Kathleen Cairns’s At Home in the World: California Women and the Postwar Environmental Movement is a good book that adds new names to the long list of engaged citizens trying to right environmental wrongs in the mid-twentieth century United States. The book’s intention is to highlight the political activism of a handful of white, middle-class and elite women working to preserve California’s unique ecosystems.

The book begins with the 1950s activism of several prominent women who sought to clean Southern California’s air. The book then turns northward to San Francisco and Sylvia McLaughlin’s campaign to save the San Francisco Bay. The next two chapters similarly focus on activists who anchor the history of efforts to save two other ecosystems, the Nipomo Dunes and the Santa Monica Mountains, respectively. In each chapter, Cairns deftly illustrates the ways in which these women “knew how to play the game” of formal politics and...

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