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Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas (Studies in Environment and History) [Kindle Edition]

Donald Worster
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Nature's Economy is a wide-ranging investigation of ecology's past, first published in 1994. It traces the origins of the concept, discusses the thinkers who have shaped it, and shows how it in turn has shaped the modern perception of our place in nature. Our view of the living world is a product of culture, and the development of ecology since the eighteenth century has closely reflected society's changing concerns. Donald Worster focuses on these dramatic shifts in outlook and on the individuals whose work has expressed and influenced society's point of view. The book includes portraits of Linnaeus, Gilbert White, Darwin, Thoreau, and such key twentieth-century ecologists as Rachel Carson, Frederic Clements, Aldo Leopold, James Lovelock, and Eugene Odum.


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Review

'A major purpose of this book, written at a time when ecology burgeons as both a science and a cult, is to show that ecological science has always been shifting ground … Worster's style is warm, intellectually strong, and eloquent.' Frederick E. Smith, Science

'The in-depth treatment Worster has given to many who contributed to the evolution and revolution of the discipline reflects scholarship of high order. To write in a highly readable and absorbing style makes it even more praiseworthy. Graduates in ecology at baccalaureate to doctoral levels, and many practitioners of the discipline, basic and applied, would do well to take stock of where they came from. Worster is a very worthwhile guide.' Edward J. Kormondy, Ecology

'Donald Worster's book, a gracefully written account of select events in the history of ecology, is designed to show how this field developed prior to the mid-twentieth century explosion of concern about the subject … Worster has written a volume that should be read and pondered.' Keir B. Sterling, American Historical Review

'Worster has produced a fascinating book. One reading left a copy littered with checkmarks, underlined passages, exclamation, and a note paper of quotations and ideas. The book is well written, well organized, interesting, and provocative.' Frank B. Golley, Human Ecology

Book Description

Nature's Economy is a wide-ranging investigation of ecology's past, first published in 1994. It traces the origins of the concept, discusses the thinkers who have shaped it, and shows how it in turn has shaped the modern perception of our place in nature.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2206 KB
  • Print Length: 423 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Up to 4 simultaneous devices, per publisher limits
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2 edition (24 Jun. 1994)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00D2WQ78M
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #343,733 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good structure, sloppy execution 5 May 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Donald Worster has written a gem of a book. It's too bad that he gets lost in his own selfconceit. Worster merely wants to say that all other ecological ideas are products of cultural conditions. Howver, his ideas are not. Worster is a master at structuring his points, and he is colorful at times. My favorite part, however (other than the connection of interdependncy to fascism) was when he misused his "In the begining was The Word" quote. "The Word," in the original Greek text of the bible, is actually "logos," not literal words of creeation. I had a hard time buying his schtick after reading that line.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing and enlightening 23 Nov. 2005
By "Dity" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I used to muse on the subject of environmentalism and why two seemingly opposed camps ("pro-environment" and "anti-environment"--though "anti-environment" could more fairly be termed "pro-development") think the way they do. This book answered many of my questions and started me thinking about more in-depth issues of environmentalism. The history presented is fascinating and, in some cases, appalling. I found myself thinking, "how could these people so eagerly destroy the environment that sustains them?", but at the same time the logic was right in front of me. I may not have agreed with it, but there it was.

The book is divided into six sections, which explore environmental thinking in chronological order: 1) Two Roads Diverged: Ecology in the Eighteenth Century; 2) The Subversive Science: Thoreau's Romantic Ecology; 3) The Dismal Science: Darwinian Ecology; 4) O Pioneers: Ecology on the Frontier; 5) The Morals of a Science: Ethics, Economics, and Ecology; 6) The Age of Ecology: Science and the Fate of the Earth.

This book was required reading for an environmental ethics class (something I think every college student should take), and I enjoyed reading it. We were asked to think about the points in the book in the context of 6 different frameworks: morals and ethics, religion, capitalism, the commons, science, and wilderness. I recommend that other readers do the same. Thinking about environmentalism from these different viewpoints gives it a different spin every time.

I never really considered myself an environmentalist, although I am all for living sustainably on the earth (within reason--some sustainability viewpoints are admittedly extreme). However, this book definitely shifted my opinions to those of a more environmentalist-like identity than I had before.

This review refers to the Second Edition (1994).
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worster Has Fine-Tuned the Historical Art of Observance 13 Mar. 2011
By Dusty J, Summit - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Viewing nature as a multi-tiered economy is not a recent revelation. Donald Worster explores the genesis of this idea back to Gilbert White during the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. In sum, nature has producers and consumers. Consumers, whether they are humans, lions, bullfrogs or fire ants feed off the producers who are usually represented by photosynthesizing life forms. Consumers often aid producers in their propagation, even though it may not always be obvious. This concept of organic bodies interacting as a community is the basis of ecology.

Because there are so many variables, ecology and environmental study is a tricky field to study. Even more adroit are the historical scholars and their examinations of the environmental study. When most authors are banging their war drums calling for a reevaluation of environmental outlook or positing radical theories, Worster wishes to pursue a "deeper awareness of the roots of our contemporary perception of nature." He does not attempt to argue much of a hard-line point throughout his book, rather than openly explore the history of ecology. This is a simple and humble way to approach any topic and can be a truly wise idea. Worster separated the history of ecological thought into half a dozen eras. His hope was to illuminate the progression of ecology from organic, to romantic, to mechanistic, to tragic, to apocalyptic, and back to organic. By patiently probing through a massively diverse history of ecological ideas, Worster has written an epic of ecological history. If J.R.R Tolkien wrote an epic of ecology it would have turned out similar to Nature's Economy.

One strength of Worster's writing is his ability to draw upon obscure characters and develop attachments to various agents of history. Worster never grazes over characters or ideas, rather he supplies descriptions and backgrounds to diversify the story. He describes the drab appearance of "Oakies" and the tensions of Apollo 13. He explains the geology of the Galapagos Islands and the background Eugene Odum. By providing character development, background science and minute details, Worster has created an ecology of ecologists.

Worster provided so much detail in an attempt to push his minor thesis and his only real argument. According to Worster, ecology (along with other sciences) progressed according to the social and cultural patterns of the time. I will highlight just three of these instances.

The nineteenth century of the western world saw technological growth and scientific development in such quantities that had not been achieved for two thousand years. Man's achievements reaffirmed the belief that the natural world should be categorized and mechanized both physically and ideologically. Ecology in its attempts to identify the various cogs and relationships in nature fit surprisingly well into the mechanists blueprint. Nature was meticulously broken down and organized in order to identify as many agents in the economy of nature as possible. Ecology aided this process.

Ecology was looked to out of desperation during the 1930's and Dust Bowl catastrophe. Ecologists had much to offer in regards to explaining the dust storms. Most importantly they explained why it happened and how to prevent it from happening in the future. Ecology, with its ability to understand natural relationships, educated people in the importance of naturally evolved landscapes. These landscapes evolved through species succession and climax. Ecologists gained some admiration and even a few public pay-checks.

Lastly, ecology became an oasis of purity following the atomic bomb and World War Two. For centuries, scientists were bringers of progress, knowledge, and curiosity. But shame and fear was cast over the scientific community upon the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The most brilliant physicists in the world who once pondered the heavens and studied the forces that keep us floating through space became the harbingers of unrelenting death produced from the laboratory. Chemists who once theorized on the elemental similarities of humans, birds and trees became the dark scientist who played God by perverting the elements. Science, as Worster explained morbidly, had a large stain on its lab coat. Ecology, with its happier appraisals of life and natural connections became very popular in the shadow of the bomb. And so entered, "the Age of Ecology."

As mentioned above, Worster routinely supplemented his history of ecology with details and narratives. Initially, I found this cumbersome and inhibiting to the point. Only after getting through one third of the book did I realize that the details are the point. The details are what create the connections of ecology. The characters and their diverse backgrounds were what the human culture was comprised of. Two hundred years of botany, biology, geology, physics and curiosity mixed with two hundred years of market economy, integrated with two hundred years of social and cultural trends all added up to a photograph of earth taken by an Apollo astronaut drifting through the vacuum of dead space. There it lay, a tiny blueish greenish gem able to support complex life, the only such gem we know of. Ecology as an idea existed for centuries, ecology as a thesis was born from that photograph. Donald Worster's Nature's Economy had to have all the details it did, it was the only way to appreciate the complex connections existing on earth.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone living in the West... 23 May 2014
By Kriskross - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
…needs to read Donald Worster. In fact, he should be required reading to buy property anywhere west of Salina. This book, and his 1992 book, "Under Western Skies", are remarkably inspiring and challenging. For those of us who treasure the delicate and magnificent ecosystems around us, these books are a necessary arsenal against mindless development and loud self-interest groups.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good secondary source 30 July 2013
By Nick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Great introduction to some f the most influential scientific minds and their works in the field of ecology. Not the easiest read but not hard to scan through either. Best information about Darwin I've had so far.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fundamental 30 July 2013
By BRUNO S. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had this book for a course in postgrad, is the most complete in the subject. Worster is an authority in the field. Would love a Spanish translation to teach with it in my country.
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