OUR NATURAL HISTORY by Daniel B. Botkin

OUR NATURAL HISTORY

The Lessons of Lewis and Clark
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An earnest, sometimes overwrought, and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to link the famed Lewis and Clark expedition to modern environmentalist thought. Botkin (Discordant Harmonies, 1990, etc.), a proponent of the data-heavy New Ecology, sets out to cover the same ground Meriwether Lewis and William Clark did in their 18041806 survey of the Missouri River, maintaining that their careful observations on the native species, landscapes, and human residents of that great stretch of country should serve as models for avoiding ``a glamorized utopian vision of nature.'' He covers the ground in a fashion, all right, but the framing device is contrived. Botkin writes with none of the luminousness of Lewis's journals (``Ocian in View!''), none of the sense of wonder at the vast new country the expedition saw. Instead, he offers sometimes sterile, sometimes contorted observations such as: ``Lewis and Clark, like modern rivermen, were confronted hour by hour, day by day, with the reality of a changing, unpredictable, and harsh nature. It is these rates of change and kinds of changes that must be our guide to finding solutions to environmental problems.'' Botkin's decision to cut his text into subheaded, scatterburst, short discussions yields an argument that flows as choppily as the lower Missouri. In that brisk seen-this-done-that approach, simple fact too often stands in the place of reasoned observation, and statements of the obvious are offered as profundities. Botkin does hit, now and again, on meaty matters, as when he observes that even as our cartographic techniques have grown ever more sophisticated, it is harder and harder to buy a US Geological Survey topographic map, and his longish discussion of salmon ecology is worthy of a book in itself. Botkin's forays, too, into the mismanagement of our national resources are well taken. But in the end there are too many asides here, and too little matter. (maps, not seen) (Book-of-the-Month Club selection)

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1995
ISBN: 0-399-14048-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1995