Ecology or Catastrophe


Murray Bookchin was not only one of the most significant and influential environmental philosophers of the twentieth century–he was also one of the most prescient. From industrial agriculture to nuclear radiation, Bookchin has been at the forefront of every major ecological issue since the very beginning, often proposing a solution before most people even recognized there was a problem.


Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin is the first biography of this groundbreaking environmental and political thinker. Author and TRISE member Janet Biehl worked as his collaborator and copy-editor for 19 years, editing his every word. Thanks to her extensive personal history with Bookchin as well as her access to his papers and archival research, Ecology or Catastrophe offers unique insight into his personal and professional life. Founder of the social ecology movement, Bookchin first started raising environmental issues in 1952. He foresaw global warming in the 1960s and even then argued that we should look into renewable energy sources as an alternative to fossil fuels. Wary of pesticides and other chemicals used in industrial agriculture, he was also an early advocate of small-scale organic farming, which has developed into the present locavore movement and the revival of organic markets. Even Occupy can trace the origins of its leaderless structure and general assemblies to the non-hierarchical organizational form Bookchin developed as a libertarian socialist.

Bookchin believed that social and ecological issues were deeply intertwined. Convinced that capitalism pushes businesses to maximize profits and ignore humanist concerns, he argued that eco-crises could be resolved by a new social arrangement. His solution was Communalism, a new form of libertarian socialism that he developed. An optimist and utopian, Bookchin believed in the potentiality for human beings to use reason to solve all social and ecological problems.


1. Young Bolshevik
2. Trotskyist Labor Organizer
3. Rethinker
4. Eco-Decentralist
5. Eco-Anarchist
6. Counterculture Elder
7. Man of the Moment
8. Social Ecologist
9. Antinuclear Activist
10. Municipalist
11. Green Politico
12. Assembly Democrat
13. Historian

Author Information

Janet Biehl was Murray Bookchin’s copyeditor for the last two decades of his professional life, and collaborated with him on both books and articles. She works as a freelance copyeditor for Viking Penguin, Alfred A. Knopf, Pantheon, Crown, Doubleday, and many other publishing houses.

Reviews and Awards

“Biehl has an insider’s view of Bookchin as both his collaborator and his lover, and she uses that insight to paint a detailed and lively picture of this important figure.” — Publishers Weekly

“Janet Biehl’s meticulously researched biography splendidly captures Bookchin’s intellectual and personal journey from youthful communist to mature anarchist. Bookchin influenced the thinking and actions of a generation but today his writings and insights are largely unknown. Biehl’s terrific book will do much to overcome this illiteracy and introduce a new generation to one of the key intellectuals of our time.” — David Morris, Director, Public Good Initiative, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

“Murray Bookchin was irascible, human, brilliant, and above all relevant to our own time. This valuable book brings his work to life and takes us through his intellectual, activist and personal struggles between the late 1930s and the end of the 20th Century. An ecologist before the term was understood by most Americans and a sophisticated anarchist who recognized the importance of clear (but decentralized) organizational structure, Bookchin’s story also offers a reminder of what it takes to live a committed life in our own time in history.” — Gar Alperovitz, Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, Co-Founder of The Democracy Collaborative

“Creative, charismatic, controversial and, many would add, more often than not a bit cantankerous, Murray Bookchin was without doubt one of the most significant anti-capitalist thinkers of the last century. Here in Janet Biehl’s intimate and meticulously researched biography, we see his tumultuous life and times laid out in such a way as to illuminate the cross-currents and confusions that powered the rise of left-wing ecological movements over more than half a century. This biography deserves to be widely read for its contemporary relevance.” –David Harvey, CUNY Graduate Center

The prescient Bookchin emerges in Janet Biehl’s politics-heavy biography as incisive, inventive and pragmatic — a refreshing contrast to today’s environmental doom-mongers and techno-utopians alike.” –Nature

“The first … biography of Bookchin, it is well-written, exhaustively documented, and invites readers to traverse the full arc of his life, from his earliest days in New York City to his last in Burlington, Vermont.” –Institute for Anarchist Studies

“Biehl’s fluid prose makes Bookchin’s traverse of the American leftist landscape accessible to the uninitiated. … The biography is her expression of gratitude and homage, which, as Biehl demonstrates in these pages, Bookchin truly deserves.” –Seven Days



  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.