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About the Author

Donald Worster is Hall Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of Kansas and the author of many books including A River Running West, the Bancroft Prize-winning Dust Bowl, and Under Western Skies: Nature and History in the American West.

Works by Donald Worster

Associated Works

Trails: Toward a New Western History (1991) — Contributor — 67 copies
River Flowing From The Sunrise (2000) — Foreword — 13 copies
A World We Thought We Knew: New Readings in Utah History (1995) — Contributor — 12 copies
Great Basin Kingdom Revisited: Contemporary Perspectives (1991) — Contributor — 10 copies
Sunstone - Vol. 12:5, Issue 67, September 1988 (1988) — Contributor — 1 copy

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Reviews

This book provides a comprehensive and insightful look at the Dust Bowl and reveals many things. Particularly useful are the two sections that analyze specific counties. This is an essential read for anyone trying to understand today's environmental crises.
 
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M_Clark | Oct 28, 2022 |
In A River Running West, Donald Worster, one of America's foremost historians of the environment and the west, authored a biography of one of the most important men of the late nineteenth century, John Wesley Powell. Powell was a noticeable figure. He had a long beard that resembled the Old Testament prophet and had lost an arm at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. This limitation did not slow him down at all. He famously explored the Colorado River, a dangerous feat that Worster thinks ranks Powell's expedition second only to the that of Lewis and Clark in the importance of the American west. Although he had almost no formal education, Powell was scientist, who always considered scientific fact as the most important consideration. He relied on climatology, geography, and hydrography, among other scientific fields, over ideology, wishful thinking, and religion, when making policy recommendations. This is a long book, but very much worth the read. (… (more)
 
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gregdehler | 1 other review | Dec 20, 2018 |
In the preface to Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas, Second Edition, Donald Worster writes, “How the living world has been perceived through the aid of the science of ecology is thus the main theme of this study in the history of ideas. This perception, I have maintained, has had significant consequences for man’s relation to the natural order and will continue to have ever more” (pg. x). Further, Worster writes that ecology’s “modern history begins in the eighteenth century, when it emerged as a more comprehensive way of looking at the earth’s fabric of life: a point of view that sought to describe all of the living organisms of the earth as an interacting whole, often referred to as the ‘economy of nature’” (pg. x).
Worster terms the early study arcadianism, writing, “The overwhelming impression in this arcadian writing as in the letters generally, is of a man eager to accept all nature into his parish sympathies. That desire is what the rediscovery of pagan literature in the eighteenth century was primarily about: a longing to reestablish an inner sense of harmony between man and nature through an outer physical reconciliation” (pg. 10). Later, “the study of ‘ecology’ – a word that appeared in the nineteenth century as a more scientific substitute for the older phrase – was in its very origins imbued with a political and economic as well as Christian view of nature: the earth was perceived as a world that must be somehow managed for maximum output. This tendency to borrow heavily from politics and economics – their values along with their metaphors – is a crucial characteristic in the study of ecology” (pg. 37). Though Linneas, Ray, and White played a key role, Worster argues that, by the mid-nineteenth century, ecologists were “rapidly replacing the older static models of the economy of nature with new ones that emphasized ecological change and turbulence” (pg. 63).
Turining to Darwin, Worster writes, “The bedrock idea upon which Darwin built, though he never isolated it as such, was that all survival on earth is socially determined” (pg. 156). Futher, “In the second step of his logic, Darwin again followed the eighteenth-century naturalists very closely. The economy of nature is more than a working composite of organisms, he believed; considered abstractly, it is a system of ‘places,’ or what later ecologists would call ‘niches’” (pg. 156-157). Finally, “It was in the third step of his logic that Darwin broke most clearly with the traditional ecological view, thanks to help from Lyell and Malthus. He came to realize that no one species can hold a particular place in the economy of nature forever. At every moment each place is up for grabs, an sooner or later a replacement will be found and the old occupant shoved out of the circle to perish alone” (pg. 157-158).
Moving forward in time, Worster writes, “The men who drew the map for the freshly christened science of ecology were, appropriately enough, geographers. The prominence of their discipline in the nineteenth century, its contributions to other sciences, and its widespread interest for the general reader are seldom appreciated today. But in its heyday, geography was a powerful cultural force” (pg. 193-194). Of the early pioneers of ecology, Worster argues that the most important “was Eugenius Warming, a Danish professor who produced the key synthesis that forced the scientific world to take note at last of the new field of ecology. His classic work, Plantesamfund, was first published in 1895 and then in 1909 was revised and translated into English as The Oecology of Plants: An Introduction to the Study of Plant Communities” (pg. 198). In addition, “Warming gave to this process of structural and physiological adjustment to habitat the name ‘epharmosis.’ Genetically different plants, he noted, may react to similar environments in similar ways, a phenomenon he called ‘epharmonic convergence’” (pg. 198).
Toward the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, “The emergence of what has been called the ‘New Ecology’ brought a model of the environment based on both thermodynamics and modern economics. An analysis of the ecosystem concept, on which the New Ecology relied heavily, reveals that moral values were inherent even in this supposedly mature, objective, neutral description of nature” (pg. 256-257). Worster writes, “If society and its economics shaped the New Ecologists, that influence was a two-way street; we must also ask what cultural impact their account of nature had. Modern man depends heavily on the scientist to explain what kind of world we live in, and now the ecologist’s answer was: an economic one” (pg. 314). Worster concludes, “Ecological biology, while in general reinforcing certain values more than others, has been and remains intertwined with many of man’s ethical principles, social aims, and transcendental ambitions. There is no reason for believing that this science cannot find an appropriate theoretical framework for the ethic of interdependence. If the bioeconomics of the New Ecologists cannot serve, then there are other, more useful, models of nature’s economy that await discovery” (pg. 338).
Moving forward, Worster writes, “The phrase ‘age of ecology,’ which came out of the celebration of the first Earth Day in 1970, expressed a grim hopefulness that ecological science would offer nothing less than a blueprint for planetary survival” (pg. 340). Entering the modern day, Worster writes, “Scientists have abandoned that equilibrium view of nature and invented a new one that looks remarkably like the human sphere in which we live. We can no longer maintain that either nature or society is a stable entity. All history has become a record of disturbance and that disturbance comes from both cultural and natural agents, including droughts, earthquakes, pests, viruses, corporate takeovers, loss of markets, new technologies, increasing crime, new federal laws, and even the invasion of America by French literary theory” (pg. 424). Worster concludes, “Environmental conservation becomes, in the light of this historical awareness, an effort to protect certain rates of change going within the biological worlds from incompatible changes going on within our economy and technology” (pg. 432).
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½
 
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DarthDeverell | Sep 16, 2017 |
After watching the Ken Burns series NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA'S BEST IDEA on PBS (thank you PBS) a once again fell in love with John Muir. Having read several other offerings on the life of Muir, I found Mr. Worster's work and am enjoying it immensely. What's not to enjoy? Muir defined my belief in a Higher Power many years ago and I find such a solace in reading about him once again.
 
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LouisaK | 2 other reviews | Feb 2, 2016 |

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