FLORIDA RAMBLE <i> by Alex Shoumanoff (Vintage: $9.95, illustrated) </i>

An agreeably unstructured account of one man’s random travels in Florida during the early ‘70s. Although he includes information about climate, history and ornithology, Alex Shoumanoff was not interested in compiling a scientific study. He crisscrossed the state, roaming the cities and back country, chatting with residents and noting what he observed. Some of his most vivid entries describe excesses of urban vulgarity that rival those of Los Angeles at its worst.

The real focus of the book is the incipient ecological disaster caused by unchecked development. The burgeoning population of the state’s eastern shore has lowered the water table in the region, allowing sea water to pollute the limestone aquifer. In addition to destroying important wildlife habitats, straightening meandering rivers and paving large expanses of swampland have removed large expanses of open water needed to generate the weather patterns of the Florida peninsula, including the rainstorms that replenish the aquifer.

“Ramble” would be both more valuable and more interesting if it had been reissued with an afterword or notes. An update on the current status of the problems Shoumanoff described is needed.