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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rethinking is the right word
Being an environmentalist isn't just about enjoying the outdoors or recycling. This is an in depth study of the complex interactions between humans and our world and an examination of our historical and cultural relationship with our environment. In particular, I found the discussion of our meaning for the word and our concept of nature to be particularly enlightening...
Published on September 21, 2004 by Green is Good

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4 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Compilation
I returned this when I realized Prof. Cronon was the editor not the author. It's a collection of essays. I read a few. Not as good as Prof. Cronon can write.
Published on March 19, 2009 by David S. Lott


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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rethinking is the right word, September 21, 2004
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This review is from: Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (Paperback)
Being an environmentalist isn't just about enjoying the outdoors or recycling. This is an in depth study of the complex interactions between humans and our world and an examination of our historical and cultural relationship with our environment. In particular, I found the discussion of our meaning for the word and our concept of nature to be particularly enlightening. There is simply no place in the world that isn't touched by human impact and noone on the planet who isn't touched by our environment and what we do to it. A MUST for anyone serious about the study of environmental study.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THEORIZING THE ENVIRONMENT: NOT JUST FOR SCIENTISTS, July 25, 2009
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Lara Chetkovich (Houston, TX United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (Paperback)
This book is indeed about "rethinking" the environment outside of the usual realms of political advocacy. The editor, William Cronon, is an historian, and this book is the result of a multi-disciplinary conference of scholars working in surprising niches of environmental studies.

What makes this anthology so important is that many of the essays in it emphasize that our views of the environment, nature, and wilderness are "narratives" that are entangled with religion, culture, politics, and race--not just science. Cronon's introduction explores the concept of "wilderness" through time to the modern preservationist notion of a pristine, human-free zone, and the quandary that idea presents: wilderness preservation requires that all humans be removed from it.

This anthology contains essays about: the "Eden narrative" in Amazonian environmentalism (the Times reported today that the Amazon's indigenous cultures are now extinct); architecture and green space; what the "work" of an environmentalist entails; the role of nationalism in the creation of the park system; a study of the cladistics of ecological thinking in the 1950s; environmentalism as social justice in the inner city, and an essay by Donna Haraway about the role of race and "nature" in science.

My favorite essay, way ahead of its time, is by N. Katherine Hayles, "Simulated Nature and Natural Simulations." This essay addresses the epistemological problem in the distinguishing between the natural and the artificial, exemplified by two studies: the classical ethological modeling of animals as machines and the claim or right to aliveness for a-life computer parasites.

"Uncommon Ground" is just a dip in the waters. Sorely missing from this volume is E.O. Wilson's theory of "biophilia," which has been forgotten by almost everyone but selfish-gene proponents. Also missing is an economist's perspective of how industry's "use value" of a resource explodes beyond the point where it can be gauged in an environmental context. Take Superfund sites or the current oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. A quick profit on a resource--boosting workers for a time--can ultimately destroy their property values, recreational and subsistence use of wildlife, and the priceless and unknown values of ancestral/family claims, biodiversity, and health for decades, if not all time.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be required reading for all natural resource/ecology undergrads, November 23, 2010
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Range41 (San Diego, CA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (Paperback)
Much in this book is worth the time to read. But Cronon's essay "The trouble with wilderness: or getting back to the wrong nature" should be required reading for all natural resource - ecology - environmental science students. I came to this essay in graduate school and it put words to vague feelings of uneasiness I had been developing while doing seasonal work in natural resources after getting my bachelors. It literally brought tears to my eyes - which is saying something for a piece of academic essay writing. It's brilliant and worth getting the book for.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Man is nature too..., December 17, 2013
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This review is from: Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (Paperback)
I am a huge fan of this book, it is insightful and scholarly. That said, the only reason it got four instead of five, is that it wasn't entertaining (which wasn't necessarily it's purpose). I only mention this to illustrate a dichotomy, there are two types of books about the environment, educational (this one), and entertaining (too few). To be entertained by the environment, one should first be educated, and I would strongly recommend this Uncommon Ground as a place to start and/or finish. When you want to be entertained by a story of man's place in nature, and the changing ecosystem, I'd recommend THIS SIDE OF A WILDERNESS, and Desert Solitaire. But keep a copy of this title on your shelf, it is a great resource.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Critical analyses of our attitudes and thinking, February 26, 2012
By 
Marc Riese (Mittelhäusern Switzerland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (Paperback)
This thought-provoking book is a collection of essays from diverse experts who are concerned about the state of the biosphere but who are critical of environmentalist attitudes in specific and of people's attitudes in general towards nature. The authors show how these attitudes have unintended negative consequences for environmentalists and their goals. We should all be aware of the diverse attitudes of others and beware that disagreement is inevitable. Being dogmatic about nature only leads to confrontation or rejection of responsibility instead of solutions. In the foreword to the paperback edition, editor William Cronon remarks that the hardcover was controversial and that some environmentalists reacted defensively to the will-intended criticism. The book handily achieves its goal of provoking introspection and for me it also triggered strong emotions. Much has changed in the world since the book was published in 1996, yet many of the ideas continue to be relevant.

The focus is on America. The essays are apolitical and non-partisan. The book had its origin in an interdisciplinary seminar taking place in 1994 at University of California in Irvine, where participants had an unusual opportunity to be paid to think and talk together over several months. The results are fascinatingly diverse perspectives from experts in humanities, history, geography, linguistics, urban architecture, gender studies, consciousness, philosophy and ethics. The writers make exclusively qualitative analyses. The lack of participation from more quantitatively or statistically oriented disciplines is reflected in the lack of statistical corroboration of the topics covered; the overall theme (the need to rethink) and some essays in particular are weakened by unconvincing and unsubstantiated statements. This qualitative approach is generally appropriate because the goal is to rethink and not to publish figures, but the lack of a concrete basis for the theses make it impossible to judge the size of the problems nor to measure whether things have changed since.

Our conception of nature is often loaded with our romantic notions of purity, authenticity, vitality, escape and the sublime. This is often an illusion and has many consequences. It can lead to an extreme, uncompromising mentality that generates more enemies than friends of environmental causes. It can restrict nature to a separate reserve or playground, excluding the poorer parts of society. It can lead to exclusive focus on saving and corralling pristine environments and ignoring all of the rest of nature, where humans actually live. It can lead to political distortion, for example when one species is singled out for protection instead of the ecosystems that includes that species. Worse, it can lead to irresponsibility for the lives we actually lead.

The seminar discussion was partially driven by "found objects", observations or things that came to the participants more or less spontaneously and that were symbolic. For example, the title of Richard White's paper " `Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living': Work and Nature" comes from a bumper sticker with this motto. This paper is a good example of harsh criticism of attitudes written by an environmentalist who sincerely wishes environmentalists success against those who believe it is within their rights to inflict pollution on others, such as the so-called wise-use movement. "Environmentalists so often seem self-righteous, privileged and arrogant" because they identify nature with play and a place where leisured folk come only to visit and not to work, stay or live. "If the issue of work is left to the enemies of environmentalism, to movements such as wise use, with its single-minded devotion to propertied interests, then work will simply be reified into property and property rights." Without an ability to recognise the connection between work and nature, environmentalists will eventually reach a point where they seem trivial and extraneous and their issues politically expendable. White gives no corroborating statistics but a convincing array of examples of how idealised histories and narratives mask realities, how jobs that are removed from nature or a fetish for purity often lead to subconscious irresponsibility, or how well-meaning environmentalists favour models that are unrealistic for large populations. Such behaviour is greatly appreciated by rich polluters because the environmentalists discredit themselves and allow whoever is behind the bumper stickers to incite resentment among voters.

White is correct that we have even less of a chance of a success if we fail to engage the workers (i.e., voters), but this would only be a start. White does not mention the larger issues that would have to be addressed even if all environmentalists had ideal attitudes and relations with the working world. Yes loggers have legitimacy, and yes highly-efficient modern logging machinery is of itself not evil, but since depletion of forest carbon-sinks is a form of mass destruction in a world with unsustainable human growth and consumption, being pals with the lumber jacks is not enough. Surely most offshore riggers and fishermen are also nice people, but the oceans are being massively polluted and depleted and attempts at sustainable usage of the oceans have mainly been failures. Most people are blissfully unaware or uncaring of these situations and continue to consume and pollute with no substantial sense of personal responsibility.

By coincidence, I read Milton's "Paradise Lost" around the time that I read this book. This made it more fun to read about "Edenic" thinking. In "Uncommon Ground" we are asked to think about all of nature, not just the coralled-off parts. Similarly in "Paradise Lost", Michael reminds Adam and Eve, while kicking them out of Eden, that their God is not just in Eden but omnipresent. Nuclear waste is also nature. God is also present in the dead-zones off the American coast and in Canadian tarsand tailing ponds.

The last chapter gives a helpful summary from each contributor about what he or she would like the reader to learn from their essays and the book. Despite ageing, this book is certainly worth reading. As shown by the example of Richard White's essay, the book achieves its goals within the apolitical scope that it gives itself, but neither White nor the other authors attempt to position their recommendations in the context of the most urgent environmental problems facing humans in the biosphere, such as massive destruction and depletion of resources in parallel with massive grwoth of population and consumption. The logical conclusion after reading this book is that one can either react with despair or one can become politically active for sustainable human life in this biosphere, the only one that we have.

This concludes my review of this book. The following are some notes on ideas brought up in the book and related political aspects not brought up in the book.

-----------------------------------------------------

Our conception of nature is not just influenced by our culture; it is the direct product of our culture. In the West, the story of the Garden of Eden and the notion of paradise have an overwhelmingly deep influence on our conception of nature. This is obviously different in cultures having different mythologies. To understand attitudes towards the environment, one must therefore understand the underlying culture. Furthermore, our conception of nature is mixed with our societal morals, for example when we perceive or when we are made to perceive something as unnatural or going against nature, our rationality is muted by conscious or subconscious emotions. Nature thus becomes a moral trump card in disputes. The Eden story is understood and communicated in radically different ways, depending on other attitudes and interests. Individuals generally interpret "God's giving Man dominion over Nature" in whatever way that pleases them, i.e., with or without a corollary of responsibility. Cronon writes, "Trouble surfaces only when ... one person's Eden comes in conflict with another's, much as God's plans for Paradise collided with Satan's. Then the Edenic myth becomes the vehicle for ... demonizing them as allies of the dark angel."

Nature is also sold as a commodity, for example through nature-experience shows like "Sea World" or through businesses selling products that are connected with nature. The latter have a large range, such as eco-food stores or nature boutiques in shopping malls. This is a tremendously successful feel-good industry. Some parts of this industry are beneficial to animals and the environment, but many parts are harmful. The buyer must beware.

Perhaps the underlying assumptions and attitudes of American environmentalists addressed in this book have changed since it was published in 1996. If so, one would have to wonder why, because not much else has changed: the rates of pollution and environmental destruction have continued to increase and the dominant political parties have been either hostile or only weakly supportive towards reform. Perhaps people have become more despairing. Perhaps they are more aware.

Possible political solutions are not mentioned. The odds are stacked against us. If we don't get more active, then sincere, effective environmentalism (as opposed to superficial blah-blah) is condemned to eternal political irrelevance in the US and in all countries with similar political systems including all the larger Commonwealth countries, because of several factors.

First, majority-based federal elections for two or three parties (i.e., first-past-the-post, as opposed to proportional representation for multiple parties) make it impossible for small political parties (e.g., parties that take environmentalism seriously) to share power. In such a political model, voting for an alternative party is correctly perceived by voters as a waste of a vote. For example, the few votes for the Green Party in Florida in 2000 may have cost Al Gore the election, handing power to George W. Bush. Small parties are thereby condemned to the fringes and are therefore unattractive for potential candidates. No one wishing to have a stable family income can be a career politician for a small party in this model. In this model small parties can never mature because they never share responsibility for government. The media portray them as amusing but not serious. Although over 40% of voters are not represented, most citizens are convinced that their country's democratic model is the best!

Second, most legislators are beholden to corporations and lobbies that pay for elections that are innately expensive. These interest groups set the agenda for legislation and for the news media, thereby ensuring the odds against environmental reforms. People are misinformed and kept that way. Even the extreme weather conditions brought on by human-caused climate change, the threat of massive world overpopulation, and the massive pollution and depletion of the oceans have not brought substantial change to this system. Some brave individuals try to make a difference, but their efforts will be wasted without political change. The only solution is for the individual to get active, live an exemplary life, and push for a better world.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wilderness is dead. Long live..., October 4, 2010
By 
C. E. Dye (Bozeman, MT, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (Paperback)
In most of the essays in this book I found ideas I'd never considered that eventually reworked nearly my entire conception of wilderness and mainstream society's relationship with it. I highly recommend this great collection of essays to those who enjoy thinking about our place in this world in new and brilliant ways.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent condition used book, August 23, 2014
This review is from: Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (Paperback)
Delivered on time and exactly as defined in description.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A useful book, January 31, 2014
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This review is from: Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (Paperback)
Uncommon Ground has done a great job articulating many essays into a collective book on our view of nature. As a researcher and ecologist, I have found the book a wonderful tool for bridging the gap between ideologies in nature and morals.
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17 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the result of a year-long project in critical thinking, December 26, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (Paperback)
Cronan has done it again! This volume of essays critically examines the concept of wilderness, nature, and humanity's role in the modern world. Though the individual essays are somewhat uneven, the main theme of the book is clearly communicated, especially in Cronan's introductory piece. That is, that the concept of wilderness needs careful rethinking, particularly with our world nearing 10 billion persons.
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4 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Compilation, March 19, 2009
By 
David S. Lott (Beaufort, South Carolina United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (Paperback)
I returned this when I realized Prof. Cronon was the editor not the author. It's a collection of essays. I read a few. Not as good as Prof. Cronon can write.
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Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature
Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature by William Cronon (Paperback - October 17, 1996)
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