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Engineering Eden : The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight Over Controlling Nature
by Jordan Fisher Smith


Overview - The fascinating story of a trial that opened a window onto the century-long battle to control nature in the national parks.

When twenty-five-year-old Harry Walker was killed by a bear in Yellowstone Park in 1972, the civil trial prompted by his death became a proxy for bigger questions about American wilderness management that had been boiling for a century.
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More About Engineering Eden by Jordan Fisher Smith
 
 
 
Overview
The fascinating story of a trial that opened a window onto the century-long battle to control nature in the national parks.

When twenty-five-year-old Harry Walker was killed by a bear in Yellowstone Park in 1972, the civil trial prompted by his death became a proxy for bigger questions about American wilderness management that had been boiling for a century. At immediate issue was whether the Park Service should have done more to keep bears away from humans, but what was revealed as the trial unfolded was just how fruitless our efforts to regulate nature in the parks had always been. The proceedings drew to the witness stand some of the most important figures in twentieth century wilderness management, including the eminent zoologist A. Starker Leopold, who had produced a landmark conservationist document in the 1950s, and all-American twin researchers John and Frank Craighead, who ran groundbreaking bear studies at Yellowstone. Their testimony would help decide whether the government owed the Walker family restitution for Harry's death, but it would also illuminate decades of patchwork efforts to preserve an idea of nature that had never existed in the first place.

In this remarkable excavation of American environmental history, nature writer and former park ranger Jordan Fisher Smith uses Harry Walker's story to tell the larger narrative of the futile, sometimes fatal, attempts to remake wilderness in the name of preserving it. Tracing a course from the founding of the national parks through the tangled twentieth-century growth of the conservationist movement, Smith gives the lie to the portrayal of national parks as Edenic wonderlands unspoiled until the arrival of Europeans, and shows how virtually every attempt to manage nature in the parks has only created cascading effects that require even more management. Moving across time and between Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Glacier national parks, Engineering Eden shows how efforts at wilderness management have always been undone by one fundamental problem--that the idea of what is "wild" dissolves as soon as we begin to examine it, leaving us with little framework to say what wilderness should look like and which human interventions are acceptable in trying to preserve it.

In the tradition of John McPhee's The Control of Nature and Alan Burdick's Out of Eden, Jordan Fisher Smith has produced a powerful work of popular science and environmental history, grappling with critical issues that we have even now yet to resolve.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780307454263
  • ISBN-10: 0307454266
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group (NY)
  • Publish Date: June 2016
  • Page Count: 384
  • Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Nature > Environmental Conservation & Protection - General
Books > Nature > Ecosystems & Habitats - Wilderness
Books > History > United States - 20th Century

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2016-09-12
  • Reviewer: Staff

Smith (Nature Noir), a former park ranger, deftly demonstrates how intrepid young camper Harry Walker's 1972 death in Yellowstone National Park following a grizzly bear attack was not merely a tragic accident but a poignant symbol of the legacy of human hubris with respect to the natural world. Since its inauguration exactly a century earlier, Yellowstone had faced a "famously paradoxical mandate" to both provide entertainment to recreational hikers and to restore and preserve the "primitive conditions" of the area's native flora and fauna. These goals proved nearly mutually exclusive when the same interventions that made the park hospitable to humanswildfire suppression, predator extermination, garbage disposalcompromised the stability of its ecosystem and the safety of both humans and animals. The narrative hinges on the dramatic legal trial following Walker's death, which brought together some of America's most renowned biologists and epitomized the quandary "about how much scientists ought to manipulate and control nature in order to preserve it." It's an ambitious, persuasive, and nuanced book; Smith will impress readers with scientific rigor and real suspense as he weaves together the histories of modern ecology, the National Park Service, and the ever-evolving relationship between humans and nature. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra, Sandra Dijkstra Literary. (June)

 
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