Engineering Eden: A Violent Death, a Federal Trial, and the Struggle to Restore Nature in Our National Parks (Paperback)

Engineering Eden: A Violent Death, a Federal Trial, and the Struggle to Restore Nature in Our National Parks By Jordan Fisher Smith, Jack E. Davis (Foreword by) Cover Image

Engineering Eden: A Violent Death, a Federal Trial, and the Struggle to Restore Nature in Our National Parks (Paperback)


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The award-winning story of the century-and-half-long attempt to control nature in the American wilderness, told through the prism of a tragic death at Yellowstone—now in paperback

In the summer of 1972, 25-year-old Harry Eugene Walker hitchhiked away from his family’s northern Alabama dairy farm to see America. Nineteen days later he was killed by an endangered grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park. The ensuing civil trial, brought against the US Department of the Interior for alleged mismanagement of the park’s grizzly population, emerged as a referendum on how America’s most beloved wild places should be conserved. Two of the twentieth century’s greatest wildlife biologists testified—on opposite sides.

Moving across decades and among Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, and Sequoia National Parks, author and former park ranger Jordan Fisher Smith has crafted an epic, emotionally wrenching account of America’s fraught, century-and-a-half-long attempt to remake Eden—in the name of saving it.
Jordan Fisher Smith worked for twenty-one years as a park ranger in California, Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska. The author of Nature Noir and narrator of the documentary Under Our Skin, he has written for Discover magazine, The New Yorker, Men’s Journal,, and many other outlets. Visit him at

Jack E. Davis won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for History for The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea.
Product Details ISBN: 9781615195459
ISBN-10: 1615195459
Publisher: The Experiment
Publication Date: March 19th, 2019
Pages: 424
Language: English
Winner of the California Book Award, Silver Medal for Nonfiction

Longlisted for the PEN / E.O. Wilson Award for Literary Science Writing

One of Outside magazine’s 10 Outdoor Books that Shaped the Last Decade

"An intensely reported, rousingly readable and ambitiously envisioned book . . . weaves together a dramatic court case in Los Angeles, a grizzly-bear attack, and a surprisingly fascinating debate over what constitutes the word ’natural’ when it comes to national parks. . . a thrilling read. Like the best visions for parks, it combines the human and the animal, the managed and the natural, the controlled and the wild.

— The Wall Street Journal

Storytelling and historical narrative of the highest caliber . . . Jordan Fisher Smith digs deeply into the evolving tension at the heart of the national park idea: Should parks be left untouched or managed for people’s enjoyment? Clear and compelling, this is a courtroom drama alive with unforgettable characters and a contemplation of our relationship with wild nature.
— Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, authors of The National Parks: America’s Best Idea

Former ranger Jordan Fisher Smith . . . seduces readers with a public lands parable masquerading as a wildly entertaining thriller.
— Outside

Timely and thoughtful . . . A vivid account of conflicts within the National Park Service over managing bears and other wild animals—conflicts that contributed to tragic results . . . Smith’s book will draw you in with his passion, thoughtfulness, and first-rate storytelling.
— Seattle Times

Engineering Eden is a fascinating book about the relationship between humankind and nature. Jordan Fisher Smith illuminates the often embittered arguments what our role in wilderness should be, and has written a vivid historical account that sheds light on our place in nature’s complex web of life.

— Andrea Wulf, author of The Invention of Nature

[Engineering Eden] is a dramatic, eye-opening chronicle of the struggle to preserve wilderness while making it accessible to the public . . . A galvanizing storyteller fluent in the conflict between environmental science and politics, Smith brings every player into sharp and indelible focus as he illuminates the urgent issues national parks grapple with as they struggle to wisely manage predators, invasive species, wildfires, and people.

— Booklist, starred review

A searching study of a tragedy and the legal contest that followed it, one that shaped the course of national park policy in the modern age. Is a natural environment modified by humans still natural? It’s not just a question for philosophers . . . Smith, who understands that nature is ’a web of complex relations,’ tells this complicated story clearly and well. Excellent reading for students of park policy, wildlife management, and other resource issues.
— Kirkus Reviews

Smith has pulled off an amazing feat: He’s made wildlife management urgent and engrossing, writing about it with clarity, depth and a storyteller’s pacing . . . an outstanding introduction to ecological decision-making
— Shelf Awareness

This meticulously investigated history of Yellowstone and its wildlife management problems should appeal to fans of Jack Olsen’s classic Night of the Grizzlies, as well as to readers interested in the broader issue of how much humans should intervene in nature in order to preserve it.

— Library Journal

This is a big, ambitious book about a seemingly small, if horrific event—a grizzly devouring a young man. And Jordan Fisher Smith has succeeded in his ambition. He produced a wonderful book, ’wonderful’ not only because of the quality of the writing, but because the book is filled with wondering; Smith uses that horror as a narrative focal point to explore science, policy making, bureaucracy, ego, even the law, and when he explores something he goes deep.
— John M. Barry, author of Rising Tide and The Great Influenza

What is ’nature’? In a narrative delivered with elegance and vigor, Jordan Fisher Smith shows that our answers to this question have life-and-death consequences, for humans and for the ecosystems in which we live.
— David George Haskell, author of The Forest Unseen

A probing look at efforts to manage the ’wild’ in our fading wilderness—and at the trouble resulting when our guesses are wrong. Engineering Eden is especially timely as we consider our responsibilities to nature on this fast-warming planet.

— Tom Kizzia, author of Pilgrim’s Wilderness