Books: Travels on an Ailing Planet

An eco-conscious Marco Polo has sad tales to tell

Travel writing involves an odd social contract: writer, for pay, agrees to view inspirational scenery and have a great time, saving reader the trouble of doing so. But Mark Hertsgaard's contract was odder than most. A few years ago, the journalist, who has written books on the Reagan Administration, nuclear energy and the Beatles, set off on a trip around the world in search of noxious vistas and pollutive sunsets--the environmental wreckage that other travelers take pains to avoid. His clear-eyed report, Earth Odyssey (Broadway Books; 372 pages; $26), backed by careful scholarship, is one of the best environmental books in...

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