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Siberia's Lake Baikal is one of nature's most magnificent creations, the largest and deepest body of fresh water in the world. And yet it is nearly unknown outside of Russia. In Sacred Sea--the first major journalistic examination of Baikal in English--veteran environmental writer Peter Thomson and his younger brother undertake a kind of pilgrimage, journeying 25,000 miles by land and sea to reach this extraordinary lake. At Baikal they find a place of sublime beauty, deep history, and immense natural power. But they also find ominous signs that this perfect eco-system--containing one-fifth of earth's fresh water and said to possess a mythical ability to cleanse itself--could yet succumb to the even more powerful forces of human hubris, carelessness, and ignorance. Ultimately, they help us see that despite its isolation, Baikal is connected to everything else on Earth, and that it will need the love and devotion of people around the world to protect it.
Environmental journalist Thomson, founding producer and senior editor of National Public Radio s Living on Earth, combines introspection with objective reporting in this engaging account of his six-month pilgrimage to Siberia s Lake Baikal, the deepest, oldest and supposedly purest body of fresh water on earth. Thomson includes everything from thoughts about his failed marriage and his relationship with his brother and fellow traveler James to colorful impressions of the people he meets as he documents his quest, shattering the myth of the lake s reputed capacity to cleanse itself. Researchers tell him that the air and water are full of thousands of tons of pollutants and contaminants from Baikal s paper mill and nearby farms, industry and power plants. Tiny filter-feeding shrimp do cleanse the water, but in the process they move the contaminants into the food chain and concentrate them, so the fish eaten by the people living around Lake Baikal now pose a serious health threat. Nevertheless, many Russians continue to believe that the waters of the Sacred Sea are pristine. Thomson s book is a lucid and sobering reminder of the destructive effects human activity has on the planet. Photos not seen by PW.