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The Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World Hardcover – August 30, 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Potentially the most optimistic and controversial work about the future of nature to appear in years.” ―Grist.com

“Marris… challenges us to revisit the definition of nature in our increasingly unnatural world.” ―Nature

“Ms Marris's book is an insightful analysis of the thinking that informs nature conservation.” ―Economist

“May be the most important book about the environment in a generation.” ―Idaho Statesman

“Marris argues that the conservation and appreciation of nature can take place at far less exotic locations, such as backyards, city parks, farms, and even parking lots....This gracefully written and well-argued book deserves a wide readership.” ―Reason

“[Marris] doesn't just dwell in the imperfections of the past. She also offers forward-looking innovations.” ―Mother Jones

“Seamlessly intertwining lyrical travelogue with ecological science…[Marris] champions a controversial approach to conservation.” ―Discover

“Into her lively reporting, [Marris] weaves a fascinating story of the history of environmentalism and the controversies that occupy it today. It's a stimulating examination of the questions of stewardship and the future of our delicate planet that will challenge any simple answers.” ―Publishers Weekly

“Conservationists have long thought that the goal of ecological restoration should be a return to prehuman conditions, but, as Marris points out, this may not be the wisest course of action. Profiling a heroic new breed of conservationists who are exploring inventive methods for managing wildlife in all its forms, Marris showcases hopeful new concepts and constructive new practices.” ―Booklist

“Insightful, probing and well-written, Rambunctious Garden is a look at the often-overlooked players of the modern ecology and conservation movement.” ―Grid

“Covering the world of ecology and conservation from the ancient forests of Poland to the urban waterways of Seattle, Washington, Marris calls for a new kind of conservation that eschews the defensive stance of the past and embraces the challenges of acknowledging, understanding, protecting, and restoring the nature of the present and the future. This is a thought-provoking book that should be widely read and more widely discussed.” ―Kent H. Redford, director, Wildlife Conservation Society

“In Rambunctious Garden, Emma Marris weeds through a jungle of ecological dogma, yanking and hacking at our most cherished perceptions of Nature's purity. Marris asks us to look beyond the black-and-white world of pest and weed versus native and natural. And to humbly accept our duty, as tenders of a garden rambunctious beyond our ken, but not beyond our care.” ―William Stolzenburg, author of Rat Island and Where the Wild Things Were

“This is reality-based ecology at its best. It leads to far better science and conservation practices than the ideology of pristine ecosystems ever could.” ―Stewart Brand, author of Whole Earth Discipline

“Great environmental books tell a story and change our thinking―Emma Marris has written such a book. She shows conservation a way out of its sullen addiction to the parable of relentless decline, and offers instead a vision of a lively nature―poking itself rambunctiously into every human habitat and finding ways to run free in those rare places where humans do not step quite so heavily. I am hoping that everyone who works in conservation or somehow supports or cares about conservation and nature reads this book. It is Rachel Carson for the twenty-first Century.” ―Peter Kareiva, chief scientist, The Nature Conservancy

About the Author

Emma Marris grew up in Seattle, Washington. Since 2004, she has written for the world's foremost science journal, Nature, on ecology, conservation Biology and other topics. Her articles have also appeared in Wired, the Christian Science Monitor, and Conservation. She currently lives in Columbia, Missouri, with her husband and daughter.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (September 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608190323
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608190324
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #650,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Emma Marris, the author of Rambunctious Garden (RG), has written a book that one should read, if only to become familiar with new proposed strategies and tools that seeks to expand conservation beyond traditional approaches.She does not think the earth should be managed solely (or even mostly) to benefit people, does she argue that more traditional preservationist strategies should be abandoned.

Nevertheless, I worry that an emphasis on these alternative approaches will distract conservation efforts from proven conservation strategies like parks and wilderness. But you owe it to yourself to read her book and determine whether her arguments are convincing. Here's my take on her book.

She loves the nature hiding in back street alleys and along the highway median strip. Marris believes it's time to abandon (or de-emphasize) what she sees as outdated and naïve conservation strategies such as creation of national parks and wilderness reserves. She feels the biggest obstacles to a bold new world of "designer" and "novel" ecosystems is the "wilderness cult" that naively wants to preserve "natural" landscapes--which she says do not exist anymore.

Marris espouses the anthropocentric perspective that the Earth is more or less a resource cookie jar for humans--to be used carefully to be sure--but she doesn't really question whether ethically or ecologically this is ultimately a good idea.

Marris is a cheerleader for the dangerous concept that humans are both intelligent enough and wise enough to "manage" the Earth--the `smart resource management' school of thought. She is a prime example of the kind person biologist David Ehrenfeld had in mind when he wrote his book the Arrogance of Humanism. Embrace weeds, we are told.
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Format: Hardcover
This book should be read by anyone who cares about the future of the planet. Marris does a great job of summarizing in one compact book the many pros and cons, successes and failures, of efforts to prevent the loss of the vast and amazing array of life on earth. Her final chapter embraced all scales of efforts from back yard to national parks, to my surprise, because the majority of the book implied that many of those efforts are futile.

It is this tendency for Marris to overstep her ability to fairly critique the thousands of conservation projects that requires readers to read critically. Readers should note a number of ridiculous suggestions. They should read with an awareness that biased language is used to try to make some arguments stronger than they are. Readers need to beware the author's tendency to rely on outlier, or even contrarian, voices that question well-accepted positions in order to provoke a discussion, while those voices mostly offer little of value as alternatives.

There are many sections in this book with useful information that could help us keep life on earth for the future. I am glad she uses 1491 and other great books of the past two decades to reinforce our awareness that pre-European Americas had human influence. to set goals based on what we hope for the future, rather than making a questionable baseline be the goal. I am grateful to Marris for her recommendations that every place that is conserved should have clear goals with measurable criteria - so we can decide if they are working, or not.

But Marris shows poor judgment in throwing out the preservation of species as one of those measures. The use of DNA to dictate changes to taxonomy is in its infancy, with tens of thousands of genes yet to be analyzed in even commonly known plants.
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Format: Hardcover
This book turns a lot of the conventional conservation dogma on its head. Those people that view humans outide of nature or that view all exotic plants as disasters waiting to happen may find this book challenging. The author systematically makes the argument that there is no such thing as pristine nature. Humans have touched every part of the planet whether through direct intervention or through climate change. Therefore we have to give up the myth and set about tending the garden that is planet Earth.

I found the arguments against the standard "pre-European" baseline especially compelling. She argues that anthropogenic climate change is nothing new and the effects of human action can be seen even 10,000 years ago when the human populations in the Americas drove gigantic, methane emitting, herbivores to extinction. When neolithic man can change climate so greatly, simply rolling back the wilderness clock to a time before Europeans showed up in the Americas seems pretty arbitrary. She also provided me a better understanding of what kind of wildernes those Europeans colonists encountered when they arrived. Many people think of that environment as an untrammeled paradise but there was a huge and advanced civilization in the Americas with a population to rival Europe. The Europeans didn't see this because of disease. I took that to mean that the pristine wilderness those explorers saw was more like a vacant lot that had recently been overrun by weeds. That is what happens when disturbed or cultivated land suddenly falls out of use. Making a weed filled vacant lot your baseline seems hard to justify.

So where does that leave us? Apparently with a lot of tough questions that can't be easily answered with, "before Europeans or before humans". However, even when presenting the panoply of choices, the author makes the process seem hopeful and exciting. Maybe the best way forward is simply to tend the garden that is all around us well.
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