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Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  1,921 ratings  ·  383 reviews
Winner of the 2019 PEN/EO Wilson Award for Literary Science Writing

In Eager, environmental journalist Ben Goldfarb reveals that our modern idea of what a healthy landscape looks like and how it functions is wrong, distorted by the fur trade that once trapped out millions of beavers from North America’s lakes and rivers. The consequences of losing beavers were profound: str
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published July 5th 2018 by Chelsea Green Publishing
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Average rating 4.25  · 
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 ·  1,921 ratings  ·  383 reviews

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May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
First, a caveat to this review: Ben Goldfarb is one of my best friends.

That said, I stand by the 5-star rating. Any good book has to change the way you see the world, and this book does so more concretely than most: as a person who spends a good deal of time outdoors, around streams, wetlands, in forests, etc, I now can't look at a stream without wondering wonder, "Should there be a beaver dam there? Should this be a wetland instead?"

When I talked to Ben over the course of writing this book, h
Molly Grear
Feb 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Chapter 1: Beavers Rock
Chapter 2: Beavers rock
Chapter 3: There are a few potential concerns you might have about beavers
Chapter 4: But all those pale in comparison to how much they rock
Chapter 5: In conclusion, Beavers Rock.

Disclaimer: "chapters" in this review may not reflect actual structure of book.
Clare O'Beara
The story of beavers is the story of water, and is also the story of trees. Here in Ireland I have just visited a restored mill pond and seen the healthiest, happiest aspen trees I've ever found; some trees flourish near standing water. I saw heron, duck of a few species, moorhen, small birds, dragonfly, and various water plants including bulrushes. I did not see any beaver, because we don't have any. This look at beavers mainly in North America, but also with a chapter on Scotland and Devon, ex ...more
Heidi Leighton
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Eager is an excellent natural history of beavers written for a general audience. The author is clearly a believer in the importance of healthy populations of beaver in the wild, and he makes a convincing argument that the mammal should be allowed to peacefully coexist with humans. He outlines ecosystem services provided by beavers including flood control, groundwater storage and retention, and habitat creation for other critters. He also describes how beavers provide natural adaptive strategies ...more
Peter Tillman
I think I'll start out by referring you to a good professional review,

It's a good pop-science book. Goldfarb has done his fieldwork and homework, and is likely to convince you that more beavers would make things better. He does go on a little longer than my interest held up, though. And kind of scants Canada. Overall, 3.5 stars, rounded up.

Some stuff from my notes.
● Castoroides, an extinct beaver the size of a small bear! Part of the Pleistocene megafauna
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A five star book is a book that seriously makes you reevaluate your view of the world. It is one that makes you think, and has a lasting impact upon you. Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter may seem like a bit of an odd choice for a five star book. Nevertheless, here we are. Ben Goldfarb made me seriously reconsider what I knew about beavers, how they impact the landscape, and what views of rewilding I hold. I'm a staunch believer in the power of rewilding. Perhap ...more
Anne ✨
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
🥇2019 PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize For Literary Science Writing

Wow! This book was so well written, and so interesting! There was a ton of research and a broad scope, but all presented in a way that was highly insightful, engaging, uplifting, and often humorous.

I was surprised to realize the degree to which humans had come to nearly eradicate beavers from our environment, but relieved to learn of recent trends to reintroduce Beavers into habitats throughout the midwest, California, and Europe, and the
Nov 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I went from grades one to eight in a red brick schoolhouse in a tiny prairie town in Saskatchewan that had somewhere between forty and sixty students in total. One of my earliest memories was when they trooped the whole lot of us into the library to watch some documentary films. The one I remember best was about beavers. I also remember a bunch of Hinterland Who's Who one minute public service commercials put out by Environment Canada Wildlife Service and the National Film Board. Among the ones ...more
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A mesmerizing and thorough examination on why beavers are a true keystone species, as they are often overlooked, vilified, and sorely misunderstood.

Many animals have their inherent value, to be sure, but Goldfarb issues his proof that the ability for so many species to thrive hinge upon the ability of beavers to do what they do best, even if their efforts seem to produce nothing less than chaos and less-than-aesthetically-pleasing views of nature (I suppose that also depends on who's looking).
Jul 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most enjoyable book I've read this year! I had no opinion one way or another about beavers when I started this after an intriguing excerpt in The Sierra Club magazine, but by the halfway mark I was ready to join the ranks of Beaver Believers.

Who knew that these critters are in fact a "keystone species," absolutely essential to a healthy ecology. Their dams may strike us as messy or inconvenient, but these ingenious pieces of engineering are the key to flood control, drought mitigation, and
Angie Boyter
Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a prime example of why I love Goodreads! I would probably never have heard of this book, much less read it, if my friend Kay had not written a beautiful review of it. Thanks, Kay! All I can do is second her sentiments. It is fascinating information presented in a very entertaining way!
Here is Kay's review:
John Taylor
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I cannot recommend this book enough. I can't think of the last book where I learned (and laughed) this much. Ben Goldfarb has converted me to a beaver believer. Beavers are endlessly fascinating. You should get this book right away. ...more
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Colour me a Beaver Believer!
Karen Berlin
Aug 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Seeing this on my list I hope will make many "Eager" to read this fascinating tale of the amazing beaver. From anatomy, to history to impact, to potential, readers will be filled with wonder at this hair-lipped, living drill bit that might just resolve many of our ecological challenges if we would simply stop deterring and let it do its work. Equally entertaining as interesting, it would be hard to not be somewhat of a "beaver believer" when done reading this book! ...more
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am going to start this by telling a brief story. When I was a young teen, my high school had a well-respected vocational agriculture program. A young boy in that program gave a talk in my science class. His focus was beavers, their loss in southern New England, and the attempts to bring them back. I was fascinated.

Of course, I'd longed to see a beaver from the time I was six, when our Dad read us "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe". I was about that age when our Dad's younger brother, a ga
There was a lot that I didn't know about beavers before reading this book, like the fact that they are vegetarians! Just like a bunch of other people in this book, I thought they ate fish or something, even though a few years ago some coworkers and I ran across a picture book that said they ate wood and we were all like, no way! But we looked it up and sure enough, they do! Even after that I still thought they ALSO probably eat fish. Where did that come from? Are we all getting them confused wit ...more
Scott Lupo
Jun 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environmental
This is a super fun, interesting, and well written book for everybody. As a nature/environmental book alone it is amazing but it is more than that. It is a journey from the days when humans felt it was us vs. nature and that we could treat nature with reckless abandon to a reconciliation with what we did to the environment and how we can fix it. The author writes beautifully with historical context and present day issues we have to solve. The anecdotal stories are inspiring and wonderful to read ...more
Mick Howey
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a revelation and a delight to read. I have always had an interest in beavers and on many occasions marveled at their dams and lodges as I canoed in the ponds they created. But I was greatly under informed at the immense benefits these remarkable rodents provide to so many creatures, humans included, with their unceasing desire to build. The myriad of life that flourishes when beavers dam a river is truly remarkable. Goldfarb writes with clarity, passion, intelligence, wit, and humor. He ...more
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful natural history and passionate plea for restoring ecosystems, landscapes, and river systems through reintroduction of beavers to the landscape. This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about or works on river restoration, and an excellent natural history and primer on beavers for the lay person. Goldfarb is a wonderful storyteller--funny, poignant. The book is hard to put down. It is Ben's first book. Can't wait to read his next one. ...more
Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is not about beavers per se. It's really a book about visiting prominent people working with Beaver's and to reestablish populations. For instance, it may be in there, but I can't recall anything regarding the typical lifespan of a beaver.

At some point, the book becomes a tedious travelogue of visiting different sites etc...

Brittany Dolezal
Oct 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Im a BELIEVER! Anyone who knows me, knows I am currently obsessed with these little cute critters after reading this book. As someone who is very concerned about water usage in the west right now, this book gives you hope. READ THIS!
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
I didn’t get to finish this book because I had to return it to the library but I found it fascinating and extremely well-written. I do plan on finishing.
John Yunker
Jul 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ecolit-books
Pity the keystone species.

Those animals upon which the health of so many ecosystems depend — wolves and jaguars, sharks and sea otters, to name just a few.

Due in large part to their outsized impact on our planet, they are often blamed for getting in our way. Wolves take our cows and sheep. Sea otters take our seafood. And jaguars and sharks take away our sense of comfort on land and in water.

Beavers are also a keystone species and, not surprisingly, no friend to many city managers or land owners
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
EAGER is engrossing and funny and excellent. Goldfarb(a human I love, full disclosure)’s humor, energy, and love of language are apparent in every sentence of this journey across the United States as he illuminates the positive impact of beaver populations on disparate environments and the work of humans who aid and abet beavers’ proliferation. The book is well crafted and thoroughly researched, with elegant transitions between history, locations, and projects, and an engaging cast of effectivel ...more
Sara Bruhns
Mar 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
A beautifully-written peek into the life and history of the beaver, and all the ecosystems it touches.

Ben Goldfarb takes the reader on his journey around the country observing beavers, and in the process also on the journey of the beaver through history. I found the description of the Americas before European colonization striking and very different from how I imagined it. And the reason is that I imagined the Americas without beavers. It turns out beavers have a huge impact on their environment
I came into this already totally convinced with beavers as instruments of rewilding and knowing I liked Ben as an author, that he was on a similar wavelength to me environmentally. And that maybe took some of the wind out of the sails of the actual experience. There's not a lot here I didn't already know, or rather the science and history are addressed in fairly broad strokes that I was familiar with while most of the actual content is journalistic stuff I didn't really care to absorb. Most of i ...more
Dec 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: animals, real-world
An informative and enjoyable read that firmly converted me into a beaver believer. Goldfarb wrote most of this book in Aldo Leopold’s old home in Tres Piedras, NM. The introduction is by another current NM resident, Dan Flores, author of Coyote America. Sadly NM is not a beaver friendly environment. Nor are other Western states. It seems an obvious no-brainer that wherever beavers are there is water. Too many ranchers and farmers consider them pests. They are truly a keystone species who can out ...more
Patrick O'Hannigan
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature
Ben Goldfarb's testament to an impressive travel budget made me a Beaver Believer. This book is an engaging mix of research and enthusiasm. It comes with an index (yay!), but had I been his publisher, I would have asked Goldfarb to supply more photos than he did, not least because he talked with a handful of fascinating people while learning about the aquatic rodents that are nature's preeminent civil engineers. ...more
Sep 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: books
Intriguing and worth reading. The author’s journalistic writing style doesn’t have enough range to support such a long book and becomes a bit wearying, otherwise this book would have earned my top rating of 4 stars. It did probably achieve its goal of making a “beaver believer “ out of me, though.
Windy Harris
Dec 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I grabbed this book as a means of researching beavers for a novel and had so much fun reading that I couldn't put it down. Goldfarb's writing is engaging and informative. At times, I laughed out loud! It went well beyond my expectations in every way. I'm currently passing Eager around to my family members. ...more
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42 likes · 13 comments
“Beavers, the animal that doubles as an ecosystem, are ecological and hydrological Swiss Army knives, capable, in the right circumstances, of tackling just about any landscape-scale problem you might confront. Trying to mitigate floods or improve water quality? There’s a beaver for that. Hoping to capture more water for agriculture in the face of climate change? Add a beaver. Concerned about sedimentation, salmon populations, wildfire? Take two families of beaver and check back in a year. If that all sounds hyperbolic to you, well, I’m going to spend this book trying to change your mind.” 6 likes
“That story, of course, isn’t unique to California, or to beavers. Europeans began despoiling North American ecosystems the moment they set boots on the stony shore of the New World. You’re probably familiar with most of the colonists’ original environmental sins: They wielded an ax against every tree, lowered a net to catch every fish, turned livestock onto every pasture, churned the prairie to dust. In California’s Sierra Nevada, nineteenth-century gold miners displaced so much sediment that the sludge could have filled the Panama Canal eight times.14 We are not accustomed to discussing the fur trade in the same breath as those earth-changing industries, but perhaps we should. The disappearance of beavers dried up wetlands and meadows, hastened erosion, altered the course of countless streams, and imperiled water-loving fish, fowl, and amphibians—an aquatic Dust Bowl. Centuries before the Glen Canyon Dam plugged up the Colorado and the Cuyahoga burst into flame, fur trappers were razing stream ecosystems. “[Beavers’] systematic and widespread removal,” wrote Sharon Brown and Suzanne Fouty in 2011, “represents the first large-scale Euro-American alteration of watersheds.” 0 likes
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