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Book Review: Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature

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From the Editor

Trail Notes

The Trail Companion

Early Spring 1999

Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature
Edited by William Cronon W.W. Norton, 1995

Book Review by Bob Kelly

      Each year, UC Irvine's Humanities Research Institute facilitates seminars where an academic is invited to organize a semester-long seminar on a particular subject. He or she then assembles a group that holds weekly day-long meetings open to students. Ultimately the group produces a book on what they have learned together. Professor William Cronon of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was invited to convene a seminar on "Reinventing Nature". This book is the result. The premise of "Uncommon Ground" intrigued me. At first I almost assumed that the essays were critical of human perceptions of nature. In fact, Professor Cronon alludes to that assumption in his introduction.
     The contributing professors presented ideas that challenged my perceptions. I came away with some new perspectives and ideas on humans and nature. The essays and found objects in "Uncommon Ground" reexamine many fondly-held human ideas on nature. The point the group works from is "simply that nature is a human idea". They start from two key premises, first, "that the natural world is far more dynamic, far more changeable" and more influenced by human history than cur-rent popular belief and secondly, "the way we describe and understand" the natural world is linked to our "values and assumptions". So where do the natural world and our view of the natural world diverge? Professor Cronon introduces this collection and articulates the premise. Essays range from "The Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted" to "Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living". I liked the found objects relating to The Rocky Mountain Arsenal AKA "The Nation's Most Ironic Nature Park" If you're a reader, there are many good leads from the "eclectic reading list". This book got me thinking and reevaluating my own ideas on nature and it may for you, too. Enjoy.


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