Introduction Looking backward, one can usually discern a trailfind a logic for what at the time seemed spontaneous decisions. These pieces come from the first quarter century of my writing life, all written in the passion of a particular moment, the grip of a new experience or idea. They lack the coherence that a more systematic thinker would have producedthey are the products of a reporter's imagination, restless and fast-moving. But seen in reverse I can force a certain unity on them. Which is a pleasurable and conceited thing to do with one's life. As I was digging through mounds of old clips, I looked at a few essays I'd written for my college newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. Mostly I covered City Hall in Cambridgethe police beat and so on. But we were nothing if not full of ourselves, and so we also felt no compunction in taking on the largest subjects of the day. The night that Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, I wrote the news story, got grimly drunk, and spent the next day in bed. When I rose, I wrote three thousand words, most of them jejune, that in retrospect defined the ground I'd cover in the years to come. The election of Reagan was not just a rejection of a hapless Jimmy Carter; it was the choice for a kind of pretend America where we would agree that we didn't have to face any limits, change any habits. Our commitment to a careening growth economy (just two years after Carter had hosted a reception for E. F. "Small Is Beautiful" Schumacher at the White House) set in motion the events that would punctuate my adulthood, and which are still playing themselves outwe lurched toward a society whose only measure was individual success. It's in defiance of that trend that I've spent the succeeding years writing, often quixotically; it's that trend whose meaning we can now read in every cubic meter of atmosphere, in every tick mark on the rising thermometer. For me personally, though, the years after college were delightful. Through a series of flukes I found myself fresh out of college as a staff writer at the New Yorker. I was the youngest person on the staff, and no one else was as interested in the low-paying and (in those days) anonymous job of writing the "Talk of the Town." For me it was heaven, a license to explore the most entertaining city on earth. These were the last years of William Shawn's editorship, and we became great friendsour difference in years was so great that instead of the fraught father-child relationships he had with so much of the staff, I got to enjoy the much easier grandfatherly version. And his only real requirement for "Talk" pieces suited me as wellI could write about anything, provided it didn't involve celebrities or newsmakers. So for five years I churned out oddball thousand-word essays, often three a week, on a man who played spoons in front of the public library or a compulsive author of letters to the editor. For reasons best known to him, he also let me write short political essays for the "Notes and Comment" section at the front of the magazinefor a while, Jonathan Schell and I alternated weeks, and it was from him that I learned how great reporting could produce critical thinking. It was a liberating reprieve from the twin straitjackets of "objective reporting" and "punditry." (Mr. Shawn, to whom this book is dedicated, also gave me another gift. He asked mebefore it became a clicheto chronicle New York's emerging homeless problem by living on the streets. I did so for considerable stretchesone result was the piece in this book about a single day in that period. Another result was the chaMcKibben, Bill is the author of 'The Bill McKibben Reader', published 2008 under ISBN 9780805076271 and ISBN 0805076271.