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VINE VOICEon July 2, 2007
This is a great book. I've read several books on this topic, and so far, they have all had a similar issue: They are written by people who are scientists first, writers second. This book has two authors. One is a scientist and the other is a science writer. This made for a well put-together, understandable explanation of complex adaptive systems, which are what ecosystems are currently understood to be.

The authors have done a few things to make the book great. First, they have broken the topic down into a set of subtopics, with one chapter explaining each subtopic. At the end of each chapter is a summary of important points so it's clear what the authors are hoping you get out of the chapter. Each chapter is then followed by a case study that is used to illustrate the ideas just covered.

If you are looking for an introductory book on ecosystems and how humans affect their ability to maintain themselves, this is the book to read. The authors also provide several good resources at the end of the book if you would like to expand your knowledge further.
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This is a gem of an educational book. Mixing case studies with elaborating chapters on key concepts, it's as a good a volume as I have found for teaching undergraduates, graduates, and practitioners (farmers, factory managers, investors) the core ideas needed to restore a sustainable social-ecological system.

Highlights for me:

+ Optemization is a false premise, simplifies complex systems we do not understand, with the result that we end up causing long-term damage.

+ Resilience thinking is systems thinking. I cannot help but think back to all of the excellent work in the 1970's and 1980's--the authors were simply a quarter century ahead of their time.

+ In a nut-shell, resilient system can absorb severe disturbance.

+ System resilience is affected by context, connections across scales of time and space, and current system state in relations to threshholds.

+ Fresh water, fisheries, and topsoil depletion are major failures.

+ Drivers of environmental degradation are poverty, willful excessive consumption, and lack of knowledge (from another book, I recall that changes to the Earth that used to take 10,000 years now take three, one reason we need real-time science).

+ Key concepts are threshholds and adaptive cycles. Adaptive cycles have four phases: Rapid Growth; Conservation; Release; and Reorganization.

+ Redundancy is NOT a dirty word (just as intelligence--decision support--should not be a dirty word within the United Nations)

+ Ecological networks cannot be understood nor nurtured with a tight linking and understanding of the social networks that interact with the ecological networks.

+ Subsidies are a form of social denial, as they subsidize unsustainable practices and prevent adaptation and change.

+ Lovely--absolutely lovely--chart on page 89 about time-scales of climate and natural disasters like major fires.

+ One size does not fit all--solutions for one social-ecological network, e.g. in the USA, will not be the same as for another, e.g. in Norway.

+ Diversity is the key to regeneration.

+ Governances must be able to see and act upon key intervention points.

+ A Resilient world would be characterized by:

1. Diversity
2. Ecological variables
3. Modularity
4. Acknowledgement of slow variables
5. Tight feedbacks
6. Social capital
7. Innovation
8. Overlap in governance
9. Ecosystem services

Within this small and very easy to absorb book one finds a great annotated bibliography of recommended readings, a fine reference section, and a very solid index.

Other books that come to mind as complements to this one (limited to ten links by Amazon):
The leadership of civilization building: Administrative and civilization theory, symbolic dialogue, and citizen skills for the 21st century
Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
Ecological Economics: Principles And Applications
Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
The HOK Guidebook to Sustainable Design
High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them
Pandora's Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy
The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster, and the Water We Drink
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on December 11, 2007
This book is Latour's actor network theory in another guise, with the physicalization of Kuhn's paradigm shift thrown in for good measure. It is a very interesting book on an emerging way to look at environmental crises (note, not the environmental crisis. We seriously need local knowledge and local experience to manage each individual ecosystem).

My major issues with this book are twofold. One is that it is not well written, though not altogether poorly written, you can simply tell when the science writer came in to jazz things up. Secondly, the authors spend a little too much time trying to convince the reader that resilience thinking is NEW, DIFFERENT, SUBVERSIVE, and the like. We get, on page 29, something that I just cannot stand: a little briefer than brief history of challenge to dogma. Galileo spoke out about the Copernican model (which was still perfect circles, Kepler had it right but Galileo ignored him) and the church shot him down. Darwin dared to say species change and the world exploded! Now, we, the humble new scientists bring you a new challenge to the dogma of ecology today. Give me a break! I would have thought a science writer on the team would have had the experience to leave out this trite nonsense. Just tell me about your idea and spare me the drama! Sorry, but poor history of science is a real pet peeve. :-)

But either way, this is still an important book that should be read by ecology students, politicians, resource managers, and anyone interested in new ideas. The case studies are really informative and clear, and the message is properly urgent
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on August 16, 2010
This short book is an excellent introduction to resilience thinking. The core texts in this field tend to be rather daunting compendiums (see Gunderson and Holling's Panarchy) that only the already committed will read. This is a light introduction to the basic ideas and has lovely and useful case studies woven in. The core ideas of resilience thinking come from work in ecological systems theory over the past thirty years or so and are an application of work on complex adaptive systems. A key point is that natural and economic systems can only be understood and managed if their codependence is made explicit. Basic concepts such as regime (a set of connected stable states), threshold (boundaries between regimes) and the adaptation cycle (growth -> accumulation -> release -> reorganization) are well explained. The case studies cover The Florida Everglades, The Goulburn-Broken Catchment area in Australia, Coral Reefs in the Caribbean, the Northern Highland Lake District in Wisconsin and the Kristianstads Vattenrike Wetlands in Sweden. All of these cases come up frequently in conversations on resilience and are good touch points.

I expect to see applications of resilience thinking to many areas beyond ecology and resource management over the next decade: it is widely relevant to organizational theory and urban planning. It will be one input to a new syntheses that replaces our current and obsolete economic theory.

One small caveat, the book has some well done illustrations but the quality of the photos is dreadful.
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on April 4, 2008
Brian Walker, Program Director Resilience Alliance and a scientist with the CSIRO. Canberra Australia, has, with the assistance of science writer David Salt, written the best and most straightforward work on ecological resilience entirely suitable for a wide audience of readers; activists, teachers, scientists from any number of disciplines, interested in gaining a familiarity with a study area that is of critical importance in this present world of catastrophe, forever changing with the calamitous onset of climate change and where stategies of adaptation are quite indequate mechanisms for survival in the white-water world we will have to navigate.

It is not a scientific treatise but a work from which all interested readers will benefit substantially no matter what their background or credentials. This is a twentyfirst century production coauthored with a skilled science writer and a model for any NGO or scientific group who wish to influence and inform policy makers with something they can readiliy understand.. Resilience capability and building such capacity is perhaps the best, but still uncertain, way to buffer social-ecological systems--your everyday environment--from unpredictable, disastrous events and accompanying change. Adaptation and models based on orthodox science are unfortunately inadequate to meet such crises. I recommend this book to any concerned person no matter their level of understanding. They will find something new and enlightening here.
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on April 7, 2015
I come from a background in conservation and complex systems. Like the author, I have been struggling to describe the very important worldview of systems thinking and the need to apply this thinking to ecological issues. Systems science has a language of its own which has yet to be translated for effective use by those conservation people who make important ecological decisions. I think of folks like the field biologists who work with public lands agencies. Honestly, the systems science people have a long way to go in describing their critically important ideas. The author of this book makes a valiant attempt to bridge the gap but is entrapped in buzzwords and dense text. He uses the word "resilience" when he should probably be describing ecosystems and sustainability in terms of Nature's interconnections (energy conduits) that hold these systems together by transporting and transforming energy. Broken connections are the driving force behind broken ecosystems and are the cause of reduced resilience/sustainability.

I can't be too harsh because I find myself with the same struggle of trying to translate the systems research work of Santa Fe Institute (and others) into useful, applicable ecological knowledge at the field level.

I have same the same minor complaints as other reviewers. The editing is poor in places. Someone from the outside should have worked with the author to make the book more readable . Nonetheless, the use of good case studies did offset the dense and often technical/obtuse writing.
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on February 12, 2016
This is a fantastic little book. The presentation of complex adaptive systems and the things that determine how resilient they are is crystal clear and concise. My background is computer science research, with a fair amount of experience in complex systems from that angle, and this book was still excellent for putting things into simple and straightforward language without dumbing it down or skipping important connections.

My other life is as a permaculture designer. If you're not familiar with that, permaculture is a discipline that seeks to build ecologically sound, self-sustaining human settlements. Currently there is very little in the permaculture literature regarding systems and resilience, and personally I think that this is the next big step forward. This book is the best introduction to those ideas that I've ever seen, and I heartily recommend it to anyone getting into permaculture design.
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on July 3, 2007
A MUST read for environmentalists. And for business, community and anyone willing to adapt the thinking to their situation. Brian and David have done a superb job in translating resilience theory and its close ties to complex adaptive systems. I have been looking for a book to recommend to my clients and students and this is it. I would also strongly recommend that the 'old guard' sustainability brigade have a look at this. The strategies that sustainability largely pursues are unsustainable. Resilience thinking is a more accurate path for us to head toward something that resembles sustainability. Well done.
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on October 30, 2012
This book introduced some new concepts and expanded on some that I was unfamiliar with. The writing style wasn't as inviting as it could be, but this is a familiar issue when dealing with intellectuals and specialists. There is a great video that expands on this:


Anyway, I enjoyed the book and can see myself using it as a reference at a later date. I really liked that the writers ask for reader input at the end of the book and there is a "further reading" section. The case studies in it are also very interesting. So again, I recommend giving the book a shot.
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on April 17, 2013
This book should be a mandatory reading for college students and people of the general public with an interest in the environment and in sustainability. Good examples of natural phases and case by case scenarios and studies.
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