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Roderick Nash

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The Rights of Nature : A History of Environmental Ethics (History of American Thought and Culture)

Wilderness and the American Mind by Roderick Nash

Wilderness was the basic ingredient of American civilization.  From the raw materials of the physical wilderness Americans built a civilization; with the idea or symbol of wilderness they sought to give that civilization identity and meaning.  Roderick Nash's classic study of America's changing attitudes toward wilderness has received wide acclaim.  Upon initial publication in 1967, William O. Douglas called it "a mandatory prelude to any modern treatment of conservation problems."  It has been reprinted nineteen times and was revised in 1973.  The editors of the Los Angeles Times in 1981 listed it among the one hundred most influential books published in the United States in the last quarter century.

In a new preface Nash comments on the essential meaning of wilderness to early civilization.  The body of the book has again been revised and enlarged to include an extended analysis of the Grand Canyon Dam controversy and the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and chapter on recent work in wilderness philosophy, on efforts to protect Alaskan wilderness, on trends in wilderness management, and on the international perspective.  The edition concludes with an epilogue that sheds light on the future of wilderness and an updated bibliography.

"One of those rare works that combines exemplary scholarship with readability." -- Washington Post Book World

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Review of Wilderness and the American Mind

Roderick Nash’s Wilderness in the American Mind delves into the role of wilderness in the development of American character and its role in American life. Wilderness was the initial condition of this continent and furnished the raw material from which civilization (in both the material and psychological sense) was made. Wilderness, by definition, is an area of land where the effects of man and his civilization do not exist. It is, according to the transcendentalists, a mirror of creation itself. It is the antithesis of civilization, where man apparently strikes out on his own.

The common theme which seems to underlie the reasons for wilderness is to provide a balance to offset the effects of civilization. Civilization does not supply all the essentials for maintaining health in people. Man, originally a creature out of the wilderness- needs them to satisfy his basic instincts, without which tension and despair usually result. Wild areas offer the spark of creativity necessary for realizations of human potential. Without the tonic of wilderness, life would revert to meaningless drudgery. Because pressure will always be born by wilderness areas in an increasingly resource deficient world, and considering the non-renewability of wilderness areas, constant attention must be aimed at preserving its integrity.

The ecology of mind, I seek is one of undoing and eliminating basic conflicts that arise in everyday living. For myself, rather than plunging into these issues, I prefer to go back to the origins and look at basic precepts. Wendell Berry states one of the goals of his book is "to show how the practical divorced from the discipline of value tends to be defined by the immediate interests of the practitioner and so becomes destructive of value, practical and otherwise." Societal and cultural pressure that acts on every person is to specialize. This never say very well with me, I prefer to be a generalist. Specialization entails a simplification of awareness of a world that I wish to know more about. I seek to understand the world in its unity rather than in fragments. An ecology of mind like the ecology of living organisms, requires diversity as a prerequisite of stability. To simplify unnecessarily is to invite disaster.

The environmentalist and conservationist are specialists. No where is conflict and division more evident than here. The environmentalist, like all specialists, modifies and subverts his values to the needs of his specialty. Only a specialist would deny whaling rights and livelihood to the Eskimo people in the name of conservation. What about conservation of human culture? The Sierra club was found to own stock in major corporations including strip mining firms, having pollution record among the worse...


Environmental Studies Program

Emeritus Faculty


Other Books by Roderick Nash

Wilderness and the American Mind by Roderick Nash

American Environmentalism - Readings in Conservation History by Roderick Nash

Environment and Americans - The Problem of Priorities by Roderick Nash.  


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