mark hertsgaard

Independent Journalist & Author


The Nile at Mile One

Where the Nile enters Lake Albert, in the northwestern corner of
Uganda, lies a tiny fishing village named Wanseko. It is the end of
the line, the last stop on the public bus route from Kampala, the
run-down capital nestled among the hills above Lake Victoria, 160
miles to the south. The trip took nine hours the day I made it,
crammed inside a 1960s-vintage American-made school bus that for some
reason had been painted chocolate brown. Bench seats originally meant
to accommodate two schoolkids each were now packed with four and five
Ugandans of all ages, the small sitting on elders’ laps amid
high-pitched chatter and good-natured jockeying for space.


Apart from the close quarters, the drive was pleasant and cool for the
first two hours. The farther north we traveled, the drier the land
became, yet it remained beautiful and apparently fertile. On either
side of the road stretched plains of golden grass, dotted by
cone-roofed huts and oblong structures whose white crosses identified
them as the schools and churches bequeathed by European missionaries a
century ago.

By the time we reached Wanseko, it was late afternoon and I was one of
only three passengers still on the bus. Wanseko was little more than a
few low-slung shacks grouped around a dusty clearing the size of a
football field. To the west, across Lake Albert, I could dimly make
out the mountains of Zaire through a bluish haze. There was nothing
like a hotel in town, so I paid the equivalent of a single U.S. dollar
to spend the night inside a barren concrete room behind the general

I had come to Wanseko while retracing a trip that Winston Churchill
made through Africa in 1907. At the time, the future British prime
minster had just begun his first significant government appointment,
as Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for the Colonies, a post that
naturally included Africa among its concerns. Churchill’s expedition
took him by ship across the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal and
around the Horn of Africa to the old Arab port city of Mombasa,
located on the Indian Ocean in what is now Kenya. The newly
constructed Uganda Railway carried him west to Nairobi and on to Lake
Victoria, the presumed source of the Nile. He crossed the great lake
and followed the Nile through Uganda, Sudan, and Egypt to Cairo. The
expedition was a combination of business and pleasure for the
33-year-old Churchill, undertaken during Parliament’s autumn recess
and paid for in part by a book he would write about the experience, My
African Journey.

Part travelogue, part policy paper, My African Journey is a short,
impassioned book of dazzling prose and keen observation. It
articulates virtually all facets of the ideology that shaped
industrial man’s impact on Africa in the 20th century — the values,
fears, goals, and justifications that animated European efforts to
recast the human and physical environment of Africa. Churchill saw the
continent through the eyes of an inveterate colonizer, an unashamed
imperialist who believed that colonialism benefitted colonizer and
colonized alike. Even more than his white skin, what set Churchill
apart from the Africans he encountered was the technology at his
disposal — guns, steamships, railways, the telegraph, and other
emblems of the industrial era. Technology had brought wealth and
progress to the people of Britain, argued Churchill, and it would do
the same for the population still mired in the primary squalor of

When I pulled a copy of My African Journey down from a friend’s
bookshelf in Nairobi, I was in the midst of traveling around the
world, researching a book about the many environmental pressures
crowding in on the human race at the end of the 20th century.
Churchill’s unqualified enthusiasm for technology had helped convince
me to retrace his African journey, for technology, of course, lies at
the heart of humanity’s relationship with the environment. Yet to many
contemporary environmentalists, technology is almost a dirty word. The
root of the problem, as they see it, is the arrogant belief that
modern man can, by virtue of his technology, live separate from, even
superior to, nature — to tame the jungle, as Churchill put it.

It is easy for a late-20th-century observer to condemn Churchill’s
boorish insistence on conquering nature. But there is no denying that
technology has been inseparable from human progress since time
immemorial. From the moment our first human ancestor picked up the
first stone tool more than two million years ago — an event which,
according to the fossil record, may have occurred less than 300 miles
northeast of Wanseko, in the Great Rift Valley — the fate of our
species has been inextricably linked to the creation of technologies
that gave us more efficient means of extracting food, water, shelter,
and other essentials from the physical environment. Churchill’s
generation had particularly good reason to regard technology as a
liberating force. For millennia, the vast majority of humans had lived
on the edge of starvation, struggling against natural forces beyond
their control. But the industrial ascent of the 19th century —
notwithstanding the often abominable working conditions imposed on the
laboring classes — had shown how the application of technology could
raise living standards for nearly everyone.

Like other champions of the industrial order then and now, Churchill
had big ideas about what technology, properly applied, could achieve.
I was following in his footsteps partly because My African Journey had
made such a trip sound like irresistible fun, with enough risk thrown
in to keep it interesting. But I also wanted to see how Churchill’s
ideas compared to African reality nearly a century later, and what
that implied about our contemporary environmental dilemma.

That night in Wanseko, I wondered whether Churchill had managed to
arrange better accommodations than I had. I slept poorly in my
concrete hovel, awakened repeatedly by the chickens — or was it rats?
— that, inches from my head, rustled and scratched against the wall

The next morning, determined to remain as faithful to Churchill’s
itinerary as I could, I rented a bike in Wanseko for the trip to
Murchison Falls, praised by Churchill as the most spectacular
waterfall to be found on the Nile’s 4,037-mile journey from Lake
Victoria to the Mediterranean. Churchill wrote that a bicycle was the
best of all methods of progression in Central Africa, for it offered
both speed and mobility. In the process, he came up with what may be
the first literary paean to the glories of singletrack riding: Even
when the track is only two feet wide, and when the densest jungle
rises on either side and almost meets above the head, the bicycle
skims along, swishing through the grass and brushing the encroaching
bushes, at a fine pace.

Actually, I had little choice but a bike if I hoped to reach Kabalega
Falls, as Murchison Falls is also known. I had been told back in
Kampala that I could catch a bus to the Falls from Wanseko, but that
turned out to be false. Walking was not advisable; the distance was 27
miles, and the area was frequented by rhinos and other dangerous
wildlife. There were also bandits; indeed, soldiers hunting them had
boarded the chocolate bus the day before and aggressively questioned
each of the male passengers (except me, the only white). Begging a
ride from a passing vehicle was a possibility, but it could be
anywhere from five minutes to five days before a vehicle passed. On
the other hand, there were lots of bicycles around; the Ugandans
seemed as fond of them as Churchill had been, and they almost never
traveled without passengers or large quantities of goods perched over
their back wheels.

How I managed, amidst such plenty, to select the singularly pitiful
specimen of bicycle I ended up with is something I cannot easily
explain. Some people just have a sixth sense about these things. After
my test ride, I did tell the owner — a teenage boy with a round,
eager face — that something was wrong with the left pedal; it was
cocked at a funny angle, and my foot kept slipping off it. Besides
that, the back tire was treadless, the front wheel had no brakes, and
the rusted metal seat offered a standard of discomfort unknown since
the Middle Ages. But the owner assured me that the pedal was no
problem. And since it was already midmorning, I was in such a hurry —
always a mistake in Africa — that I didn’t doubt him.

The first six miles of hard dirt road passed quickly enough, and in
half an hour I reached the turnoff to the Falls. I pedaled east, 21
miles to go. The road became a dusty track through clusters of thatch
huts where children played in the shade beneath mothers’ watchful
eyes. A teenager in a torn white T-shirt who introduced himself as
Robert began riding his bike alongside me and appointed himself my new
best friend for life. The track soon began to climb through sparse,
dry bush — and climb, and climb some more. After three or four miles
on my one-speed stallion with a 30-pound rucksack on my back, I was
feeling the strain. Robert was, too, I think, but the smile never left
his face as he casually asked whether I had an extra T-shirt or
notebook I could spare.

Suddenly, as if to mock my exertions, a white jeep barreled past us in
a blizzard of dust. It was a chance in a thousand, but if I had waited
at the turnoff with my thumb out, I could have been in that jeep.
Instead, I faced another 16 miles of hard labor beneath a sun that, in
Churchill’s words, even in the early morning … sits hard and heavy
on the shoulders. At 10:00 its power is tremendous. It was now after
11; the sun was a huge, hazy white mass.

I had gone only another 200 yards or so when my bicycle’s left pedal
abruptly collapsed beneath my foot like a cliff after too much rain.
The bike keeled over sideways, and my pack and I went sprawling. As I
lay in the dust trying to collect my wits, Robert looked down and
helpfully observed, Your bike is faulty, I think.

I reassembled the pedal and banged it back into place, but I had no
tools, so there was no means of securing it firmly. I climbed back on
anyway and got about five feet before the pedal gave way again and I
toppled over a second time. I banged it back into place again, climbed
on, and toppled over again. After a couple more rounds of this sport,
I devised a crabbed method of pedaling that took me another 500 yards
or so before the pedal fell off and had to be reset. When the path
turned from navigable clay to wheel-swallowing sand I was flung to the
ground once more. By now, Robert had seen enough of my antics; he
murmured good-bye and disappeared down the hill.

It was at this point that I began to suspect Churchill of grossly
overstating the attraction of Murchison Falls, not to mention the
virtues of bicycle travel in Africa. I covered the next five miles on
foot, pushing my bike before me through the sand like a bedouin
trudging along behind a reluctant camel. Finally I saw the gate to
Kabalega Falls National Park, manned by a park ranger wearing ragged
cutoffs and no shirt. He examined my bike, ducked inside his hut, and
returned with one of the most beautiful pieces of technology I had
ever seen: a pair of battered pliers. He took my park entrance fee —
10 U.S. dollars — and for no extra charge restored my bike to
semiworking order by binding the pedal together with a spare piece of

When I finally arrived at the campsite an hour later, weak and
light-headed, the first sight to greet me was the white jeep that had
left me in the dust, now parked under a big tree next to a small party
of lolling white tourists. I stumbled off the bike into the shade and
collapsed on the ground, whereupon one of the jeep riders, who turned
out to be an Englishman with uncommon powers of deduction and tact,
gasped, Was that you on the bike? We almost stopped to pick you up!

Churchill felt no shame in observing that Africans were members of an
inferior race. Nevertheless, he argued, they could make the leap to
modernity with the help of the British Empire. The four millions of
these dark folk living in England’s East Africa Protectorate could
improve their standard of living if they would only accept the
guidance of Europeans and embrace industrial development. Of course,
Africans were not given much choice in the matter. This was the era of
untrammeled European imperialism in Africa, and Britain was determined
not to lose out in the carving up of the continent. Occupation of
Kenya required the removal of such tribes as the Kikuyu and Masai from
lands they had occupied for centuries, a task local British
authorities pursued with relish. Author Peter Matthiessen has written
that by 1939, four-fifths of the best land in Kenya was the province
of perhaps 4,000 whites; a million Kikuyu were to make do with the
one-fifth set aside as the Kikuyu Reserves. Ugandans were more
successful at resisting such expropriations. The country has suffered
through terrible civil strife and an AIDS pandemic in recent decades,
but partly because land ownership is far more evenly distributed than
elsewhere in East Africa, hunger and poverty are noticeably less

Churchill insisted that Britain’s intervention in eastern Africa would
benefit all parties, but in retracing his journey roughly nine decades
after the fact, I found the economic disparity between Africa and the
industrial world as vast as ever. The forces of progress that
Churchill championed seemed to have changed everything and nothing
here. The physical environment had certainly been altered, but the
prosperity derived was limited and narrowly distributed.

The first leg of Churchill’s sojourn was the magnificent train ride
from Mombasa to Lake Victoria. When I took that same train ride, I was
impressed, as we pulled out of Mombasa, to see numerous signs of a
functioning industrial society: smokestacks, power lines, petroleum
refinery tanks, and row after row of low concrete warehouses awaiting
replenishment from the half-dozen container ships moored in Kilindini
Harbor. Next to a chemical processing plant, clusters of silver piping
thrust themselves skyward like industrial dandelions, while overhead a
red-and-white jetliner screamed its approach to the international
airport. But the lives of the people were another matter; I often felt
as if an African version of A Tale of Two Cities was playing out
before me. As the descending airliner disappeared below the jagged
skyline, the train chugged slowly past a squalid shantytown whose
tin-roofed shacks of rotted wood contained the shops and meager
households of the urban masses. Sprawled on the ground not 10 feet
from our click-clacking wheels, a man in trousers and a short-sleeve
shirt slept open-mouthed, as if poisoned or drunk. Past the city
limits, small children scampered from their mud and grass huts to
gather along the track, wave and cheer, and plead with outstretched
palms, Give me pen! Give me sweet! or merely, Something!

Meanwhile, the gulf separating the races of eastern Africa remained as
wide as when Churchill was writing condescendingly that it was
impossible to travel even for a little while among the Kikuyu tribes
without acquiring a liking for these lighthearted, tractable, if
brutish children, or without feeling that they are capable of being
instructed and raised from their present degradation. Black-on-black
tribal violence was still common, there was no love lost between black
Africans and the Asian merchant class, and the dominant emotions
between Africans and Europeans were distrust and fear. The closest
interaction most whites had with blacks occurred within master-servant
relationships. Spend an evening in the company of whites and one
certain topic of conversation would be the relative honesty and
competence of their maids, cooks, and gardeners. You just never know
what they’ll fancy, one Nairobi matron, recalling alleged stealing,
mused while being served Christmas dinner by a squad of middle-aged

There was no more revealing symbol of the chasm between blacks and
whites than the matatu, a vehicle in which most whites never set foot
but that was the primary means of transport for blacks. To be sure,
there were good reasons not to set foot in a matatu — unless terrible
overcrowding and a high risk of death or dismemberment were your ideas
of excitement. Matatu was a Swahili term for privately operated
minibuses that were much faster than public buses, far more numerous,
and only slightly more expensive. They also had lots more personality.
Every matatu in Kenya had a nickname painted in bright colors across
the front and back of the vehicle, with speed the usual theme. I rode
one matatu called the Singaha Quick. Other names I saw included the
Road Shark, the Gusii Express, and inexplicably, the ’90s Explainer.

When I reached Lake Victoria, the only way to carry on to Uganda was
by matatu. (The ferry Churchill took across the lake had long since
gone out of service.) The bus stand in Kisumu, a bustling town on Lake
Victoria’s eastern shore, was a beehive of cheerful chaos when I
arrived the next morning. While hawkers whistled, clapped, and shouted
out their destinations, passengers milled about, occasionally hoisting
their belongings up onto the roof before boarding their matatu of
choice. I was assigned to an older matatu that already looked more
than full. Twelve adults sat facing one another on metal benches that
extended in a horseshoe down both sides of the van. Each person’s hips
and shoulders were wedged firmly against his or her neighbors’; I
couldn’t move my legs without kicking the person across the row. The
last passenger on board, a broadly smiling young man wearing a dark
wool suit (wool!) and carrying a large cardboard box, was directed to
sit in a nonexistent space across the aisle from me. I watched him
with my own eyes and still don’t know how he managed to fit.

While we waited to depart, the skipping guitar riffs of African pop
music filled the air and hopeful vendors approached the van. A hand
would suddenly thrust its way inside the open back door, six inches
from my face, and flash bottles of soda, or boiled eggs, pineapple
slices, sweets, cheap wristwatches, plastic bowls and cups, cassette
tapes, wrench and screwdriver sets, handkerchiefs, earrings, or most
bizarre of all, packet after packet of unlabeled pills.

When we finally departed, the crowding inside the matatu made it
impossible for us passengers to see much outside, which was just as
well. Daredevil speeds and passing maneuvers are matters of honor
among many matatu drivers, and grisly accounts of highway deaths are a
staple of the region’s newspapers. One story featured photographs of a
matatu that hit a petroleum tanker head-on while struggling to pass
another matatu; the passengers had been charred into blackened lumps
where they sat. Africans I talked to were aware of the dangers of
riding these minibuses — how could they not be? — but they accepted
them with placid nonchalance. On a continent where one infant in seven
does not survive to age five and a woman of 50 is considered old,
death is regarded not as a distant stranger, but as a familiar
companion. Africans accept death and discomfort because they have no
choice, just as they ride matatus because the only alternative is to
cover the same distance on foot.

Wherever I traveled, urban Africans seemed caught in a kind of
purgatory, somewhere between the seductions of modernity and the
habits of tradition. They had access to some of the same trappings of
city life found in Europe and the United States, but these trappings
were always compromised. There was mass transit, but it was wildly
dangerous; newspapers, but they were only four pages long; public
schools, but without books. Of the feast of materialism that Churchill
had promised them so long ago, the vast majority of Africans had
tasted barely a bite.

At the Ugandan border, I had to switch to yet another matatu to make
the trip to Jinja, a town on Lake Victoria’s northern shore near the
source of the Nile. Churchill had ridiculed Jinja as an outlandish
name for a town that geography and geopolitics had plainly destined
for greatness; he wanted to rename it Ripon Falls, after the
beautiful cascades which lie beneath it, and from whose force its
future prosperity will be derived. What was needed, he added, was to
build a dam and let the Nile begin its long and beneficent journey to
the sea by leaping through a turbine. Easy to say, but it was 1954
before this vision was actually accomplished.

On the ride to Jinja, my matatu passed the electric power station that
now hummed beside the dam. But the other blessings forecast by
Churchill — the gorge of the Nile crowded with factories and
warehouses and crowned with long rows of comfortable tropical villas
and imposing offices — had yet to materialize. And later that
afternoon, when a few greedy matatu drivers suddenly raised the price
of the trip to Kampala by the equivalent of 10 cents, more than half
of the passengers angrily disembarked and prepared to wait two more
hours for a later matatu rather than pay the higher fare.

The source of the Nile, where the world’s longest river emerges from
Africa’s largest lake, should rank as one of the great scenic spots on
earth. But because of the dam two miles downriver, the beautiful
cascadesof Ripon Falls have disappeared beneath the waterline, so now
no one spot stands out as the precise beginning of the Nile. Gazing
down from the tidy park that overlooked the Nile, I watched a flock of
long-necked, brilliantly white birds wheel lazily across the river
before settling back among the branches of a half-submerged tree. On
the far bank, swaying in the light breeze, were row upon row of
rubbery-leafed matoke trees, which provide the banana-like staple of
the local diet. Off to my left, Victoria Bay, calm and spacious,
curled out of sight to meld seamlessly into the great lake. Without
question, this remained a place of uncommon beauty and peacefulness.
Yet a feeling of loss and incompleteness was inescapable. What this
cosmic site on the earth’s surface looked like before the coming of
industrial man could now barely be imagined. Churchill provided an
inkling: Here the Nile was a vast body of water nearly as wide as the
Thames at Westminster Bridge, and this imposing river rushes down a
stairway of rock … in smooth, swirling slopes of green water.

Leaving the park, I stopped to chat with the young man who had sold me
my entrance ticket. Neatly dressed, wearing flimsy eyeglasses with
black plastic frames, he lounged beneath a tree with a friend, taking
refuge from the midday sun. Yes, he agreed, this was a very beautiful
place to work, but day after day, week after week, it sometimes got
boring. Spying his newspaper on the ground, I asked why he did not
bring a book to read. It was a foolish question, but his answer was

It is very difficult to obtain books in Uganda, he explained. Our
shops are usually empty. And any book for sale costs a great deal of

When I marveled at how lovely this place must have been before the
dam, he was again a step ahead of me, seeming to read my mind and
discern my unspoken assumptions.

Yes, he smiled, with the enchanting gentleness I found to be so
common among East Africans. But the dam has done much good for us,
giving us electricity.

You trade one for the other, I said.

He beamed with the pleasure of having communicated perfectly across
our cultural divide. Yes! You trade one for the other.

Compressed in that brief exchange is the essential dilemma facing the
human species as it approaches the 21st century. Can the material
strivings of the entire human family be reconciled with the need to
protect the planet’s already strained ecosystems? Of course that young
Ugandan deserves books, and electric light to read them by. And if he
must, he will accept a great many aesthetic and environmental
woundings in return for such benefits of progress. But must he? Can
prosperity be achieved only through the kind of ruthless development
that has turned so much of the Third World — from the industrial
hellholes of China to the clear-cut forests of Brazil — into
environmental wastelands? Can we not learn to choose technologies that
help us work with, rather than against, nature, and thereby preserve
as much of it as possible in its original, wild state?

Churchill was lucky enough to observe Murchison Falls, where my
travels in his footsteps finally concluded, in the first light of
dawn. The river was a broad sheet of steel grey veined with paler
streaks of foam, he wrote. The rock portals of the Falls were jetty
black, and between them, illumined by a single shaft of sunlight,
gleamed the tremendous cataract — a thing of wonder and glory, well
worth traveling all the way to see.

I was about to find out if my efforts to reach this remote point along
the Nile, not to mention my taxing bike ride from Wanseko, had been
worth it. The jeep riders had arranged for a park ranger to ferry them
upriver later in the afternoon so they could see the tremendous
cataract up close, and they invited me to join them.

We didn’t see another human being the entire trip. Indeed, we saw no
signs that humans had ever been here — just the pristine fecundity of
a healthy ecology humming with activity. The River Nile, as the locals
called it, was often hundreds of yards wide and surrounded on both
sides by steep hillsides covered with thick greenery. The river looked
amazingly blue and clean, its rippling surface sparkling in the
afternoon sun. The park’s wildlife population was said to have been
all but eliminated by rampaging soldiers during the Obote and Amin
dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s, but if so, the subsequent
recovery had been remarkable. I saw more wild animals along this
13-mile stretch of the Nile than I had seen in many weeks of
wide-ranging travel in neighboring Kenya. There were literally
hundreds of hippopotamuses — some plodding up the riverbanks, others
squatting in the shallows with only their bulging eyes visible, still
others disappearing underwater only to reappear half a minute later on
the other side of the boat. Sharing sandbars with the hippos were
dozens of plump brown crocodiles. Nearly all of them were stretched
out on their bellies with their jaws open wide, revealing long rows of
nasty-looking yellowish teeth. This open-mouthed posture was actually
a cooling reflex, like a dog’s panting, but it lent the reptiles a
peculiar aspect, at once menacing and lazy.

The animals rarely shied away from us. Often the boat came close
enough to the hippos and crocodiles that I could have reached over the
railing and touched them. Along the shore were numerous graceful
giraffes and self-possessed elephants, as well as a few shaggy,
skittish waterbucks. And all around was an extraordinary array of
waterfowl: goliath herons; fish eagles; saddle-billed storks with
yellow, orange, and black beaks that resembled miniature Ugandan
flags; and most entertaining of all, pied kingfishers, which hovered
40 feet above the water like hummingbirds for minutes at a time before
diving straight down to snag their unsuspecting prey.

After two hours of steady chugging, our boat passed a long calm
stretch of water and rounded a bend, and suddenly the waterfall swung
into view. Even from half a mile downriver, it was fearsome to behold
— a glistening cascade of white fury that carried such force our boat
could not advance against the current. This extraordinary power
stemmed from the fact that, as Churchill explained, above the Falls
the banks of the Nile contract suddenly till they are not six yards
apart, and through this strangling portal, as from the nozzle of a
hose, the whole tremendous river is shot in one single jet down an
abyss of a hundred and sixty feet. Transfixed, we admired this sight
for I don’t know how long before the captain finally turned the boat
around and, with the surging current at our back, returned us to camp
in half the time it had taken to get there.

The next morning, the jeep riders invited me to accompany them
overland to the top of the Falls. Churchill may have been lubricating
his tale somewhat when he claimed that the Falls could be heard from
10 miles away, but they were certainly audible from five. When we
finally clambered down to the shoreline the roar was fantastic, like
the fiercest windstorm imaginable. In the last few hundred yards of
its approach to the Falls, the Nile seems to sprint so impatiently
forward that the foamy green water gets ahead of itself and leaps
exuberantly upward, as if ascending an invisible escalator. Just
before the fall line, the river separates into separate flows. The one
feeding the cataract is over the edge in an instant, crashing down
into the bubbling pool below. The others loop around a massive stone
outcropping and supply a second waterfall, shorter but far wider than
its famous brother. The spray, the din, the water’s irresistible force
and volume are as overwhelming to the senses as the knowledge of its
distant destination in Egypt is to the mind.

Murchison Falls remains a glorious natural spectacle, but only because
Churchill did not get his way. Churchill, that incorrigible champion
of industry, wanted to build a dam at Murchison Falls. Its terrible
waters itched at his restless nature. They had to be put to some
productive purpose: I cannot believe that modern science will be
content to leave these mighty forces untamed, unused, or that regions
of inexhaustible and unequalled fertility, capable of supplying all
sorts of things that civilized industry needs in greater quantity
every year, will not be brought — in spite of their insects and their
climate — into cultivated subjection. Of course, the dam whose
construction Churchill was advocating here would have covered up
forever the very falls he had praised as one of the great wonders in
all Africa. Prudently, he ignored this contradiction. He did seem to
sense there was something unholy about his proposal, however. His
reflections on damming the Nile were interrupted, he later wrote, by
an ugly and perhaps indignant swish of water that nearly drenched



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About Mark

Independent journalist Mark Hertsgaard is the author of seven books that have been translated into sixteen languages, including Bravehearts: Whistle Blowing in the Age of Snowden; HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth; and A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles. He has reported from twenty-five countries about politics, culture and the environment for leading outlets, including The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Time, Mother Jones, NPR, the BBC and The Nation, where is the environment correspondent. He lives in San Francisco.