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Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature 1st Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393038729
ISBN-10: 0393038726
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In this thought-provoking collection of essays edited by environmental historian Cronon, scholars such as Carolyn Merchant, Richard White, Kenneth Olwig, Donna Haraway, and others "contribute to an ongoing dialog about the environment." The book has its roots in an interdisciplinary seminar on "Reinventing Nature," held at the University of California, Irvine's Humanities Research Institute in 1994, and is similar in scope to another Reinventing Nature project entitled Reinventing Nature?: Responses to Postmodern Deconstructionism (Island Pr., 1995). This work explores our ideas of nature in a cultural context, for "if we hope for an environmentalism capable of explaining why people abuse the earth as they do, then the nature we study most become less natural and more cultural." By using materials such as photographs, advertisements, and paintings (termed "found objects" by Haraway) to stimulate fresh ways of viewing and responding to nature, the group has produced an enlightening work that challenges our very ideas of the natural world. Highly recommended.
S. Maret, Univ. of Colorado, Denver
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.


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" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 561 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (October 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393038726
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393038729
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #576,650 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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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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.
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Format: 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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Format: 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.
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Format: 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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