Gifford on Wertz, 'Lynton Keith Caldwell: An Environmental Visionary and the National Environmental Policy Act'

Wendy Read Wertz
Laura J. Gifford

Wendy Read Wertz. Lynton Keith Caldwell: An Environmental Visionary and the National Environmental Policy Act. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014. Illustrations. 534 pp. $38.99 (e-book), ISBN 978-0-253-01037-7; $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-253-01030-8.

Reviewed by Laura J. Gifford (George Fox University) Published on H-Environment (October, 2014) Commissioned by David T. Benac

As author Wendy Read Wertz rightly asserts, political scientist and environmental activist Lynton Keith Caldwell’s remarkable contributions to the development of the modern environmental movement have gone largely unrecognized—and this constitutes a grave omission. Based at Indiana University for most of his career, Caldwell, whose wide-ranging work over a long career in public administration, environmental studies, and environmental policy advocacy produced a bibliography of work some fifty-four pages in length (p. 398), has been referred to by many as the father of interdisciplinary environmental studies. Long before most, Caldwell understood that to craft effective environmental policy, policymakers must be trained to understand and appreciate the ecological world surrounding them. Public administration skills must be joined with scientific and even philosophical understanding of the planet as an integrated whole. Caldwell’s expertise in both public administration and environmental policy brought him into a position of international influence, and he traveled widely both to conduct training and to advocate for his systematic ecological vision. Domestically, his achievements include the creation of an interdisciplinary school of environmental studies at Indiana University and, perhaps most notable, a leading role in drafting the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969.

Wertz’s book will have two audiences. For one, this volume will serve as a remarkable resource; for the other, it would have benefited from substantial editing. Wertz has made extensive use of Caldwell’s personal and professional papers to craft a remarkable compilation of his original writing. Scholars seeking firsthand insight into Caldwell’s ideas and opinions will find a trove of data nearly sufficient to bypass a trip to the Indiana University archives. For this audience, Lynton Keith Caldwell: An Environmental Visionary and the National Environmental Policy Act will be a welcome addition to the scholarship of the modern environmental movement.

Readers desiring a readable biography of an important and overlooked figure in modern environmental policy, however, may find themselves frustrated by Wertz’s tendency to substitute extensive quotations and comprehensive coverage of Caldwell’s activities for summary and analysis. Wertz clearly identifies deeply with her subject, and her passion for Caldwell’s ideas transmits clearly, though not inappropriately, to the reader. This passion, however, may have made it difficult to approach Caldwell’s life and work more selectively. Cutting a substantial number of long Caldwell quotations would have eliminated repetition and enabled more casual readers to connect with Caldwell’s important ideas without becoming overwhelmed by detail. More selective presentation of Caldwell’s activities would have provided similar benefits.

While the above comments regarding desirability of further editing are dependent, as outlined, on the book’s intended audience, either Wertz or her editors at Indiana University Press should have caught a glaring error in the volume’s otherwise attractive gallery of images. This gallery includes a reproduction of a letter written by Theodore Roosevelt to Caldwell’s father. The caption attributes this letter to “President Theodore Roosevelt”—but the letter is clearly dated “May 3rd ‘26”—seven years after the ex-president’s death. Clearly the Theodore Roosevelt in question was the former president’s son. One mistake does not, of course, invalidate an entire book—far from it—but an error of this magnitude invites at least some concern about fact-checking.

Wertz has given a signal service in providing the field with a resource through which we can learn about this remarkable scholar. Her coverage of the NEPA, often regarded as the “Magna Carta” of U.S. environmental policy, is deeply insightful—though again, depending on the audience, further editing could have been useful. The field of environmental policy is richer for this addition. Serious scholars of NEPA, Caldwell, or environmental studies will find this volume a wonderful resource. More casual readers should bear in mind that some skimming may be required.

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Citation: Laura J. Gifford. Review of Wertz, Wendy Read, Lynton Keith Caldwell: An Environmental Visionary and the National Environmental Policy Act. H-Environment, H-Net Reviews. October, 2014. URL:

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