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The Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World
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The Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  733 ratings  ·  113 reviews
A paradigm shift is roiling the environmental world. For decades people have unquestioningly accepted the idea that our goal is to preserve nature in its pristine, pre-human state. But many scientists have come to see this as an outdated dream that thwarts bold new plans to save the environment and prevents us from having a fuller relationship with nature. Humans have chan ...more
Hardcover, 209 pages
Published September 6th 2011 by Bloomsbury USA (first published August 30th 2011)
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Kristina The book does not address marginalized peoples but, rather, discusses urban environments and conservation as it relates to urbanization and socioecono…moreThe book does not address marginalized peoples but, rather, discusses urban environments and conservation as it relates to urbanization and socioeconomic resources. There is also a good background on the displacement of particular plants and animals during colonization periods. Hope that helps a bit!(less)

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Rambunctious Garden represents a kind of postmodern coming-of-age for the restoration ecology movement. Most readers interpret the book as a straightforward critique of the movement and its ideas, and the often condescending tone Marris takes lends itself to that reading. Viewed through that lens, most of the book seems to be looking down on someone, but it's never clear on whom and from where. It's each of the critiques that Morris explores was developed by a member of the conservation communit ...more
Aug 20, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Marris sets her book up as an argument against traditional conservation. The basis for her arguments rest on her incorrect assumption that environmentalists and conservationists revere “pristine” and “untouched” land and wilderness above all else, that historical baselines for such landscapes are arbitrary and meaningless, because humans have transformed the entire face of the earth anyway, so what is the point in trying to restore native species when exotics can fill these niches so much better ...more
Aug 15, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The seeds of a good book are here, but too often the writer misunderstands human impact on nature as human control of nature:

We are already running he whole Earth, whether we admit it or not. To run it consciously and effectively, we must admit our role and even embrace it. [p.2]

Unintended consequences, anyone? The idea that because humans are arguably part of "Nature," anthropogenic change of pretty much any kind is no problem leads to some real clunkers, like the author's conviction that it is
The pristine wilderness notion is a historically created idea about what ought to count as nature, and there is no reason we can’t change it. Just as the definition of citizen has changed to include more kinds of people as political ideas changed, so could nature expand to include more kinds of areas. Many ecologists today argue that we have to expand it, as our increasing understanding of history and atmospheric chemistry has left us with no areas at all that have not been altered by humans. An ...more
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well told and very convincing.

A few passages I liked:

"Everything has been tainted. Nature as a separate thing has ended. For environmentalists like McKibben, the pristineness rule has been made very strict. A single rusty hubcap tucked under the ferns, a wildfire observation station visible on the horizon, a species moved, an atmosphere heated, a forest felled two hundred years ago—it doesn’t take much to chase away 'nature' if nature must be perfectly 'untouched' or 'pristine.' Having erected
Thomas Cook
Mar 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For someone like me, who came of age celebrating the idea of wilderness, this book was a refreshing rethink of the relationship humanity has to nature. The book is not a scientific tome (though it is referenced) and its short length and journalistic writing makes for a quick read; but the return on the time spent is high. Emma Marris provides a quick review, and debunking, of the notions of unchanging and pristine nature that have dominated much of our thinking for at least the last 50 years. Sh ...more
Nov 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well done, indeed. It's one of those "everything you know is wrong" books, and it lays out fact after fact to help convince you. Perhaps the most striking revelation for me (and I'm admittedly slow to notice stuff) was that the "pristine wilderness" concept of conservation is a myth. And has been a myth since the ascent of man. So much so that any return of the wilderness to a pristine state is completely out of the question because there's no way to know what it looked like then. The case for m ...more
Aug 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
A thought-provoking read on ecology and the stewardship of our earth. It never occurred to me before to question the philosophy that nature would be best if humans had never touched it—to try to get it back to some sort of pre-European state. But perhaps the goal of having most of the world as untouched wilderness is impossible, and I love the alternatives that Emma Maris points out in this book.
Dec 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book presented such an interesting and informative take on conservation! From differing perspectives among the ecological community regarding best practices for preserving nature, to new insights on “invasive” species, the author did a fantastic job of keeping the material accessible while still doing a great job of adequately presenting the true conundrum conservation creates. You will want to take your time with this book but you certainly won’t be disappointed.
Flora Duff
Mar 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A really refreshing take on modern conservation efforts - this book has absolutely challenged my previous thoughts on what "wild" truly means. I'd recommend this book to anyone who cares an ounce about this planet and is ready to shift the doom & gloom pessimism surrounding our planet's fate into optimism. ...more
Donald Radcliffe
I’ve been reading a lot of “post-modern ecology,” books lately, and this one is probably the most comprehensive and concise of them.
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, gardening
A call to question and rethink the policies of environmentalism and ecology around parks and public spaces. I learned a lot about the history of tending such spaces and the key questions that are central to debates among ecologists and conservationists. I still thinking about the ways in which I might implement some of these ideas in my own garden. I recommend it.
Dec 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting book that made me feel a little bit better about the possibility of nature conservation. The book aims to open our horizons and to allow us to see new ways in which we can protect nature. There is still (some) hope!
Jun 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a set of essays about how the field of conservation is being forced to shift from the goal of preserving pristine nature to preserving what we have left (after mankind has nearly ruined the globe). She strings together an interesting set of case studies, of places where scientists and practitioners are experimenting with different ways of preserving natural resources, e.g., rewilding species, assisted migration, "novel ecosystems," or "designer ecosystems." Throughout, you often get a se ...more
Aug 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nature
This book is controversial, but deliberately so I think, in trying to attract attention from conservationists and more readers. The premise is that we should not only concentrate on preserving so called pristine wilderness areas, as firstly there is really no such thing in the Anthropocene where human activities have impacted every inch of the planet. Reading the negative reviews before reading the book, I started with some trepidation, but it ended up being not as bad as I thought. Yes, 'true' ...more
Wendy Wagner
Apr 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: environment, nature
I think there's an attempt to make this book seem edgy or controversial, but the writer's main thesis -- that Romantic ideals of pristine nature sometimes obscure more functional relationships with nature and so we should approach conservation with maximum pragmatism -- is surprisingly common sensical and a bit bland. However, the book is well-researched and interesting, and touches on a lot of really fascinating people working in conservation projects. A good stepping off point, even if it won' ...more
Alyson Hagy
Jul 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A clear and thoughtful book that has complicated my thinking about landscape. Recommended to me by an ornithologist and a journalist (both great readers of fiction), I find myself thinking about Marris as I bike through town, hike through thoroughly-used subalpine forest, and "tend" my struggling lawn. What might I do to create a more "rambunctious" space for other species? Pure wilderness doesn't truly exist, so what can any of us actually *do* during the short span of our lifetimes to support ...more
Chris Hamby
Sep 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A great starting place for thinking about conservation in the 21st century. Written like an extended magazine article, with all the good and bad that entails.
Aaron carrcallen
Aug 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A positive new look at our roles as conservationists and gardeners on this planet.
Apr 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature
I really loved this book. It opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about conservation and I'm really excited to explore these ideas further. ...more
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There are some other good, critical reviews of this flawed book here already. The author has in my view given us a badly written book about some very interesting topics.

Restoration ecology and the irreversible changes we have wreaked on many ecosystems are interesting to me, anyway. I work in restoration ecology and weed management and I have a botany degree. The material presented here includes many of the academic discussions I came across in my studies. And they are important discussions.

Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very thought-provoking and optimistic book about the future of nature. The essential premise being that if our sole focus in 'saving nature' is looking at wilderness and trying to preserve nature as some static point in the past we are doomed to failure. Instead of holding up 'pristine' nature as an ideal we should broaden our focus to look at all nature, and preserve and bolster it wherever we find it.

This is by no means a novel concept now although it may have been more so when this book wa
Sarah Clement
This is one of those rare books where the author discusses controversial and somewhat complex ecological ideas in a way that is clear but engaging, and neither overly technical or in an overly literary style. Novel ecosystems are one of my central research interests these days, and Marris manages to capture the main points of the concepts relating novelty, wilderness, nativeness, etc. with just the right the level of detail. In a fairly brief book, she manages enough history and science to provi ...more
Anica Bareis-Golumb
I 100% agree with Marris' approach to conservation. Sadly in this changing world I think it is time to abandon our perception of a "historical background" which we strive to restore areas to. It's time to view our world in the context of climate change and look at preserving the "wild" areas that we still have while increasing the "rambunctious garden" which is around the urban areas where we live. I like her ideas of seeing nature where we have never cared about it before; home gardens, parks, ...more
Sep 24, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Finally finally finally finished reading this book. This was a graduation present from the ES Department at Colby. I had started the first chapter ages ago and, well, nonfiction isn't my go-to. But, with all the climate change stuff, I wanted to see if there were any good ideas for regular people (rambunctious gardening sounds so promising.) At first I was really excited to read something edging on scientific, but I quickly realized that I really prefer reading a novel before bed. Ah well. I got ...more
Carrie Jensen
Aug 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the second time I've read this book, and I would say it was just as amazing the second time through. I think it's a great book looking at restoration ecology's past, present, and future.

While I still have some reservations about how Marris deals with the invasive species issue, I think she makes some valid points about keeping an open mind and not being black and white as to whether these species are "good or bad".

The main message is that nature is all around us, not just in national pa
Jimmy Jonecrantz
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just love books that make me almost feel the change going on in my brain while reading. For me, this was such a book. I got fascinated by projects such as Oostvaardersplassen, where disappearing konik horses and and the man-developed heck cattle could coexist while at the same time creating an interpretation of a paleolithic landscape. I also loved how this book challenges the thought and meaning of pristine nature and baselines. The book felt less poweful at the end, but discussing the future ...more
Jodi Vandenberg-Daves
Paradigm-shifting reading, and inspiration to bloom where you're planted/conserve, nurture, and enjoy nature, and don't give up on the planet, even as the necessity to battle climate change continues. So cool to understand more deeply where the work of ecologists is leading. This is also so well written and readable. Hope is in the long view, and in our continued action, and Emma Marris provides context for the former and fresh ideas for the latter. ...more
Penny Poppleton
Sep 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while. It asks more questions than it answers, but in this case, it’s because ecology isn’t something that can be (or should be) distilled into a set of maxims to follow. As I tore through this text, I felt hopeful. Even in the face of profound climate change and extinction of keystone species, this book reminds me that this isn’t the end of nature. It’s everywhere. All we have to do is look.
Nov 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, I appreciate how this book questions the baked-in values of conservation biology and natural resource management. The chapters are short and well written. I wish some of the writing was a bit more thrilling or exciting, but I think each case study is contextualized well and presented thoughtfully - it's tough to do both, and I prefer the latter. I gave it five stars for presenting critical questions in action! ...more
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18 likes · 4 comments
“As a result, the distribution maps for plant species don't look the same from interglacial to interglacial. Each climate change creates a new map, with new communities of species living together. Whole suites of species do not pick up en masse and decorously tiptoe south, making sure to keep together. It is rather mad scramble - albeit in geological time.

Some of today's ecosystems have not fully bounced back from the last glaciation. One analysis suggested that thirty-six of fifty-five European tree species studied had still not spread out to the edges of their possible ranges. Beech trees are notoriously poky. In North-America they are still moving west across Michigan's Upper Peninsula.”
“As the Earth responds to the changes we humans have made, does it make sense to destroy ecosystems that thrive under the new conditions? As Lugo says, “This is nature’s response to what we have done to it.” Novel ecosystems may be our best hope for the future, as their components adapt to the human-dominated world using the time-tested method of natural selection. Could we hope to do any better than nature in managing and arranging our natural world for a warmer, more populous future?” 0 likes
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