cover image Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America

Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America

Leila Philip. Twelve, $29 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5387-5519-8

Philip (A Family Place: A Hudson Valley Farm, Three Centuries, Five Wars, One Family), a professor in the English department at the College of the Holy Cross, offers an enthralling history of beavers and their impact on the United States. As she writes, “wherever we lived, whether it was in a city or a town, the suburbs or a rural location, chances were beavers were already at work somewhere—managing, cleansing, and restoring the water and biodiversity of that place.” The animals play a consequential role in the environment, as their dams “create new habitat for hundreds of animal species that rely on those new waterways,” and were also significant in the development of the economy: in the 18th-century, Johann Jacob Astor became America’s first multimillionaire and “ignited the first great engines of American capitalism” after landing the country’s first trade monopoly for his American Fur Company, which dealt in beaver pelts. Philip’s vivid narrative is enriched by Native American legend (she relays the “Algonquian deep time saga of Ktsi Amiskw, the Great Beaver”), entertaining accounts of beaver devotees (including one woman who, in the 1930s, shared her farmhouse with 14 beavers), and sharp prose: “They groom their lustrous fur with catlike fastidiousness.” The result is a triumph of popular nature writing. (Dec.)