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Sale, Kirkpatrick (1937 – ) American Environmental Writer

Kirkpatrick Sale (1937 )
American environmental writer

Kirkpatrick Sale is an influential environmental writer whose work has focused on the threat that a growing, resource-hungry population poses to the environment .

Sale was born in Ithaca, New York. His father was an English professor at Cornell University who was considered something of a campus rebel. Sale attended Swarthmore College for one year before transferring to Cornell in 1955, where he majored in history and edited the student newspaper. By the time he graduated in 1958, writing had become more important to him than history and he decided to pursue a career in journalism.

Sale first worked as an editor for the New Leader, an important leftist journal. During the early 1960s, he spent time in Africa, which he believed would become the center of world attention, and then worked briefly at the New York Times Magazine. By 1968, he had given up journalism and begun a career as a freelance writer. His first book, SDS, dealt with the radical Vietnam-era organization, Students for a Democratic Society. Working on the book, Sale later said, "radicalized me in a way beyond where I'd been." After SDS was published in 1972, Sale began work on Power Shift, an analysis of shifting political themes in America, published in 1975.

Power Shift was published at the height of the environmental movement in the United States. Like many, Sale had grown concerned about the future of a world in which an ethic of continuous progress and development required the continued consumption of natural resources at a terrifying rate. In Human Scale (1980) and Dwellers in the Land (1985), Sale focused on a concept that he defined as bioregionalism . He used the term to describe an ethic of living within the limitations of the environment. Society, he believed, must be a part of nature ; human ends and means must accommodate nature, not the reverse.

The approaching quincentennial celebration of Columbus' arrival in the New World gave Sale the inspiration for his next book. For more than four years, he immersed himself in rereading source documents about the discoverer and his voyages. He began to think about the ways in which the transplantation of European culture and environmental ethics had transformed the New World and contributed to the modern environmental crisis. The result of this work was Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy. One conclusion Sale reached in this book was that the very cultures destroyed by the European invasion, those of the Native Americans, had practiced many of the environmental concepts to which modern societies must return if the world is to survive.

Although Sale has expressed interest in writing novels, his early books have been devoted to activist topics because "the world is in such a mess, and it needs writing about." He continues: "I write my books to help save society and the planet."

[David E. Newton ]



Sale, K. Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1983.

. Human Scale. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1980.

. Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution: Lessons For the Computer Age. Addison-Wesley, 1995. . The Conquest of Paradise. New York: Knopf, 1990.

. The Fire of His Genius: Robert Fulton and the American Dream. New York: Free Press, 2001.

. The Green Revolution: The American Environmental Movement, 19621992. Hill and Wang, 1993.


Baker, J. F. "Kirkpatrick Sale." Publishers Weekly (October 19, 1990): 4142.

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