new light on some of the big stories of postwar American life: the rise of consumption, the growth of the federal government, urban and suburban problems, the civil rights and women's movements, the role of scientists in a democracy, new attitudes about sex and sexuality, and the emergence of the "New Right."
"Robertson's book is beautifully written, knowledgeable and even gripping at times. The author brings original material and a fresh perspective to population politics."
– Sabine Höhler, KTH Royal Institute of Technology Stockholm on H-Environment
"I loved this book. It's the type of book that gets you thinking-about your field, your research, your teaching, and how the world works in general. [...] The Malthusian Moment literally became a textbook for me on how to marry the 'national' and the 'international.'"
– Amy L. Sayward, Middle Tennessee State University on H-Environment
"Whatever happened to overpopulation? Thomas Robertson's thorough, lively, and superbly historicized account helps us think through this most pressing question."
– Environmental History 2013-03-01
"An excellent synthesis. The real strength of Robertson's work is his consideration of the dynamism and complexity of attitudes toward overpopulation. Writing a historical synthesis is never easy, but good environmental history demands it. Robertson has pulled the task off in spades."
– Journal of American History 2013-03-01
"Skillfully weaving together heightened concerns over rampant consumerism, accelerating population growth and environmental degradation, and their impact on American foreign policy, The Malthusian Moment is very likely to become obligatory reading for those interested in the tumultuous decades of the Vietnam era."
– Michael Adas, Rutgers University 2011-12-01
"This volume traces how the sociopolitically-based environmental movement of the post-WW II era embraced the siren calls of biologists warning of the global impact of overpopulation. Recommended."
– Choice 2012-12-01
"The Malthusian Moment is a valuable book that brings environmental history in touch with diplomatic and international history, helping to fill a gap in our understanding of the rise and fall of population politics."
– Kurk Dorsey, University of New Hampshire 2011-10-01
"Robertson explores complex linkages among global population growth, the politics of population, food and hunger, and American environmental anxiety in the 20th century. His is the clearest, most incisive study of American thinking on population from 1945-75, the height of Malthusian fears in intellectual and official circles."
– J.R. McNeill, Georgetown University 2011-11-10
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Thomas Robertson is an assistant professor in the department of humanities and arts at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he teaches U.S., global, and environmental history.