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Human Nature: A Blueprint for Managing the Earth--by People, for People Hardcover – May 1, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (May 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805072489
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805072488
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,321,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With several lively and informal works of popular science to his credit (Sharks Have No Bones; Are We Unique?), Trefil is certainly qualified to tackle the controversial, timely topic of how humans ought to affect the planet they live on. He argues that from the dawn of an agricultural society, man has always engineered nature to suit his needs. And because we're the only form of life with the ability to move mountains (as much literally as metaphorically), there's no rational reason not to manage the environment mainly for the benefit of manâ€"an aggressive, unapologetic inversion of an Earth First philosophy. With the advent of 21st-century scientific breakthroughsâ€"particularly the mapping of DNA and forays into genetic manipulationâ€"this rather radically reasoned book declares that a bold new world of "overcoming the limits imposed by nature" awaits. It's a vision of planetary terraforming imbued with bravura and optimism (Trefil declares that alarm over global warming is a nearsighted cousin to the millennium hysteria around Y2K). The author's hubristic, occasionally cranky dismissal of the environmental movement as mere "pop ecology" is sure to have greens seeing red. But readers who think of the wilderness primarily as a place to spend the weekend will be reassured by his vision of the power of science, rather than restrained stewardship, as mankind's best bet for saving the planet.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"An important work . . . part of a small but growing body of literature that offers an alternative to the environmentalist approach to safeguarding our planet's future." -New Scientist
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The main title of this book, "Human Nature" is a bit misleading. What physics professor and scientific generalist James Trefil is really talking about is humans and nature, as he says in the Preface, and how to manage the planet (as in the subtitle). Trefil has a "benefits-to-humans" principle to guide us:

"The global ecosystem should be managed for the benefit, broadly conceived, of human beings." (p. 13 and p. 218)

Note well the qualification "broadly conceived." Trefil allows that benefits to humans might include "some sort of innate human attraction to complex natural ecosystems" and that we might "prefer scenery that contains both water and a variety of plants and animals." (pp. 214-215) However he goes on to say that his first reaction to "the heat, humidity, and discomfort" of a rainforest is to ask, "Why would anyone want to preserve THIS?"

Why indeed?

Well, because it's there. Because it's beautiful...etc. Trefil appreciates this answer but assigns a higher value to human utility than to human aesthetics. To be fair, however, his vision of a managed earth includes "both cities and wilderness areas." (p. 226)

Nonetheless this book will offend environmentalists because of its industry-friendly tone (e.g., Part II is entitled "The Myths of Pop Ecology") and because Trefil occupies a middle ground between the extremes of a paved earth and a wilderness earth, and also because he assigns such a high value to human life as opposed to the lives of other creatures.

Okay, to some specifics.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mike Garrison on September 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I'm not quite sure who this book is written for. I guess it is targeted at the intelligent and somewhat skeptical reader who does not have any technical background in environmental science. The book presents a lot of useful background information, and provides a science framework for discussing several subjects that are often presented in more emotional/political terms.

The book works best as a tool to introduce the idea that some of these questions (global climate change, endangered species, genetic engineering) can be reasonably discussed. It is not necessary to make faith-based decisions about them based on who you want to believe - there is data available and you do not have to be a specialist to get a basic understanding of the issues.

However, Trefil draws several conclusions in this book which are simply unsupported by any data he presents. In his quest to simplify and condense the subjects, he has to throw out almost all of the shaded nuances. But the devil is in the details. Many of the details he skips over are big enough to completely change the answers involved.

This book should only be a beginning, not an end. Ideally it would serve to make people think "that's an interesting subject - I want to learn more about it". Pope said "a little learning is a dangerous thing", and that definitely applies to this book.
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Format: Paperback
Professor Trefil's book engages the reader to think about the evolving relatioship between humans and the environment in light of new advances in science & technology. These advances can provide breakthroughs in medicine and environmental management, yet at the same time, can raise many ethical questions as to what the appropriate role of humanity should be with regard to "nature". Increasingly, whether we like it or not, Trefil argues, we are fast moving toward the day when we will completely "manage" the Planet. The author is genuinely concerned about Earth's future, yet challenges current environmental orthodoxy on a range of issues from biotechnology to the greenhouse effect. One of the things I liked best about Human Nature is the fact that it made me re-examine some of my previously held assumptions about the history of science and ecology and offered up a thoughtful and well argued position on where we might go from here.
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