Dean, Cornelia

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DEAN, Cornelia

PERSONAL: Female. Education: Brown University, B.A., 1969; Boston University, M.A., 1981.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—Harvard University Center for the Environment, 42 Church St., Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Providence Journal, Providence, RI, reporter and editor, 1969-84; New York Times, New York, NY, 1984-2003, became assistant science editor, 1985, deputy science editor, 1987, deputy Washington editor, 1994, and science editor, 1997; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, fellow, Harvard University Center for the Environment, associate. Has taught at University of Rhode Island, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and Vassar College; has appeared on radio programs.


(Editor, with Nicholas Wade and William A. Dicke)

The Environment from Your Backyard to the Ocean Floor (volume 2 of The New York Times Book of Science Literacy), Times Books (New York, NY) 1994.

Against the Tide: The Battle for America's Beaches, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1999.

SIDELIGHTS: Environmental journalist Cornelia Dean is coeditor, with Nicholas Wade and William A. Dicke, of The Environment from Your Backyard to the Ocean Floor, Volume 2 of The New York Times Book of Science Literacy. At the time of the book's publication, Wade was editor of the New York Times science section, Dicke was deputy editor, and Dean was a past deputy editor. The editors state that their intent in The Environment from Your Backyard to the Ocean Floor is to focus "on the science that provides, or should provide, the framework for political discussions." The volume collects approximately 120 environmental articles published in the newspaper between 1990 and 1993. Also included is a series on the Brazilian rain forest that appeared in 1988 and 1989. Twenty-eight contributors cover a range of subjects, from global warming to the use of disposable diapers and how gasoline lawnmowers contribute to smog. The writers make the connection between negative environmental practices and effects that can be felt around the world. While most of the articles deal with negative issues, some touch on more positive developments, such as the restoration projects undertaken on certain ecosystems that have been damaged or destroyed by the activities of humans. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "a great deal of first-rate environmental journalism is represented here."

In writing Against the Tide: The Battle for America's Beaches, Dean draws on her expertise in the field of coastal zone management. "The 'battle' here is not so much against the ocean tide as it is against a human tide," commented Henry Bokuniewicz in Quarterly Review of Biology. Dean details how Americans, in their passion to live by the various coasts, have helped destroy much of the natural coastal ecosystem, particularly the beaches. Dean provides an in-depth explanation of how a beach forms and evolves over time and how coastal geologists have discovered that beaches are constantly-moving, dynamic entities, driven by natural factors such as currents, tides, and storms. She notes that these movements are hampered when humans build structures such as homes and seawalls too close to shorelines, which prevents new sand from replenishing the beach. Dean paints a picture of how American coastal areas have changed since the arrival of the Europeans. She describes the magnificent beaches of New York's Long Island as being "spectacular expanses of fine-grained, light gray sand, hundreds of yards wide, backed by grass-covered dunes as much as fifteen or twenty feet high." Dean notes that the beaches were used as travel routes by early settlers, but that as America became more urban, building coastal communities, the physical makeup of the beaches was altered, and many disappeared. She points out that many of our present beaches are man-made, consisting of sand brought in from elsewhere. They are expensive to maintain, because sand must continually be added.

In one section of the volume, Dean describes how major storms have devastated beach communities over the last century, largely because towns were built in areas unsuitable for habitation. For example, she cites the damage done by Hurricane Andrew, which wreaked havoc on southern Florida in 1992. Dean believes such a storm could be far more devastating if it were to hit an area with a higher population density. "Hurricane Andrew should be remembered as a narrow escape, a warning about what can happen when people overdevelop the coast," writes Dean. She also describes the brutal hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas in 1900. So many bodies were tossed about that the military had to force laborers to clean up. Dean illustrates how man-made structures that have been erected to prevent erosion and flooding, such as dams and seawall, have failed.

Dean notes that although the issue of overdevelopment has been addressed by government at all levels, and conservation groups have purchased coastal environments for the purpose of preservation, growth on the coasts continues. "There is a kind of constituency of ignorance, people who have so much invested in coastal real estate that they do not want to hear how vulnerable it is," Dean says. And she feels that the crisis isn't being solved by government. "American political institutions are ill-suited to the indeterminacy and elasticity of nature," she writes. Dean focuses on many of the problem areas that include New England, the Carolinas, Florida, the Gulf Coast, California, and Oregon, and also explains the differences between the Atlantic and Pacific environments.

Environment contributor Steve Dunn wrote that "descriptive reports, stories, and firsthand interviews with community officials, residents, and others who have lived through natural disasters give a human face to the coast." Discover contributor Sarah Richardson found Against the Tide to be "grim and often repetitive." Richardson continued "It also can be tedious, but [Dean] clearly loves her subject." According to New York Times critic David Rains Wallace, Dean has "done a first-rate job of making coastal conservation interesting." Library Journal reviewer Margaret Ann Aycock said that "this thoroughly researched and thoughtful book is destined to become a classic of environmental science writing."



Against the Tide: The Battle for America's Beaches, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1999.


Discover, July, 1999, Sarah Richardson, review of Against the Tide, p. 118.

Environment, May, 2000, Steve Dunn, review of Against the Tide, p. 35.

Library Journal, May 15, 1999, Margaret Ann Aycock, review of Against the Tide, p. 120.

New York Times Book Review, July 24, 1994, review of The Environment from Your Backyard to the Ocean Floor p. 18; June 13, 1999, David Rains Wallace, review of Against the Tide, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, May 30, 1994, review of TheEnvironment from Your Backyard to the Ocean Floor p. 41.

Quarterly Review of Biology, December, 1999, Henry Bokuniewicz, review of Against the Tide, p. 490.

Science, September 3, 1999, Tom Drake, review of Against the Tide, p. 1497.

Time, July 19, 1999, Eugene Linden, review of Against the Tide, p. 83.

Underwater Naturalist, December, 2000, review of Against the Tide, p. 47.*

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