Shopping cart is empty.

Birchbark Blog


Louise Erdrich - Tuesday, November 05, 2013

As long into the night I read Alan Weisman's urgent, eloquent, harrowing and yet hopeful, story-packed COUNTDOWN, I paused often.  How did he do this?  He trekked the globe in an all-consuming effort to see if we, humanity, will survive the twin knock out clobbers of population explosion and climate change.  He writes of saints, heroes, and the self-consuming madness of greed.  Everywhere, he finds the most fascinating person in a thousand miles, and makes a story out of what they tell us. 

Somehow, after writing The World Without Us, an elegant thought experiment that imagined how earth would look without humanity, he has written an even better book.

Weisman poses questions upon which the survival of our species hinges:  How many people can our planet reasonably support?  Since we've already passed that number, how do we humanely reduce our numbers?  Because we can't reduce our numbers quickly enough to stop eradicating other species, what species can't we absolutely live without?  And lastly, how do we design a stable world and economy for a shrinking population?

COUNTDOWN answers these questions with whirling energy.  We meet mountain gorilla stewards and a San Diego teacher who teaches the answers to the questions above by describing an Iranian carpet.  We meet the great Indian poet Sugathakumari, who despairs of the rampant development of India's model state, Kerala.  Most important of all, Weisman comes up with a single thoughtful answer to all four of the questions he poses.

The fate of our species depends on how quickly and thoroughly women become educated.  Period.  Knock out answer.  Read the book and find out why.

Spoiler alert -- the book ends at Lake of the Isles, only blocks from Birchbark Books.

Yours for Alan Weisman's world changing outlook.  Please read this book.  Take your time.  You will weep and yet be cheered.  As Alan said when he was here in Minneapolis, "there are saints out there" so let's support what they are doing and gain a little grace, each one of us.


Jeff Isenhart commented on 05-Nov-2013 06:38 PM
From your description,Louise,I look forward to reading this book. These are questions, with probably hard answers, that have many of us in our circle thinking about. I am one who holds with "the earth is given for steward for future generations. I have come to the conclusion that that this can not go on. Any book written with "whiling energy" can find a place on a shelf in my den, along with those of Ed McGaa, Black Elk, Thoreau, Norton book of Nature writing, Hemingway and yours. Thank you for this critique and endorsement.
Joe Lamb commented on 20-Nov-2013 10:54 AM
I found "The World Without Us" to be one of the most hopeful environmental books I've read. Strange that a world without humans could be considered "hopeful," but when I'd worked on nuclear weapons issues, back in the '80s, many serious people thought humans capable of destroying life on earth. Alan reminds us that it's not, in the really big sense of geologic time, nature at risk, it's humanity itself. Alan ranks among the most creative thinkers of our time. "Countdown" the next book on my must-read-list.
Anonymous commented on 22-Nov-2013 09:39 PM
Hugs to you all at Birchbark Books for keeping the flame burning bright. If books are the cart, love is the horse.
Steve Anderson commented on 24-Nov-2013 10:03 PM
Thanks for the recommendation. It's an astonishing read but very disturbing and didn't leave me with much hope for our species. I agree that educating girls and women is critically important and the single most important tactic in trying to save us.
Post a Comment!

Happy Winter

Louise Erdrich - Tuesday, February 05, 2013

I had simply been too nice, for too long, as this is Minnesota.  So I read the Patrick Melrose Novels, by Edward St. Aubyn, practically weeping with relief.  Vicarious cruelty, sordid little lusts, an epic search to score heroin while carrying a parent's ashes, it has helped enormously. 

Patrick, on his parents vodka fueled marriage: "Perhaps, on the contrary, it was her money that had cheapened him.  He had stopped his medical practice soon after their marriage.  At the beginning, there had been talk of using some of her money to start a home for alcoholics.  In a sense they had succeeded."

The four novellas contain abuse, incest, indelicacies, vicious cuts at the person of Princess Margaret, hilarious descriptions of clothing, party swag, and the venal behavior of the British upper class.  There is also bewildered tenderness and a narrator who staggers toward something that resembles hope.  

Birchbark Books is going to Washington D.C. via train to take part in the Feb 17th action on curbing the fossil fuel industry.  We'll let you know how that goes, how the train goes, what we see and what we are reading.  

I might take the St. Aubyn and read it all again.  Or the new Karen Russell book, short stories including one about a Vampire in a Lemon Grove -- I just glimpsed an intriguing review -- 

Yours for books,


(View Louise's Facebook Page for more thoughts about the climate action in DC)

Susan Merrill commented on 06-Feb-2013 02:18 PM
I love that story about the vampires in the lemon grove! My techno-literate children just can't understand my love of books, though we read so many together in their early days. Just bought a beautiful edition of the Decameron at my library's used book sale and am enjoying every word as I have always wanted to read this masterpiece! Please accept my thanks, Ms. Erdrich, for giving me many hours of true bliss. Your writing is included in my all-time top ten list, and I am absolutely looking forward to reading "The Round House"!
Anonymous commented on 06-Mar-2013 05:07 PM
Don't know about politics and was it good that house passed VAWA?
Annetelope 13 commented on 09-Mar-2013 10:13 PM
Hello Louise!

My first visit to your website for Birchbark Books...and I have just finished reading "The Round House." Wonderful (as are all your novels).
I also noted that the President has just signed a strengthened Violence Against Women Act, including, for the first time, protection for Native American Women on reservations. I cannot help but feel that your novel inspired this addition. And thank you for all the joy your novels have given me over the years.

Anne Werner
Post a Comment!

Back to Real

Louise Erdrich - Sunday, December 02, 2012

So that was a great night in New York City but home again is better, sweeter, and as everyone says "weirdly warm."  And oh, did we talk about Hurricane Sandy? Tomorrow is will be 50 degrees and this is December in Minnesota. When people speak of these warm days there is an uneasy smile, a half-laugh, "guess there's an upside to global warming", or an almost wistful, "we should get out and enjoy this before the cold hits." In the back of our minds, these thoughts: How long before it just doesn't get cold here anymore? How long before, as NASA climatologist James Hanson predicts, the southern half of the United States becomes uninhabitable? How long before the corn scorches in Iowa? How long before Lake Superior's waters warm? Before they recede ten, fifteen, twenty feet? How long before we lose nearly half the Arctic?

Oh, that was last summer when we lost the Arctic.

Back in the real we'd like to link everyone to Bill McKibben brought's Do The Math tour to Minnesota a couple of nights ago. I was there. Ted Mann hall was packed and the event was long sold out. There were many people, but . . .   

When you were small and just falling asleep, did you ever have the sense that your boundaries blurred, that you were huge, vast, big as the earth? Bigger? A sudden sense of growing wildly beyond all possibility? I wish that was the way I felt the other night. Instead, I had the sense that this problem was that huge. I looked around at the people and we were so few, just a handful among the billions, and we were all perfectly ordinary. 

Not only that, but annoying too. Honestly? I hate the way I am sometimes, but some speakers (NOT McKibben) annoyed the hell out of me. They were right, but my heart sank. It was a little like being at a giant AA meeting where you know you're sick and doomed and, worst of all, you are in a place where you're going to hear a whole lot of platitudes. And then, horrifyingly, those platitudes will turn out to be true. And even worse -- in order to live with any decency at all, you're going to have to admit them into your own dark, anti-social, Minnesota-nice resistant, heart.  

It is true. All of us ordinary, annoying, scared, crazily hopeful people are called upon to fight, together, the greatest fight in human history. I know that sounds like a B movie trailer -- but like I said . . . true is true. The fight is simple: to keep a planet we can live on. The most important thing I took away was this: none of us really want to use fossil fuels. Given an alternative, hey, who wouldn't choose clean burning energy? But the fossil fuel industry -- giant and complex -- has blocked alternative energy. The fossil fuel industry, all of the oil companies -- Chevron, Exxon, BP, Shell, etc., have decided that immediate profit is more important than a world.

We have to stop them.  

When Bill called upon us all to pressure our colleges and universities (not to mention any wealthy persons you know) to divest, to stop investing in fossil fuels, it was like a light went on. It worked for apartheid. Let's apply the pressure. If there isn't yet a group working to divest your college, form one, join one, write letters. Join Find out how. Let's take EVERYBODY'S money out of fossil fuels.  

We were out of time twenty years ago -- but hey -- check out Germany.  Check out China. They are going green anyway and we are behind the curve, just where big oil wants us. 

This is supposed to be a book blog -- and so here is the book part:  I want there to be a world where we ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and on and on, can lie back on a cool summer night, the windows open, myriad sighing crickets and unknown little bugs singing, a lamp, okay a solar lamp, casting a pool of radiance -- in which we are reading together.

Yours truly, Book People,


Join the movement at
Read Bill McKibben's key article on climate change: Global Warming's Terrifying New Math
Purchase Bill McKibben's book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet


Mari Mann commented on 03-Dec-2012 01:28 PM
And another sad but true fact: Bill McKibben and the others are usually "preaching to the choir". Those of us who already know that we are in the fight of our lives (one that we may have already lost) already belong to, go to Bill's talks, and do whatever we can to live small on the planet. Those who really need to hear and, more importantly, to act, don't go to the talks or join the fight. Sad but true.
Gary Deason commented on 03-Dec-2012 01:56 PM
A low point occurred in the second debate when Obama and Romney argued heatedly over who would allow the most drilling on public lands. Egad! How low can you go? Unfortunatley, lowest common denominator appears to drive the dynamics of the two-party system. American politics is deeply troubled when a presidential campaign cannot address the major issue facing the world for fear of losing votes or campaign dollars. Now that he's re-elected, we need to hold Obama to an agressive approach for mitigating climate change and appointment of a second-term energy secretary who will do the same.
Liz Heinecke commented on 03-Dec-2012 01:58 PM
I'm thrilled that you're joining fight against climate change. We have to keep this conversation going strong, since what we do over the next ten years will make all the difference in the world. Literally.
You might want to point kids at your bookstore to some of NASA's great resources, like and
I'm currently working with the Science Museum of MN as an Earth Ambassador for NASA. We'll be sponsoring an Earth Day/NASA Climate Day celebration at the museum on April 20th, 2013. Here's part of last year's program:
Please let me know if you or your bookstore would like to be involved in any way. Maybe your bookstore could have a table where kids could write a short poem about the earth they'd like to live in when they grow up(or something like that) at the event. We're open to ideas at this point. I'm trying to get more kids involved this year, and more art and writing mixed in with the science. Last year, the Will Steger Society and Creative KidStuff both had interactive tables, and people loved them!
If you're interested, please email me at or find me online at Thanks again for writing about climate change!
Linda Jackson commented on 03-Dec-2012 02:34 PM
To me the climate change is scary. I'm here in upstate New York where, by now, we should have a couple of feet of snow and cold temps. It's almost 50 degrees. Last winter wasn't even a winter. I wish people would worry about the planet more than they worry about how much money they can spend on things they don't need. Everyone I know is waiting for someone else to do something. If I knew what to do I'd start the ball rolling in this small town.
Peter Bradley commented on 03-Dec-2012 02:47 PM
I just read Barbara Kingsolver's "Flight Behavior" which makes a strong appeal via novel/fiction. I remember your saying, Louise, a few years back wryly that the two of you joked that you had the same 3,000 readers. Your new books will certainly will have a much, much broader reach! Congratulations!
Rebecca Powers commented on 03-Dec-2012 08:38 PM
I am going to print this and post it where my eyes rest when pondering my next move. Thank you.
Julia Nerbonne commented on 03-Dec-2012 09:36 PM
What I personally love about Bill McKibben is that he is perfectly ordinary, but doing extraordinary things with a clear voice. Gives me the power to believe in our clunky and imperfect movement. That it's ok to not know all the answers. That we can all be bold in our own way, and that grace will come in fits and starts. Check out btw. We are almost all volunteers. We need to pop like corn because there are creative ideas in every community.
Susan Feathers commented on 11-Dec-2012 07:48 PM
Today I attended the Gulf Coast Restoration Council meeting in Mobile AL Among the many private and citizen led groups that addressed Lisa Jackson and the council were Sierra Club and Audubon reps. Not are of the U.S. knows more keenly the vagaries of petroleum and its myriad forms than the Gulf of Mexico communities. They asked that the council strike a direct blow to the notion that we can regulate the oil industry in the Gulf; move beyond regulation to elimination, was their plea.

Louise, at the base of all your writing emanates a cultural perspective wedded to the landscape, an intact relationship with land, air, water, beauty...the indigenous consciousness of old is needed in its modern version. Keep writing, keep bringing us Ojibwe culture. It is medicine for the time...
Anonymous commented on 18-Dec-2012 07:53 PM
Louise, thank you for your books and all the beauty you bring into this world. It's not that I don't care about the environment and I certainly support the quest to find and implement cleaner energy sources, but I still question the motives of some global warming alarmists, especially politicians with shady track records like Al Gore... not to mention the war-profiting Rothschilds who are also supporting this green movement. I think it is worth looking into the climategate emails or just looking at where people are deriving their financial backing. For instance, James Hansen is funded by George Soros. It certainly makes me raise an eyebrow. I think it's always good to look at things from multiple vantage points. Many thanks and congratulations on the book award!
Anonymous commented on 14-Jan-2013 06:51 AM
Climate has been ever changing since records began but the senseless wasting of our natural resources increases daily. There is much to be learned and keep writing encouraging us to think. I do admit I bought my pecan pie when I found Marie Callendar on sale for under five buck but hope you won't hold it against me. I do fear the wrath of that great Fisher man from Arkansas as he brought home many bags of gleaned pecans every Christmas.
Post a Comment!

Canoe Family

Recent PostsRSS


Victory Gardens Population Dartmouth book and dinner club Kabul The Farmer's Daughter Crushing Books ireland france Ojibwe post holiday solstice, Thomas King Wastepaper plants post holiday reads ependent Bleak House Mohamed's Ghosts city of books Michael Jackson British Navy Anishinabemowin World on the Edge Czech Writer japan Patrick O'Brian National Book Award Aza Fireworks Birchbark Books Too Much Happiness Women and Trees NACDI:All My Relations Tree Houses The Birchbark House trees Small Bookstores as Commons knowledge Tar Sands Hillary Clinton germany favorite tree Magers and Quinn William Trevor The Porcupine Year health care reform thanks Collective Denial cafe Chickadee Afghanistan Kate DiCamillo Aubrey/Maturin Remarkable Trees pilgrims Ha Jin Wolf Hall customers Ojibwemowin Chitra Divakaruni Jim Harrison mississippi Makoons photography coyote Book Review adventure Canada sweden china More Remarkable Trees Green Team The Blue Sky bill mckibben language revitalization State Troopers Anton Treuer north dakota twins show your love Up Late Again spring Rare Books Interview Islam Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge Botany Gryphon Press The Game of Silence Keystone XL Education Hilary Mantel birchbark house series Greenland tree books gratitude The Royal Prussian Library Peak Oil fresh water Empire of the Summer Moon Unnatural Disasters buffalo cafe closing gardens Vic Glover Guthrie Theater anniversary School Gardens aquifer euphoria italy Bohumil Hrabal Brown Dog thank you friends Peak Water Easter Island graphix how good looking you are green Gary Clement Minnesota Let's Take the Long Way Home E.L. Doctorow Too Loud A Solitude leaves and snow Ice Beth Dooley favorite book Philip Roth This Green World Milkweed Press Master Butchers Singing Club The Transition Handbook Pembina Dogs Catalyst the most romantic city in the world Native People Poetry monkey in a dryer incarnation support Climate Change devoted customers Nemesis Bill Moyers Journal The Round House Alan Weisman Our Knowledge Is Not Primitive favorite dog joy Wendy Makoons Geniusz Gail Caldwell Kenwood Gardens The Ojibwe The Wealth of Nature Anishinabe Nero Keepers of the Trees H2Oil local economy Zombies President Obama ptsd Stephen Salisbury Emily Johnson Light in August Roberto Bolano The Resilient Gardener Minneapolis friends boarding school peculiar touches of green and gold Love Louise Mankato Powwow Alice Munro S.C. Gwynne Native Arts Video neighborhood 2666