Our Natural History: The Lessons of Lewis and Clark

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Often referred to as America's national epic of exploration, the 28-month Lewis and Clark expedition was certainly America's greatest odyssey. Commissioned in 1804 by Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set off on the greatest wilderness trip ever recorded. Beginning in St. Louis, they navigated up the Missouri River and through the prairies, enduring a winter with the Mandan Indians in North Dakota, reaching the summit of the Rocky Mountains and then following the Columbia River to their final destination, the Pacific Ocean.
Trained in natural history and in the methods of collecting plant and animal samples, Lewis and Clark carefully and meticulously recorded the conditions of the rivers, prairies, forests, mountains, and wildlife of pre-industrial America. Now, in this new edition of Our Natural History, Daniel B. Botkin, a distinguished botanist and naturalist, re-creates the grand journey—taking us on an exciting ecological adventure back to the landscape of the great American West. In retracing their steps, Botkin reveals what this western landscape actually looked like and how much it's been changed by modern civilization and technology. With fresh insight, Botkin shows us that from the explorers' observations, we can learn much about the environment of our past, our environment today, and what our environment might be in the future.
Now with a new Afterword marking the 200th anniversary of the expedition, this timely and thought-provoking book captures our imagination and stimulates our sentiment with lessons about our environment and our place within it. Our Natural History offers a stunning and rare portrait of the rugged, beautiful, disappearing wilderness of the American West.

In the tradition of great nature writing, a distinguished biologist, naturalist, and standard-bearer of the New Ecology goes back in time to show what the Lewis and Clark journals have to teach readers today. Botkin will transform the way readers think about nature and their role in it. Maps.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In Our Natural History: The Lessons of Lewis and Clark, reissued with a new afterword by the author in celebration of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial, Botkin uses the journals to depict vividly the West of Lewis and Clark's time, comparing it with his own journeys to these now greatly changed places. In the end, Botkin argues, we must 'come to a new understanding of the texture and weave of nature and of our relationship with it."—Nature Conservancy Magazine

Praise for the previous edition:
"With scores of natural ecosystems endangered in at least half of the contiguous 48 states, the pertinent scientific question is, 'How can they be saved?' Botkin provides a bag of clues and a map. It is provocative and interesting reading."—Sierra Magazine

Our Natural History moves like a bracing hike in the Rockies with a partner who, unlike Lewis and Clark themselves, is possessed of the scientist's intellectual discipline and the naturalist's sense of wonder."—Audubon Magazine

"Hard hitting and provocative. We can only hope that books like this will steer us toward a more respectful and environmentally sound way of life."—Booklist

"Everyone who shares an interest in the environment and the economic future should read this book. He has a view of the environment that is both practical and deeply rooted in history and fundamental science, and he emerges with important and innovative things to say about the perceived tensions between ecology and competitiveness. Centering these approaches on the journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition provides great continuity with the American West as it existed shortly after the United States became a nation."—Harold J. Morowitz, Director, Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, George Mason University

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This intriguing volume begins with Lewis and Clark's search for a pass in the Rocky Mountain wilderness; it ends with the author's search for original prairie in Omaha, Nebraska. Botkin (Discordant Harmony: A New Ecology for the Twenty-first Century) describes the American West as seen by Lewis and Clark in 1804-06 and compares it with today's West as shaped by industrial civilization. It is a unique picture of frontier wilderness, interwoven with Botkin's own perspective on nature. He maintains that our present approach to environmental issues is based on faulty beliefs, mythologies and religious convictions. The records of Lewis and Clark are valuable for helping us understand what nature was like before we changed it. Botkin notes that we rarely approach conservation with the methodical intensity found in the explorers' journals. He has given us a fresh and welcome perspective on that historic expedition. BOMC selection. (May)
From St. Louis to the Pacific and back again, William Clark, Meriwether Lewis and their band of intrepid explorers opened up the West to their fellow Americans in 1804. Along the way they recorded the natural features of the land and collected animals and plants. This new edition of a book first published in 1995 includes an afterword by the author. Daniel Botkin, botanist and ecologist, emphasizes the differences between the land then and now, noting the changes wrought by the coming of civilization and wondering about its effects on a future America. Topics include various Indian tribes, meandering rivers, grizzlies, buffalo, wolves, forests and prairies. Written in vivid detail, this story of Lewis and Clark will appeal to environmentalists as well as to a broader general audience. KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1995, Oxford Univ. Press, 304p. notes. index., Ages 12 to adult.
—Janet Julian
Library Journal
Botkin, president of the Center for the Study of the Environment and director of the Program on Global Change at George Mason University, examines the journals of Lewis and Clark to understand change in nature. His question is "What was nature like before modern, technological civilization?" For people to have a better, more secure future, Botkin asserts that they must understand their relationship with the environment. They must know not only their own history but the history of nature as well. Addressing timeless topics, Botkin blends the historic past with the newsworthy present to offer solutions for the future. Recommended for all libraries.-Patricia Owens, Wabash Valley Coll., Mt. Carmel, Ill.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195168297
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 5/27/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 7.94 (w) x 5.94 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Botkin is President of the Center for the Study of the Environment in Santa Barbara, California, and Research Professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of more than one hundred books and articles, including Discordant Harmonies (OUP 2000).

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 A road through the wilderness 1
Ch. 2 Meanders : nature and the Missouri River 20
Ch. 3 Wet and dry mud 39
Ch. 4 Thirty-seven grizzly bears in the wilderness 59
Ch. 5 A measured journey 87
Ch. 6 Buffalo and winter on the plains : technology meets wilderness 101
Ch. 7 Wolves, people, and biological diversity 128
Ch. 8 Through the mountains 159
Ch. 9 Down the Columbia 176
Ch. 10 Winter and wood on the Pacific Coast 212
Ch. 11 The return through prairie country 256
Afterword 279
Notes 283
Index 298
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