For the first time in history, the bond between children and nature has been broken, writes child advocate and journalist Richard Louv in Last Child in the Woods. The culprits are many: Kids prefer to play inside where the electrical outlets are, instead of outdoors where the wild birds sing. Computers, TV and video games contribute to what Louv dubs "nature-deficit disorder," as do heightened parental fears ("stranger danger"), overly strict covenants and regulations (no tree houses), and classrooms increasingly removed from nature (no recess).

But this is no doomsday book. The first half lays out gloomy details sifted from over 3,000 hours of Louv’s interviews with parents, but the second half highlights recent positive research on how the natural world affects child development. Nature can provide an effective antidote to obesity, depression and attention-deficit disorder; it can reduce stress, improve test scores and develop critical thinking and decision-making skills. Above all, contact with nature can instill a sense of wonder.

There is a hopeful conclusion to this well-written book. As individuals, we may feel helpless in the face of big environmental issues, such as global warming. But we can still take a child into the woods and fields, and let the natural world restore the child’s "nature deficit" and create a vital, lifelong bond.