Engineering Eden: The True Story Of A Violent Death, A Trial, And the Fight Over Controlling Nature
The full title of Engineering Eden immediately caught my attention. When I read a summary of what the book was about, I knew I wanted to read it. Written by a former National Park and Forest Service Ranger Jordan Fisher Smith, I had no doubts that I would enjoy this read. Unfortunately, that was over three months ago and I still haven’t exactly finished the book. The reason why I’m writing a “somewhat” review on this book is that it does have some important information, however, the issue is with how it’s presented.
First off, I feel a little misled by the title. From the full title, I expected the book to solely focus on a specific event that occurred in a National Park, the trial held in concern of that event, and the issues in regards to addressing the causes of the event, and how to prevent future incidents from happening again. I was wrong. Smith only teases the reader by discussing only small pieces of Harry Eugene Walker’s case against the Department of Interior. The trial of a man who was mauled to death and partially eaten by a grizzly in Yellowstone National Park is given only in small doses to the reader; peppered throughout the book but never the main focus.
What I can only describe as biographies are given of key players and high-ranking decision makers fill a majority of this book. Another large part of the book is filled with other incidents of bear attacks in National Parks and the struggles experienced by the parks system in regards to how to run a “National Park”. Smith is no doubt knowledgeable and well versed in the history of the parks system (primarily Yellowstone) and the many consequences of its extremely poor choices the parks have experienced. From the massacre of wolves and buffalo to mass shootings of elk, bear dumps, and overused wild areas a lot can be learned from the accounts Smith discusses. However, the way the information is presented in a dry and uninteresting way, takes away from its importance. I personally found myself re-reading pages unable to focus on the information and simply skipping others.
Smith, in my opinion, has attempted to give a glimpse of the “behind the scenes” happenings in specifically Yellowstone National Park; information and stories that most are not privy too. However, it takes so long for Smith simply attempt to tie one person’s story and or history to another, it is easy to forget what the point of it all was. I found myself lost finding no real flow within the book. I kept reading expecting to be tied back into Walker’s case but Smith never really puts full focus on it, treating the case more as a minor story among other major ones. Basically, the book is like reading a textbook but without knowing what the subject is. History? Law? Ecology?
So again, why am I writing this review? Because I feel that Smith does provide some very interesting and thought-provoking histories that show the growth of the Park Service and of humans. The histories within this book show just how cocky humans can be when we feel we are on the top of the food chain and how that arrogance can endanger flora, fauna, and ourselves.
I think there is a lot to be learned from this book but as the reader, you’re really going to have to dig for it. Smith’s writing style is very dry and full of barebone information, and I will again compare it to reading a textbook. I’ll continue reading it here and there taking from it what I can. I don’t, however, plan on finishing it anytime soon as I have found this is not a book I can easily get lost in. And what of the initial trial that so intrigued me? I’m only halfway in, several months of attempts at reading and finishing it and I have still yet to find out the circumstances surrounding Walker’s fatal grizzly encounter.
Overall I feel Smith had good intentions with getting a larger point across with Engineering Eden however that point, whatever it was originally intended to be, was lost in a swirl of everything else. Perhaps you will have better luck with Engineering Eden then me and if you do, I would love to know your thoughts!
See what you think! Purchase your own copy on Amazon using the link below or you can check with your local library!
(Cover of Engineering Eden & Author as Featured on PenguinRandomHouse.com)
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