• Engineering Eden

  • The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight over Controlling Nature
  • By: Jordan Fisher Smith
  • Narrated by: Traber Burns
  • Length: 12 hrs and 2 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (63 ratings)

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Engineering Eden  By  cover art

Engineering Eden

By: Jordan Fisher Smith
Narrated by: Traber Burns
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Publisher's Summary

The fascinating story of the century-long attempt to control nature in the American wilderness, as told through the prism of a tragic death at Yellowstone.

When 25-year-old Harry Walker was killed by a bear in Yellowstone Park in 1972, the civil trial prompted by his death became a proxy for bigger questions about American wilderness management that had been boiling for a century. At immediate issue was whether the Park Service should have done more to keep bears away from humans, but what was revealed as the trial unfolded was just how fruitless our efforts to regulate nature in the parks had always been. The proceedings drew to the witness stand some of the most important figures in 20th-century wilderness management, including the eminent zoologist A. Starker Leopold, who had produced a landmark conservationist document in the 1950s, and all-American twin researchers John and Frank Craighead, who ran groundbreaking bear studies at Yellowstone. Their testimonies would help decide whether the government owed the Walker family restitution for Harry's death, but it would also illuminate decades of patchwork efforts to preserve an idea of nature that had never existed in the first place.

In this remarkable excavation of American environmental history, nature writer and former park ranger Jordan Fisher Smith uses the story of one man's tragic death to tell the larger narrative of the futile, sometimes fatal attempts to remake wilderness in the name of preserving it. Moving across time and between Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Glacier National Parks, Engineering Eden shows how efforts at wilderness management have always been undone by one fundamental problem - that the idea of what is "natural" dissolves as soon as we begin to examine it, leaving us with little framework to say what wilderness should look like and which human interventions are acceptable in trying to preserve it.

In the tradition of John McPhee's The Control of Nature and Alan Burdick's Out of Eden, Jordan Fisher Smith has produced a powerful work of popular science and environmental history, grappling with critical issues that we have even now yet to resolve.

©2016 Jordan Fisher Smith (P)2016 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

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What listeners say about Engineering Eden

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Riveting true story, well performed

This book is a monumentally ambitious accomplishment in terms of scope, and, like Smith's previous NATURE NOIR, so smartly constructed. The suspenseful narrative of a seminal trial is the beating heart of the story, with harrowing tales of bear encounters and colorful biographies of key players woven throughout. Together, these kept the core message and purpose of the book moving forward in a highly entertaining way. What could have become an interesting but potentially dry textbook about park and wildlife management instead bristles with life, crackling action and real flesh-and-blood characters. In telling their true stories, Smith is able to present all sides to the quandary about how best to preserve our natural parklands and wildlife, while still allowing the public to access and enjoy them. There's no easy answer, and our missteps have been many, as Smith shows. But in most cases, the mistakes were the unexpected consequences of policies made by extremely dedicated people with the best of intentions. This is a thoroughly researched, fascinating book, performed in a clear, compelling way by Traber Burns. I highly recommend it.

2 people found this helpful

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Excellent book, poor narration

The book itself is great and worth the read, but the narrator is awful.

1 person found this helpful

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terrible narrator - really, awful!

had to stop listening before I even finished the first chapter because the narrator was so awful. finished the book in paper form.

1 person found this helpful

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Wish I Had Known

We just returned from a trip to Yellowstone and I stumbled across this book. I wish I had known this history ahead of time! So interesting.

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Environmental Controversy Masterfully Told

I work in environmental media and one of my great frustrations is that we often tell linear stories in a straightforward and journalistic way that doesn't pull in a new audiences. Engineering Eden manages to avoid that pitfall, masterfully weaving together courtroom drama, fiercely competing nature management philosophies, history, and biographical stories of the big players who shaped our ideas about national parks and American wilderness. Most of us were never aware of all the drama playing out behind the scenes as we hiked or drove or camped our way through America's national park system. The policies we have in place today were hard-fought by passionate (but sometimes misguided) leaders and lives were literally lost as these battles played out. Small words of warning: Don't listen while distracted because this book demands your full attention. Also, you might need to fast forward through the very real and detailed accounts of national park deaths if you're squeamish.

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Reader was great, but book drags on

The effort to weave the human story just didn’t make up for the general dry fact-filled book. Not a good road trip book.

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loved this!

If you enjoy environmental history, you'll love this story! This story paints a great picture of the history of our National Parks and how they were managed.

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A riveting telling of tragedy, alongside truly accessible science.

Rarely do I immediately re-listen to a book once finished. This is one of them.
I own the hardback book as well and was motivated to read passages.
This is an important book especially now as we face a rapidly changing environment.