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Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island Hardcover – May 6, 2014

4.6 out of 5 stars 164 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


A New York Times Bestseller
A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Series pick
One of Amazon's Top 100 Books of the Year
A Daily Beast Best Nonfiction Book of the Year

Winner of the Langum Malott Prize
Winner of the 2015 Society of Environmental Journalists Rachel Carson Environment Book Award
An Advisory Council for the Georgia Center for the Book’s “Books All Georgians Should Read”

“Vivid. . . . Ms. Ruckdeschel’s biography, and the way this wandering soul came to settle for so many decades on Cumberland Island, is big enough on its own, but Mr. Harlan hints at bigger questions. Who does this island belong to? The Park Service, the Carnegies, Carol—and, for that matter, the turtles? What is the difference between stewardship and ownership? Carol Ruckdeschel found a home as the latest in a series of women who have tried to protect Cumberland Island. The difference being that, rather than being a Carnegie, she is a benevolent invasive species of one.”—Wall Street Journal

“Harlan intimately and expansively profiles a fearless Southern island dweller. . . . A moving homage and an adventure story that artfully articulates the ferocities of nature and humanity.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Carol Ruckdeschel isn’t quite your mother's idea of a role model, but she is my idea of an inspiring woman. Her gifts are many, her commitment resolute, her contribution world-class. And boy—as you’ll read—has she had fun. What a story! It's as beautiful as the island she loves.”—Carl Safina, author of The View from Lazy Point and A Sea in Flames

“Now this is an adventure story. Untamed is the true-life saga of a brilliant, beautiful woman who became her own tall tale. Just to survive, Carol Ruckdeschel had to become as elusive and mysterious as the creatures she first set off into the wilderness to study. Hunted by her enemies, stalked by an ex-lover, living off the land, Ruckdeschel found herself locked in a battle of wits to stay alive and pursue her scientific passion. This is no Sad Girl on a One-Year Quest for Love and Backbone; Carol Ruckdeschel is on a mission, and she's smart and lethal enough to deal with anyone who tries to stop her.”—Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run

“A true action hero, Carol Ruckdeschel is using her powers of insight, persuasion, and personal commitment to protect a wilderness island off the coast of Georgia. She’s not just bemoaning the tragic decline of the natural world that sustains all life on earth, humans and turtles included. She is also putting her own life on the line to save what’s left. Thanks to Carol, there is hope for wild creatures who have preceded humankind by hundreds of millions of years—and hope for an enduring future for ourselves as well.”—Sylvia Earle, record-setting oceanographer, National Geographic explorer-in-residence, 2009 TED Prize winner, Mission Blue founder, Time's first Hero of the Planet, and author of The World Is Blue

“Wild country produces wild people, who sometimes are just what's needed to keep that wild cycle going. This is a memorable portrait.”—Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature, winner of the 2013 Gandhi Peace Award, founder of 350.org

“Get ready to inhale steaming carcasses, gun smoke, and salty sea air. Harlan has a magic touch for storytelling. He rings out every sensory detail in this compelling sketch of a controversial, no-holds-barred life.”—Jennifer S. Holland, National Geographic writer and New York Times bestselling author of Unlikely Friendships

“Open this book to the brine of salt marsh, the musk of turtles and sea breezes, and the astonishing story of Carol Ruckdeschel. From the first line I was captivated by this biography of a fierce and enigmatic passion for wildness, mesmerizing and beautiful. May we all learn something of love from it.”—Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood

Untamed is not only a page-turner but also a show-stopper. Its engaging protagonist, Carol Ruckdeschel—a combination of Jane Goodall and Annie Oakley—is kaleidoscopic in her paradoxes: ‘brutal and benevolent, savage and sympathetic, cutthroat and compassionate.’ Harlan has written an environmental classic that belongs on the shelf alongside Carson, Leopold, Muir, and Thoreau. This crafty, adventurous biography reads like a good novel and leaves readers in tears. It’s a tale of an American hero told by an American hero, and the collaboration is luminous.”—Thomas Rain Crowe, author of Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods

"This is going to be a winner. I loved it—and was even choked up a time or two by Carol’s passion to save wild Cumberland. An ‘undertow of awe’ sweeps beneath the entire story. As Carol’s life reveals, the battles for wilderness are many and the victories are short-lived, but ultimately the fight comes down to one thing: pure, unwavering love."—Brooke Williams, author of Halflives: Reconciling Work and Wildness

“Deliciously engrossing. . . . Readers are in for a wild ride.”—Citizen-Times (Asheville)

“This is one gorgeous book, a testament not only to Will Harlan’s obvious writing chops but also what the best in journalism is all about, the passion to dig and go beyond the obvious. Harlan’s unflinching, inspirational biography of Carol Ruckdeschel . . . shows the reader her amazing character, spine and spunk . . . Untamed is a unique portrayal of a unique crusader . . . Very thought-provoking stuff, with beautiful writing and an eye-for-detail.”—Society of Environmental Journalists

About the Author

Will Harlan is the editor-in-chief of "Blue Ridge Outdoors," the country's largest regional outdoor magazine. A top trail runner and a long-time journalist, his work has appeared in "The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Adventure, " and elsewhere.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (May 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802122582
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802122582
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (164 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #233,176 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
A biography of a controversial figure is likely to be controversial. An uninformed reader can't tell how accurate and objective the story is in the telling of the events and the description of the characters involved. However, it is an engaging and enjoyable read and the commitment and dedication to the preservation of our natural environment, and in particular, wilderness, is inspiring.
I am biased in favor of the protection of wilderness areas and believe this should take precedence over historical and archaeological interests, which colors my view of the subject. This book is likely to get you thinking about the various conflicting interests that compete for the use of our land and natural resources, and in particular, which interests should supersede others.
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I read this book with great interest and I enjoyed it. Whether some of the anecdotal stories about Carol are all entirely accurate or not, as some reviewers question, is unimportant. In fact, the stories themselves are unimportant. With something like a 100 visits to Cumberland over the past 30 years, I have heard them all before. Cumberland Island is a special place. The south part, is very friendly to families for hiking, camping, shark tooth hunting, meandering through the island's rich history, or spending a day at one of the world's great beaches. The north part is a little harder to enjoy, and well it should be. It is half an island where nature should be left to her own devices. Had it not been for a favored president's son getting married in the north, few would care about it. Even as you read this, there are a lot of people trying to turn Cumberland Island, this magnificent resource, into something that we already have a lot of; paved bike trails, motor vehicle tours, parking lots, beach boardwalks and all that come with them. I enjoy that too, but, a few places need to be preserved, giving turtle nesting a priority over sea kayak rentals and suntan lotion sales. Today, Cumberland Island is special, but, fragile. Fragile, not because of shifting sands, occasional wildfires, or summer storms, but fragile because a few political decisions could make it just another beach place, like the rest of the East Coast. I hope that everybody reads this book and that every reader comes away with the notion that the special places like Cumberland require the public's constant surveillance to keep them special. Harlan did not make this message explicit, but, it is imbedded in his book's pages. The government has done a lot to preserve our natural heritage, but, they often need help in making the right decisions and we need to keep an eye on them. Carol has kept an eye on them and deserves a major share of credit for how Cumberland has turned out.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Will Harlan's "Untamed" is a readable and informative screed about the life and crusades of Carol Ruckdeschel.While
describing her a misfit would be an injustice, she has battled against the powers that be for decades in order to preserve Cumberland Island as a wildlife refuge. I had read a piece about her in The New Yorker by John McPhee years ago. To say her approach to saving wildlife is idiosyncratic would be an understatement. Her in-your-face confrontational attitude to the old monied residents, the National Park Service, shrimp fishers, the US Navy and hack politicians (her friend Jimmy Carter being a notable exception) may have undermined her cause at times. Hers is an interesting life down a path few would dare to take. There is no doubt the country owes her and others for the preservation of one our most beautiful barrier islands on the East Coast. Cumberland will doubtlessly need more advocates in the future but they may not need to be quite as controversial as she to be effective.
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Format: Paperback
THis is a fascinating story of a very unique woman and the many battles she faced, and she and others still face, to protect not only Cumberland island, but the endangered sea turtles. Carol's story is told very well. I found myself in the story. Like Carol, I was a loner child, who spent more time in the hills and the woods than with peers. Like her, I found out early on in life where I really belonged, and it was not with a bunch of suburban teens pretending to be hellions or rebels, but inwardly simply preparing to be conventional automatons like their parents. So, I can definitely empathize with Carol's immersion in nature and what flows from that.

However, I was not as strong willed as Carol, and would have been too sensitive to take on as many different forces and institutions all arrayed against simply doing the right thing by the earth. I could have shot wild hogs on the beach, as she did, to stop these non-native creatures from gobbling down the eggs of endangered sea turtles. But I would have been appalled and distraught to realize that the National Park Service itself was more interested in building structures to draw in more and more tourists and money, than in protecting the land itself, and hence I don't know if I would have had the strength for the battles she waged against them. The attitudes of the Park Service to Carol Ruckdeschel, as quoted in the book, are disgusting and inexplicable. To say that they diminish one's confidence in the National Park Service is a great understatement.
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