When 25-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.
In this remarkable excavation of American environmental history, nature writer and former park ranger Jordan Fisher Smith uses the story of one man's tragic death to tell the larger narrative of the futile, sometimes fatal, attempts to remake wilderness in the name of preserving it. Moving across time and between Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Glacier National Parks, Engineering Eden
shows how efforts of wilderness management have always been undone by one fundamental problem - that the idea of what is 'natural' 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.
About the Author
Jordan Fisher Smith worked for 21 years as a park ranger in California, Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska. The author of Nature Noir
and narrator of the documentary Under Our Skin, he has written for The New Yorker, Men’s Journal
, and many other outlets.
Jack E. Davis won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for History for The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea.
"An intensely reported, rousingly readable and ambitiously envisioned book . . . This is a book that, while it brims over with descriptions of beautiful places and provides a primer of environmental thought over the past century, weaves together a dramatic court case in Los Angeles, a grizzly-bear attack, and a surprisingly fascinating debate over what constitutes the word 'natural' when it comes to national parks, as well as enough characters, complete with back stories, to fill a Leon Uris novel . . . a thrilling read. Like the best visions for parks, it combines the human and the animal, the managed and the natural, the controlled and the wild."
The Wall Street Journal
"Timely and thoughtful . . . . A vivid account of conflicts within the National Park Service over managing bears and other wild animals--conflicts that contributed to tragic results . . . . Smith's book will draw you in with his passion, thoughtfulness and first-rate story telling."
"A dramatic, eye-opening chronicle of the struggle to preserve wilderness while making it accessible to the public . . . A galvanizing storyteller fluent in the conflict between environmental science and politics, Smith brings every player into sharp and indelible focus as he illuminates the urgent issues national parks grapple with as they struggle to wisely manage predators, invasive species, wildfires, and people."
Booklist, starred review
"A searching study of a tragedy and the legal contest that followed it, one that shaped the course of national park policy in the modern age. Is a natural environment modified by humans still natural? It's not just a question for philosophers . . . Smith, who understands that nature is 'a web of complex relations, ' tells this complicated story clearly and well. Excellent reading for students of park policy, wildlife management, and other resource issues."
"This meticulously investigated history of Yellowstone and its wildlife management problems should appeal to fans of Jack Olsen's classic Night of the Grizzlies, as well as to readers interested in the broader issue of how much humans should intervene in nature in order to preserve it."