Nature’s New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement. By Neil M. Maher. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 316 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-539241-8)
Just after the stock market crash while the country was still reeling, the environmentalists of the time began to realize that the land use policies of the nation were also in crisis. Unemployment was at a record high and the Depression hit in force. Franklin Roosevelt inherited all this after he defeated Herbert Hoover in the presidential election. An avid environmentalist, Roosevelt was concerned with the state of the land use policies in addition to the socioeconomic situation. He resolved to change both situations during his term as President. Calling it the New Deal, Roosevelt said that these programs would stimulate economic recovery, end the Depression, and put people back to work. In his first 100 days in office, Roosevelt announced the formation of an agency that later became known as the Civilian Conservation Corps also known as the CCC.
How the New Deal and the CCC are interrelated is the subject of Neil Maher’s book. Maher shows how the CCC was the personification of New Deal liberalism across the country. He journey’s with the Cs, as the participants called themselves, as they restored the environment of the country through reclamation, restoration, and creation. Located throughout the nation, the Cs worked to replant trees, terrace thousands of acres of decimated farmland, and create recreational areas. In the American Historical Review, Matthew Klingle says that “Maher is at his finest when he gives voice to the Cs themselves, explaining how the CCC transformed sickly and poor young men into physically strong and skilled workers.” While Maher ties the Cs into New Deal politics by showing the Cs almost as Roosevelt’s “front men” who became the face of the New Deal changes Roosevelt espoused. As there was strong rural opposition for this liberalism, the Cs played an important part. Klingle supported this when he pointed out, “For Roosevelt, conservation was more than altruism; he used the Corps to thwart New Deal opposition in rural regions where it ran highest.”
The CCC was successful in altering the problems with most land use policies and thus gave the country a new view of environmentalism. Maher shows two very good examples of this success in the restoration of farmland in the Coon Valley and the recreation areas of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Although these areas were extremely successful projects, they did not come without criticism. Maher handles this well, however. Chad Montrie said in his review , “. . .those criticisms promoted a national dialogue about the purpose and means of conservation, which set the stage for broadbased grassroots activism.”
Certainly, the Cs showed the nation that although it was possible to reclaim the overused land, these detrimental land use policies could not continue. The Cs also made possible many of the farming policies and recreational areas that are still in use today. Maher reveals how environmentalism and politics were two sides of an essential coin in the reclamation of decimated areas. One would have been lost without the support of the other. Michael B. Smith says it best in his review when he points out that, “. . . the work of the CCC and the politics necessary for making that work possible facilitated the shift from the utilitarian conservation ideology of the Progressive Era to the ideology of environmentalism that emerged after World War II.”
The largest problem with this work is that it presupposes the reader is intimately familiar with New Deal policies. Maher does not delve completely into the history behind the policies and this makes some of his arguments seem less successful. It may have been better to include a small chapter on the basic tenets of the New Deal and why it was so important to the country’s socioeconomic stability as well as its environmental stability. This omission makes this book more useful after a study of the New Deal rather than a jumping on point alone. Additionally, he should have used more descriptive language in his narrative. Jack E. Davis agrees. “He conveys little sense of place in the places he talks about; he has vivid language in the testimonies and letters of the corpsmen but shies too often from taking advantage of it.”
Nonetheless, this is a very inclusive book with which nearly anyone who has enjoyed an outdoor recreation area or seen a reforested hillside can relate. Maher does an admirable job including the voices of the Cs themselves giving a personal feel to the book. Although he could have connected the politics of the New Deal a bit more, his book is a remarkable look at the recovery the country underwent between the World Wars.
 Matthew Klingle, review of Nature’s New Deal, by Neil M. Maher, American Historical Review, Vol. 113, No. 5 (2008): 1573-1574.
Matthew Klingle, review of Nature’s New Deal, by Neil M. Maher, American Historical Review, Vol. 113, No. 5 (2008): 1573-1574.
 Chad Montrie, review of Nature’s New Deal, by Neil M. Maher, Journal of American History, Vol. 95, No. 1 (2008): 253-254.
 Michael B. Smith, review of Nature’s New Deal, by Neil M. Maher, The Historian, Vol. 72, No. 1, (2010): 180-181.
 Jack E. Davis, review of Nature's New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps by Neil M. Maher, H-Environment, H-Net Reviews (2010): http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=30091.