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

Jordan Fisher Smith. Crown, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-307-45426-3
Smith (Nature Noir), a former park ranger, deftly demonstrates how intrepid young camper Harry Walker's 1972 death in Yellowstone National Park following a grizzly bear attack was not merely a tragic accident but a poignant symbol of the legacy of human hubris with respect to the natural world. Since its inauguration exactly a century earlier, Yellowstone had faced a "famously paradoxical mandate" to both provide entertainment to recreational hikers and to restore and preserve the "primitive conditions" of the area's native flora and fauna. These goals proved nearly mutually exclusive when the same interventions that made the park hospitable to humans—wildfire suppression, predator extermination, garbage disposal—compromised the stability of its ecosystem and the safety of both humans and animals. The narrative hinges on the dramatic legal trial following Walker's death, which brought together some of America's most renowned biologists and epitomized the quandary "about how much scientists ought to manipulate and control nature in order to preserve it." It's an ambitious, persuasive, and nuanced book; Smith will impress readers with scientific rigor and real suspense as he weaves together the histories of modern ecology, the National Park Service, and the ever-evolving relationship between humans and nature. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra, Sandra Dijkstra Literary. (June)
Reviewed on: 09/12/2016
Release date: 06/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
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