Chelsea Green Publishing

Angels by the River

Pages:224 pages
Size: 5.5 x 8.5 inch
Publisher:Chelsea Green Publishing
Hardcover: 9781603585859
Pub. Date October 31, 2014
Paperback: 9781603586320
Pub. Date September 23, 2015
eBook: 9781603585866
Pub. Date October 28, 2014

Angels by the River

A Memoir

Availability: In Stock


Available Date:
October 31, 2014


Availability: In Stock


Available Date:
September 23, 2015


Availability: In Stock


Available Date:
October 28, 2014

$17.95 $14.36

Angels by the River follows James Gustave Speth’s unlikely path—from a Southern boyhood to his career as an influential mainstream environmentalist to his current system-changing activism.

In this compelling memoir, Speth explores the issues, and realities, that have shaped the nation since the 1950s, and that turned an “ultimate insider” into someone willing to be arrested in front of the White House.

Born and raised in a town where both the best and worst of the South shone through—a town that eventually became the scene of South Carolina’s horrific Orangeburg Massacre—Speth explores how the civil rights movement and the South’s agrarian roots influenced his academic career at Yale and later work in the heyday of the environmental movement, when he helped launch two landmark and influential environmental groups—the Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute—advise the White House on climate and other emerging issues, and lead the UN’s development efforts around the globe.

Speth fought to create and uphold the nation’s toughest environmental laws, but now believes a new environmentalism is needed to confront today’s challenges. The advancing climate crisis cannot be addressed, he warns, as long as we remain fixated on endless growth and consumption, corporate profits, increasing the incomes of the well-to-do, neglecting those just getting by, and helping abroad only modestly.

An American tale, in all its complexity, Speth’s memoir is an inspiration—especially for readers contemplating how to make a difference in an increasingly complex world.


"I have been fortunate to know this remarkable man, and now readers can, too. I urge you to accompany Gus Speth through his early life in the segregated South, the liberal North, the heady days of the environmental movement and his disenchantment with inside-the-system fixes. You will find the journey engrossing, eye opening, inspiring, and deeply moving.”--Juliet Schor, co-founder of the Center for a New American Dream and author of True Wealth

Kirkus Reviews-

"Speth—the former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council and World Resources Institute—tells of his nearly idyllic boyhood in segregated Orangeburg, South Carolina, in the 1940s and 1950s, of his awakening to the evils of racism in the 1960s—he was away at Yale Law School during the infamous Orangeburg Massacre of 1968—and of his growing awareness of the power of social movements. He chronicles how he poured his youthful energy into environmental advocacy because he believed that he 'had largely missed one great American struggle, civil rights, and…did not want to miss another.' The author writes modestly of his distinguished career, explaining the jobs he held and the ones he didn't get, offers generous praise to those who taught him and helped him along the way, and gives a nod to the role played by sheer good luck. Beyond the biographical data, though, Speth is using his memoir to send a message developed in his earlier books: Red Sky at Morning, The Bridge at the Edge of the World and America the Possible. The author pulls no punches in charging that the environmental movement, working within the system, is facing failure, and he asserts that lack of leadership on the issue of climate change 'is probably the greatest dereliction of civic responsibility in the history of the Republic.' In Speth's view, the only option left is to change our political economy from one that gives top priority to profit, production and power to one that values people, place and planet. Both a personal account of a long career dedicated to the environment and a fervent plea for major reform.”

"Angels by the River does what the best memoirs hope to do—launch the reader into a larger collective story. Gus Speth,  a native son of the Deep South,  has spent his life in the service of justice.  He has not only been part of America's social and environmental history, but his leadership has helped shape it. This book is a testament to spirited engagement, showing us how 'the gift of having a cause beyond ourselves' can translate to personal and political transformation. Angels by the River is an antidote against despair and a prayer for action."--Terry Tempest Williams, author of The Open Space of Democracy

"This book is a true gem. While guiding us through the remarkable currents of his life, Gus Speth thrills us with the breadth of his thinking and the depths of his insights. His voice is absolutely essential when it comes to the environment. And he is never less than compelling as he makes the case for transformational change on any number of other important issues, from our obsession with economic growth to US policy in the Middle East."--Bob Herbert, distinguished senior fellow at Demos and former Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times

"Angels by the River is a personal look at the forces that shaped one of America’s great environmental leaders and climate activists. Gus doesn’t shy away from the dangers of climate change, but he maintains an enduring faith that people can and will make the difference. This book will engage, enlighten, and spur readers to action—just as Gus has inspired so many of us with his commitment and drive."--Frances Beinecke, president, Natural Resources Defense Council

"Speth's story is a moving, well-told tale of transcendence: from a segregated southern town, to the forefront of the environmental struggle, to a new understanding of the deep changes we need to put our nation on a just and livable path. A critical book for change agents, young and old."--Van Jones, author, Rebuild The Dream and The Green Collar Economy

“A longtime friend and ally, Gus Speth is a tireless advocate for the environment. His accumulated stories and knowledge, the kind that could only come from decades of experience at the highest levels, provide a unique and insightful look into our history, and the way forward from here.”--Al Gore, former vice president of the United States 

"You will not soon read a better or more instructive memoir–a profoundly wise reflection on a life dedicated to solving the largest challenges of our time written by an insider who grew into a radical in the best sense of the word."--David W. Orr, counselor to the president of Oberlin College, and Steven Minter Fellow, the Cleveland Foundation

"Gus Speth is the great environmentalist of our age, and this book chronicles not just his life's journey, but his mind's.  It will make you think anew about many things, including where change comes from!"--Bill McKibben, author of Wandering Home and founder of

"Gus Speth offers the gift of his own struggle to confront the systemic challenge we face as an example to anyone, young or old, seeking to find a new and possible way forward. His deeply thoughtful book is marvelous, hopeful, and above all life-affirming."--Gar Alperovitz, cofounder of The Democracy Collaborative and author of What Then Must We Do? 


James Gustave Speth

James Gustave "Gus" Speth is the former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, founder and president of the World Resources Institute, and cofounder of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He has also been administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, chair of the U.N. Development Group, professor of law at Georgetown University, and chair of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality in the Carter administration. He currently teaches at Vermont Law School, and is a senior fellow at the Democracy Collaborative where he is co-chair of the Next System Project. He is also distinguished senior fellow with Demos, associate fellow with the Tellus Insitute, and the recipient of numerous environmental awards. His previous books include America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, and the award-winning The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability and Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment.


October 14, 2015

Gus Speth at Investing in the New Economy

164 Chelsea Street, South Royalton, VT, 05068 | James Gustave Speth
On October 14th, Gus Speth will speak on a panel at "Investing in the New Economy- Transforming Investments for the Sake of Climate and Communities." This half-day event will take place at the Chase Center at the Vermont Law School as part of the New Economy Week (October 12-18th). The suggested registration fee is set at $10. This event is organized by BALE (Building a Local Economy), Donella Meadows Institute, Clean Yield Asset Management, and Slow Money Vermont.

See all Events by this Author


Conversations with History - James Gustave Speth

James Gustave Speth - "System Change Not Climage Change: Manifesto for a New Economy"


Radical Homemakers

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This profound biography should be required reading for those who believe in taking risks and making the world a better place. While Mazzocchi's story is so full of peril and deception that it seems almost a work of fiction, Leopold proves that the most provocative and lasting stories in life are those of real people.

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook

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