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Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature Paperback – October 17, 1996
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
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An intellectually pathbreaking book. -- Daniel J. Kevles
An intellectually pathbreaking book.--Daniel J. Kevles
An intellectually pathbreaking book. --Daniel J. Kevles"
The best kind of book, one that shocks the reader into entirely fresh ways of thinking. --Michael Pollan"
From the Back Cover
Uncommon Ground is the best kind of book, one that shocks the reader into entirely fresh ways of seeing. Perhaps the most important work facing us over the next several years involves the reconception of nature and our relationship to it. This indispensable volume makes a bold start on that project attacking it with imagination, insight, originality, and wit.
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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.
The rest of the essays reflect the result of a year-long at symposium at UC-Irvine on rethinking nature. Contributors include some very influential figures as well as young scholars, whose work is often (but not always!) weaker than that of the more established scholars. This book has greater coherence than most edited volumes, thanks to the ongoing symposium.
Even after twenty years, some of these essays will challenge you to rethink how you imagine “nature.” Some are overly specialized and insufficiently insightful, and drag the book down a bit. Even so, this book well deserves the influence it has had.