The Genius of Earth Day How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation

Adam Rome

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

368 Pages



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The first Earth Day is the most famous little-known event in modern American history. Because we still pay ritual homage to the planet every April 22, everyone knows something about Earth Day. Some people may also know that Earth Day 1970 made the environmental movement a major force in American political life. But no one has told the whole story before.

The story of the first Earth Day is inspiring: it had a power, a freshness, and a seriousness of purpose that are difficult to imagine today. Earth Day 1970 created an entire green generation. Thousands of Earth Day organizers and participants decided to devote their lives to the environmental cause. Earth Day 1970 helped to build a lasting eco-infrastructure—lobbying organizations, environmental beats at newspapers, environmental-studies programs, ecology sections in bookstores, community ecology centers.

In The Genius of Earth Day, the prizewinning historian Adam Rome offers a compelling account of the rise of the environmental movement. Drawing on his experience as a journalist as well as his expertise as a scholar, he explains why the first Earth Day was so powerful, bringing one of the greatest political events of the twentieth century to life.


Praise for The Genius of Earth Day

"Adam Rome's genial new book, The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-in Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation (Hill & Wang), brings to life another era. We're as distant from Earth Day as the Battle of Gettysburg was from James Monroe's reëlection, and Rome evokes a United States that feels, politically, like a foreign country."—Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker

"This is not just history—it's a highly useful guidebook for anyone trying now to summon the same passion and build the same movement that shook up the world in 1970."—Bill McKibben, author of Home and Away: Jail Cells, Beehives, and the Fight for a Working Planet

"Adam Rome has written the first serious history of the largest demonstration in American history—and it is likely to be the definitive one. His wise and captivating narrative explains the roots and remarkable success of Earth Day and should be required reading for anyone who struggles to prevent climate change today."—Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

1 The Prehistory of Earth Day

Earth Day was not the work of a well-established movement. Indeed, commentators did not begin to speak about "the environmental movement" until the run-up to Earth Day. Though many Americans had sought...

Read the full excerpt



  • Adam Rome and “The Genius of Earth Day” on WHYY's Radio Times

    In this hour of Radio Times, Marty talks with author Adam Rome about his new book on the history of Earth Day, its key organizers, and how its legacy can be seen today in the form of greater environmental consciousness and activism throughout the country.

  • The History of Earth Day in Seven Minutes: Adam Rome on To The Point

    The first Earth day took place on April 22, 1970. It was marked by more than twelve thousand events across the country with more than thirty-five thousand speakers, including some two-thirds of the members of Congress. Millions participated. The first Earth Day was a remarkable success, both as a popular event and in terms of environmental legislation. It led to the Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and to the creation of the Environmental Protect

  • The Genius of Earth Day -Adam Rome at the Boulder Bookstore

    Rome gives a talk about the creation of Earth Day at the Boulder Bookstore.



  • Adam Rome

  • Adam Rome teaches environmental history and environmental nonfiction at the University of Delaware. Before earning his Ph.D. in history, he worked for seven years as a journalist. His first book, The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism, won the Frederick Jackson Turner Award and the Lewis Mumford Prize.