The Wealth of Nature: Environmental History and the Ecological Imagination / Edition 1

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Hailed as "one of the most eminent environmental historians of the West" by Alan Brinkley in The New York Times Book Review, Donald Worster has been a leader in reshaping the study of American history. Winner of the prestigious Bancroft Prize for his book Dust Bowl, Worster has helped bring humanity's interaction with nature to the forefront of historical thinking. Now, in The Wealth of Nature, he offers a series of thoughtful, eloquent essays which lay out his views on environmental history, tying the study of the past to today's agenda for change.
The Wealth of Nature captures the fruit of what Worster calls "my own intellectual turning to the land." History, he writes, represents a dialogue between humanity and nature—though it is usually reported as if it were simple dictation. Worster takes as his point of departure the approach expressed early on by Aldo Leopold, who stresses the importance of nature in determining human history; Leopold pointed out that the spread of bluegrass in Kentucky, for instance, created new pastures and fed the rush of American settlers across the Appalachians, which affected the contest between Britain, France, and the U.S. for control of the area. Worster's own work offers an even more subtly textured understanding, noting in this example, for instance, that bluegrass itself was an import from the Old World which supplanted native vegetation—a form of "environmental imperialism." He ranges across such areas as agriculture, water development, and other questions, examining them as environmental issues, showing how they have affected—and continue to affect—human settlement. Environmental history, he argues, is not simply the history of rural and wilderness areas; cities clearly have a tremendous impact on the land, on which they depend for their existence. He argues for a comprehensive approach to understanding our past as well as our present in environmental terms.
"Nostalgia runs all through this society," Worster writes, "fortunately, for it may be our only hope of salvation." These reflective and engaging essays capture the fascination of environmental history—and the beauty of nature lost or endangered—underscoring the importance of intelligent action in the present.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Bancroft Prize-winning historian Worster ( Dust Bowl ) writes with a deep understanding of nature and its place in human affairs. In these lucid, authoritative essays, he ranges through American history to explore the people, ideas and economic developments that have shaped our attitudes and behaviors toward the land. The ecological crisis, he stresses, is `` the crisis of modern culture,'' brought on by modernity's materialism. Several pieces address the roles of population growth, technology and the market economy in the degradation of the environment. Others exhibit a narrower focus, e.g., how Protestantism helped shape John Muir and other environmental reformers. Worster's examinations of the myths and realities behind our interaction with nature provide a needed perspective. (May)
Library Journal
This collection of 16 essays concerns the impact on nature of Judeo-Christian belief, Adam Smith's economic theories, and humankind generally and also offers a historical perspective on the growth of environmental history. A common theme is Aldo Leopold's idea of a ``land ethic.'' Worster shares his own awakening of environmental consciousness, and the essays reflect a diversity of sources and information. Environmental historians must be able to digest and understand data from science as well as other academic disciplines. Worster excels at this task; that, and his forthrightness and willingness to express opinions, make this book a winner. Recommended for both general readers and specialists in the field.-- Patricia Owens, Wabash Valley Coll . , Mt. Carmel, Ill .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195092646
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/28/1994
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 9.19 (w) x 3.13 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald Worster is Hall Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of Kansas. His books include Under Western Skies, Dust Bowl, and Rivers of Empire.

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Table of Contents

1 The Nature We Have Lost 3
2 Paths Across the Levee 16
3 History as Natural History 30
4 Transformations of the Earth 45
5 Arranging a Marriage: Ecology and Agriculture 64
6 A Sense of Soil 71
7 Good Farming and the Public Good 84
8 Private, Public, Personal: Americans and the Land 95
9 The Kingdom, the Power, and the Water 112
10 Thinking Like a River 123
11 An End to Ecstasy 135
12 The Shaky Ground of Sustainable Development 142
13 The Ecology of Order and Chaos 156
14 Restoring a Natural Order 171
15 John Muir and the Roots of American Environmentalism 184
16 The Wealth of Nature 203
Notes 221
Index 245
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