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

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  526 ratings  ·  90 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 But many scientists have come to see this as an outdated dream that thwarts bold new plans to save the environment and prevents us from having a fuller relationship with nature.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
Paperback, 224 pages
Published August 20th 2013 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…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 15, 2016 rated it liked it
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
Adam  McPhee
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
Nov 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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
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.
Donald Radcliffe
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Aug 18, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Thomas Cook
Mar 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Alyson Hagy
Jul 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Aaron carrcallen
A positive new look at our roles as conservationists and gardeners on this planet.
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 20, 2019 rated it did not like it
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
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
Jun 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Anica Bareis-Golumb
Nov 12, 2018 rated it liked it
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
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
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
Wendy Wagner
Apr 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Jodi Vandenberg-Daves
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Penny Poppleton
Sep 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
Eric Scott
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An optimistic book which values Nature as it is today.

This book has a wide-ranging view of examples in environmentalism which illustrate new ways of saving Nature. Comes from the realization that Nature is actually everywhere; all around us, from city to farm to park to forest. This book is a valuable environmental guide for anyone concerned about the state of the world.
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, ecology
This book takes the idea that untouched wilderness is a myth and applies to the actually practice of ecological restoration. I wish it paid more attention to traditional land management as cultural practice that has meaning to people other than ecologist but its good intro into this discussion that seems like it would be accessible even to people who don't know much about ecology.
Heather Bond
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Anyone mildly interested in ecology and/or the future of our Earth should read this book. Really impressed with how Marris flipped traditional ecological philosophy and land management on it's head to reveal controversial yet simple ways to sustain biodiversity and nature.
I struggled with some of Harris’s points because I have such a strongly, pro-native plants and animals perspective, but ultimately she grew my perspective about the wide range of tactics needed to maintain, celebrate, and preserve biodiversity.
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Marris challenges conventional thinking in regards to ‘nature’ and ecology. Definitely worth reading but I encourage readers to be equally critical when considering her arguments.
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