Jonathan FranzenJonathan FranzenPhoto: Greg MartinJonathan Franzen’s blockbuster novel Freedom has been called the War and Peace of our day. Is it also our Silent Spring?

Reviewers have almost unanimously lauded Franzen for capturing the early-21st-century American zeitgeist. Time knighted him the “Great American Novelist.” Oprah picked Freedom as her final book club selection. New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani described the novel as “an indelible portrait of our times.”

What reviewers have almost unanimously ignored, however, is that this indelible portrait of our times is also an indelible portrait of contemporary environmental activism rendered through the protagonist Walter Berglund. Walter — introduced on page one as “greener than Greenpeace” — is a car-phobic cyclist who works at The Nature Conservancy, frets about overpopulation, develops homicidal feelings toward bird-eating housecats, and at times prefers warblers to his wife. When Walter’s passion for one rare warbler species leads him to consider a Faustian deal with a mountaintop-mining coal company, we watch him confront the absurd tradeoffs that have come to define modern environmentalism.