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Reflections in Bullough's Pond: Economy and Ecosystem in New England (Revisiting New England) Paperback – October 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Yankee wealth is the creation of human hands, not of nature"--so writes Muir (The Glorious Fourth) in this admirable environmental and economic history, which follows the six New England states from Native Americans' neolithic agriculture through the 19th-century factory boom to its destructive aftermath. When proto-Pequots switched from hunting to agriculture, their "cornfields... nourished the population" with remarkably "little effect on the ecosystem." Europeans introduced change for the worse. Increasing in numbers and in population density, 18th-century whites replaced fields with orchards, beer with hard cider, but nevertheless wore out their land in "destructive husbandry." With its depleted soil and few mineral resources, Massachusetts and the states around it would have been destined for poverty, but New England's industrial revolution intervened. Muir shows how local culture and international trade combined to make the space from New Haven to New Hampshire the headquarters of mid-19th-century manufacturers. Demand for water power replaced a network of streams with a wall of dams. Sewage (along with duck farm runoff) devastated the oyster beds that once made the shellfish abundant and cheap. Though some species have made a comeback today, New England tomorrow promises more ecoproblems: the Maine woods are still being logged unsustainably, and too many people drive too many cars. Mountains of research power this book, while Muir's direct yet conversational tone distinguishes it: the titular pond, hard by Muir's house in Newton, Mass., gives the book's lyrical bits a visual center, while her politics tint its prose a shade of green. Serious students of New England's original peoples, watersheds and forests, of its farms, suburbs and cities, or of its near future will seek out Muir's volume. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"An extraordinary book, a combination of polemic and all-encompassing scholarship . . . What kept me fascinated here is Muir's command of the history of trades, manufactures, and industries; of farming, sawing lumber, shipping, trapping, fishing; of the making of hats, shoes, linen, ropes, sails, paper, and more. Equally impressive and deftly imparted is her knowledge of plants and animals, their habits and requirements, and their links to us and to each other. Finally, she is lucid." ―

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Product Details

  • Series: Revisiting New England
  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: UPNE; 1st edition (October 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0874519101
  • ISBN-13: 978-0874519105
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,801,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By David E. Levine on July 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Diana Muir, the author, read one of my Amazon reviews and sent me an E mail suggesting that I might like her book. Well, I have this to say to Ms Muir... "thank you so much! I love it! " This wonderful story of the economic development of New England is written with a pond near Ms Muir's home (Bullough's Pond) as a backdrop. She tastefully weaves her personal experiences into the story she tells of the growth of New England's economy. We learn about the industriousness of the beaver and its effect on the New England ecosystem. We learn of the Native American's effect. Ms Muir traces settlers' early efforts at living off the land and how Yankee ingenuity led to the development of industry when the population grew to the point in which the New England landscape could no longer support farming. She further illustrates how small industries grew large. This book is a celebration of the average person's ability to thrive and adapt. Of course,there are the environmemntal costs which Ms Muir well illustrates. However, she is not judgmental, rather, she records the environmental consequences without ranting against the ingenious people who made New England prosperous. What is particularly wonderful about this book is that the people she writes about are not the famous families of New England but are normal people who carved out their niches. Of course the cream of this group prospered. I love this book and I have sent copies to others as gifts they will certainly enjoy. This book is serious history written with charm and style. I highly recommend it.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By David R. Smith on July 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In her introduction to "Reflections in Bullough's Pond", Diana Muir states that despite the presence of "Ecosystem" in the sub-title, the book is not a jeremiad. And it's not. A bit of a nag, perhaps, but a well-written nag, supported by researched detail.
Physically the book is a little bigger than 6 by 9 inches. It runs 312 pages, of which around 40 pages are devoted to notes and about 15 pages to an index. The text is supported by several maps and a few graphs that are clear and easy to read, and several pictures that are a bit murky in reproduction.
I enjoyed reading "Reflections in Bullough's Pond. It is a history of the New England area from the arrival of Native Americans (although mostly just before the arrival of English colonists), concentrating not on wars and generals and presidents, but instead telling how ordinary people made a living, why they did what they did, and the consequences of their actions both to themselves and to the ecosystem. The pond in the title serves to tie the events of the past into consequences in the present.
Diana Muir writes well. She obviously researched her subject well, but knows the difference between including supportive or even fascinating details and browbeating the reader with them. An example of this is the fate of the beaver. While I vaguely knew before reading the book that beavers were largely exterminated to satisfy a whim of English fashion, I had no idea of the importance of wampum and the destabilization of the Native American culture by diseases imported by the Colonists. Nor did I understand the importance of the beaver in the New England ecosystem.
I had few quibbles with the book.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Without passing judgement on the author's intent (I'm not a deconstructionist), this work struck me as a powerful indictment of what man has done to his habitat. I should also note that I'm not a greenie, although this work pushed me a step or two in that direction. I found Ms. Muir's book very entertaining. I read it while on vacation, in two sittings. One would correctly infer I also found it a bit disturbing.
Ms. Muir has interwoven fact with conjecture to create a probable eco-history of New England since the arrival of man. The conjecture is logically sound and has some evidentiary history. Early Americans, however, wrote no more history than early Africans or early Europeans; hence a degree of conjecture is necessary to flesh out game-theoretically sound propositions.
The begining thesis is that the forests of pre-human New England were ecologically sound. This is certainly a reasonable proposition which carries with it implications Ms. Muir details. From that point, Muir creates an eco-history showing how mankind, including the American Indian (or aboriginal American, if you prefer)has destroyed one of the largest air-sheds in the world. Muir discusses the way in which efforts to reforest the area have failed to duplicate natural ecology, and the implications of that failure. The implications have even more profound impact in the contempory Northwest, where I live and where deforestation is not complete, than in the Northeast.
Fortunately for the reader, Muir has written much more readably than I have here. She eschews jargon and labyrinthian technical explanations (in contrast with this sentence) to present a clear and convincing case.
I recommend this book wholeheartedly.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Miles Saltiel on May 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
It is hard to imagine how Reflections in Bullough's Pond could have been better written. Diana Muir gives an account of the interplay between New England's economic history and its environment in a lapidary prose which never leaves the reader behind. By the end of the book we are enlightened about the ebb and flow of these matters over the five hundred-odd years from early European settlement to modern times without ever being overwhelmed, for Ms Muir always wears her erudition lightly.
She breaks new ground in her treatment of the environment as both an economic resource and as a complex-often vulnerable-amalgam of ecosystems. Her thesis is that we are living on capital, be it fossil fuel, topsoil or forest-she is particularly compelling on the vulnerable biochemistry of these last. Unusually, however, Ms Muir is scrupulous in her use of statistics and fastidious in her argument. She never seeks to undermine the legitimacy of the economic impulse, though she does not flinch from her conclusion: an argument for restraint in economic activity and population.
Nor does she lose sight of the propensity of ecosystems to renew themselves, albeit often in new forms: she is pleased-almost amused-by the return of the beaver and the moose, while regretting the extinction of the elm and the emergence of local spruce monocultures. Indeed Ms Muir expresses herself more forcefully on the loss of flora than fauna. Perhaps this is because the long life cycles of the former make it harder to take an optimistic view of their capacity to renew themselves. Alternatively it may be because the collapse of agriculture in New England following the opening up of the West, has stimulated the return to southern New England of so many species formerly evicted to Canada.
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