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77 North Washington Street

Alston Chase, the author of "Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber," this month's cover story, has been associated with The Atlantic Monthly since 1978, when the magazine published his first article intended for a wide audience, "Skipping Through College," about the decline of liberal-arts education. A few years later The Atlantic published Chase's "The Last Bears of Yellowstone," which triggered Senate hearings on the fate of the grizzly. The two articles conveniently frame the great preoccupations of Alston Chase's professional life: the preservation of our intellectual and our natural heritage.

Photograph by Tom MurphyChase, sixty-five, the son of an Army officer, is a former professor of philosophy with a distinguished academic pedigree (Harvard, Oxford, Princeton), who abandoned full-time university life in the 1970s in order to move with his family to Montana. They were "unwitting participants," as he now describes it, "in a broad-scale 'back to the land' movement." As a writer, a lecturer, and an independent scholar, Chase is today among the nation's most respected voices on issues of natural preservation. He keeps his prose understated and his humor dry. The opening sentence from a memoir: "The road was even worse than I remembered it, which was a good sign." A conjunction of The Wall Street Journal and the Earth Island Journal is a rare ideological event, but both praised Chase's 1986 book Playing God in Yellowstone, a powerful critique of wildlife policy and the National Park Service. Chase's most recent book, In a Dark Wood (1995), offers a critical history of forest ecology and describes the misunderstandings that underlie policy debates on how our forests are managed. Readers surveyed last year by Random House listed In a Dark Wood as one of the century's hundred best works of nonfiction.

Chase's deep interest in intellectual history and the environment has brought him to the subject of the Unabomber, whose story combines elements of the two. "The book I'm working on," Chase says, "is about Ted Kaczynski, the times in which he grew up, and what they tell us about ourselves and contemporary America. In pursuing Kaczynski's past I'm not excusing his crimes by saying he's a 'product of his environment.' Those who dismiss him as crazy are the ones who would avoid moral judgments. I believe he is indeed evil. But Ithink that examining his life and era helps us to understand the nature of his evil and, through this, the moral dangers facing the country today."

-- THE EDITORS


Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; June 2000; 77 North Washington Street - 00.06; Volume 285, No. 6; page 4.