Title Reviewed:
America's Natural Wealth, A Story of the Use and Abuse of Our Resources

Author Reviewed:
Richard Lieber

Christopher B. Coleman


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 298-299

Article Type:
Book Review

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America's Natural Wealth, A Story of the Use and Abuse of Our Resources. By Richard Lieber. (New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1942. Pp. xiv, 245. Illustrations. $2.50.)

Richard Lieber is known throughout the United States as the organizer, under Governor James P. Goodrich and the Act of the 1919 General Assembly, of the Indiana Department of Conservation. As its director until 1933, he established the principles and procedures which insured its successful operation. He developed also the system of state parks which made him a national leader in the conservation movement. In a smaller circle, Colonel Lieber has long been known as a profound student of the natural resources of the United States and the proponent of sound principles for their conservation and utilization. Many schemes of conservation, hastily conceived on the basis of a single observation or suggestion, have produced conflicts among conservationists and have discredited the movement. (Colonel Lieber thinks the double suffix in "conservationists" shows remoteness from reality; the genuine workers are "conservators.") The author's approach to the discussion of America's natural wealth combines both long practical experience and thorough historical study; his treatment throughout is historical.

Following his example, libraries and readers should add to his book the pamphlet on State Planning published by the late National Resources Planning Board in June, 1942 (for sale by the Superintendent of Documents in Washington at thirty cents), in which Appendix B (pp. 94–134) gives an annotated list of "State Conservation Legislation" prepared under Richard Lieber's supervision and intended for this book but omitted owing to the exigencies of publication.

The narrative of America's Natural Wealth combines a description of our natural resources, a history of the treatment of our natural resources through the years of the white man's occupation, a history of the conservation movement, a plea for unity among conservators on a well-considered program, and suggestions for such a program.

The foundation must be an efficient, unified—though not too centralized—structure of government, national, state and local, and a sound policy of conservation. Quite a contrast to the hundreds of semi-independent agencies and the "one hundred and nine different plans of geographical subdivisions of the United States" used by the various government agencies at the time of writing (probably more now) ! "The administrative work of the executive branch should be carried on by a few regional units, each set up to cover all the work contemplated for its region."

The body of the book follows the pattern of description, history, and plea for improvement in each of five chapters devoted respectively to Minerals, Water, Forests, Land, and Scenery. In the section devoted to scenery, Chapter XVIII, "The Care and Feeding of Parks," recapitulating Colonel Lieber's experience of many years, is really a priceless manual which should be read and reread by every one in any way connected with parks. The last chapter, "Sowing and Reaping," describes "Conservation on the March"; it closes with a critical, i.e., an objective appreciation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and short references to the Public Works Administration and the National Resources Planning Board. An appendix of fourteen pages gives a very convenient and valuable "Chronology of Events Affecting Conservation of Natural Resources," beginning with "1626—Plymouth Colony regulated the sale of lumber," etc., and closing with "1942—Civilian Conservation Corps liquidated." There is a good five-page index.

Christopher B. Coleman

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.