The Wealth of Nature

Environmental History and the Ecological Imagination

by Donald Worster

Hailed as "one of the most eminent environmental historians of the West" by Alan Brinkley in The New York Times Book Review, Donald Worster has been a leader in reshaping the study of American history. Winner of the prestigious Bancroft Prize for his book Dust Bowl, Worster has helped bring humanity's interaction with nature to the forefront of historical thinking. Now, in The Wealth of Nature, he offers a series of thoughtful, eloquent essays which lay out his views on environmental history, tying the study of the past to today's agenda for change.The Wealth of Nature captures the fruit of what Worster calls "my own intellectual turning to the land." History, he writes, represents a dialogue between humanity and nature--though it is usually reported as if it were simple dictation. Worster takes as his point of departure the approach expressed early on by Aldo Leopold, who stresses the importance of nature in determining human history; Leopold pointed out that the spread of bluegrass in Kentucky, for instance, created new pastures and fed the rush of American settlers across the Appalachians, which affected the contest between Britain, France, and the U.S. for control of the area. Worster's own work offers an even more subtly textured understanding, noting in this example, for instance, that bluegrass itself was an import from the Old World which supplanted native vegetation--a form of "environmental imperialism." He ranges across such areas as agriculture, water development, and other questions, examining them as environmental issues, showing how they have affected--and continue to affect--human settlement. Environmental history, he argues, is not simply the history of rural and wilderness areas; cities clearly have a tremendous impact on the land, on which they depend for their existence. He argues for a comprehensive approach to understanding our past as well as our present in environmental terms."Nostalgia runs all through this society," Worster writes, "fortunately, for it may be our only hope of salvation." These reflective and engaging essays capture the fascination of environmental history--and the beauty of nature lost or endangered--underscoring the importance of intelligent action in the present.

  • Oxford University Press; October 1994
  • ISBN: 9780198023944
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF format
  • Title: The Wealth of Nature
  • Author: Donald Worster
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press

In The Press

"The most ambitious and wide-ranging of all of Worster's essay collections to appear so far....A most stimulating book whose positions remain consistent with what Worster has written before. Historians ought to read it and ponder it. Environmentalists ought to send copies to every un-reconstructed capitalist and fundamentalist on their Christmas list and then disconnect the phone."--Montana, The magazine of Western History
"One of the scholars responsible for the recent growth and popularity of environmental history is David Worster. Now we have, in The Wealth of Nature, a collection of sixteen of his most varied, provocative, and engaging articles and lectures from this era."--New Mexico Historical Review
"Some of Worster's connections and juxtapositions in this book are breathtaking. The Wealth of Nature is highly recommended."--The Electronic Green Journal
"Donald Worster offers a series of thoughtful, eloquent essays which lay out his views on environmental history, tying the study of the past to today's agenda for change."--Bulletin of Science, Technology, and Science
"Donald Worster, a distinguished historian at the University of Kansas, has written several important books in colonization and human impact in the United States....Worster works up to globally significant studies chronicling the changes in environmental attitudes."--Environment
"This collection of 16 essays concerns the impact on nature of Judeo-Christian belief, Adam Smith's economic theories, and humankind generally and also offers a historical perspective on the growth of environmental history....Environmental historians must be able to digest and understand data from science as well as other academic disciplines. Worster excels at this task: that, and his forthrightness and willingness to express opinions, make this book a winner. Recommended for both general readers and specialists."--Library Journal
"A collection of well-written articles and essays."--Christian Science Monitor
"Bancroft Prize-winning historian Worster writes with a deep understanding of nature and its place in human affairs....Worster's examinations of the myths and realities behind our interaction with nature provide a needed perspective."--Publishers Weekly
"Sixteen thoughtful essays that examine the present and future implications of America's past relationship to the land....Informed and lucid about how we've lost ground in the fight to save our natural resources."--Kirkus Reviews
"An elegant plea, full of interesting references to the history of relations between culture and nature."--The New York Times Book Review
"An eloquent study of nature, humanity, values, and history....Provocative and intellectually challenging....Passionate....Extraordinary reading, hard to put down. Worster is to be commended on his research."--Daniel E. Vasey, Human Ecology Review
"Eclectic....Revealing and worth reading....Worster crafts sentences as finely and precisely as any historian writing today. He sharpens them into weapons, and this makes him a formidable polemicist. When he attacks, his targets bleed. He is not afraid of taking unfashionable stands, and he is not accommodating."--Richard White, Reviews in American History
"Stylistic artistry, delightfully provocative and compelling moral tracts for an environmentally and spiritually troubled world."--Environmental History Review
"This is a series of thoughtful, eloquent essays which lay out the author's view on environmental history, tying the study of the past to today's agenda for change."--Abstracts of Public Administration, Development, and Environment 1993-1994
"Combines the history of social thought with the history of science and technology. This double-edged purpose, as well as Worster's ability to combine memorable examples with high rhetoric, gives his essays a greater chance of influencing the application of science to environmental policy."--American Scientist


About The Author

Donald Worster is Hall Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of Kansas. His books include Under Western Skies, Dust Bowl, and Rivers of Empire.