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In considering the new home that imported species have made for themselves on the continent, John Leland departs from those environmentalists who universally decry the invasion of outsiders. Instead, Leland finds that uncovering stories of aliens’ arrivals and assimilation is a more intriguing-and ultimately more beneficial-endeavor. While he does lament such storied ravagers as the chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease, and gypsy moth, Leland also posits that the majority of nonnative plants and animals, much like their human counterparts, go about the business of existence and reproduction without threat to the world around them.
Mixing natural history with engaging anecdotes, Leland cuts through patriotic and problematic myths coloring our grasp of the natural world and suggests that the stories of how these alien species have reshaped our landscape are as much a part of the continent’s heritage as tales of our presidents and politics. Simultaneously, he poses questions about which, if any, of our accepted icons is truly American (not apple pie or Kentucky bluegrass; not Idaho potatoes or Boston ivy). Written with a genuine appreciation for nature’s resiliency, Leland’s ode to survival reveals how plant and animal immigrants have made the country as much an environmental melting pot as its famed melding of human cultures, and he invites us to reconsider what it means to be American.