Publisher's Note:  

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.

This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by Crown Publishers

Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight over Controlling Nature

by Jordan Fisher Smith

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Overall Review:  

Jordan Fisher Smith delves into the world of wildlife ecology with his latest book Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight Over Controlling Nature. This fascinating work of nonfiction details the history of America's national parks, how they are managed, and what "wildlife ecology" exactly is. Engineering Eden is centered on the 1975 civil trial Martin v. United States, regarding the death of Harry Walker by a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park. Smith's research is exceptional and the facts he presents are telling. Unfortunately, the book loses its momentum when Smith goes off on multiple tangents and gives his own opinions. The pacing really picks up in the second half, but the story involves so many people that the text is often confusing. Engineering Eden is recommended for those with an interest or background knowledge of ecology. 

Review of an Advance Reading Copy

Content Analysis:  

Profanity/Language:  2 religious exclamations; 2 mild obscenities; 1 religious profanity; 2 anatomical terms.

Violence/Gore:  An implied occurrence of violence; frequent secondhand reports of violence involving bear attacks, death by fire, death by falling tree, shootings of bears and people, war, Indian attack; frequent brief scenes of violence include shooting and/or beating bears and elk, being attacked by bears, and a bear seizing a child. In several non-detailed scenes of violent death, people die in the Vietnam War; head-on car collision; falling in a geyser pool; fall while mountain climbing and being mauled by bears. Multiple scenes of blood and gore, a few over a page, include autopsy reports from a bear mauling and vivid descriptions of other bear attacks. In several scenes of intense violence, bear attacks are described in great detail, with a few longer than a page in length. 

Sex/Nudity:  An incident of kissing occurs. 

Mature Subject Matter:  

Animal cruelty, sport hunting, predator extermination, Civil War & Vietnam War, draft dodging, contagion, lawsuits regarding wrongful death, underage drinking and drug use, smoking.

Alcohol / Drug Use:  

Frequent smoking and drinking of beer and wine; underage drinking and drug use, including use of LSD. 

Reviewed By Rachel
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