Thursday, April 14, 2011

In a Dark Wood: The Fight over Forests and the Rising Tyranny of Ecology
In a Dark Wood: The Fight 
over Forests and the 
Rising Tyranny of Ecology 

"Ideas have consequences." - Richard M. Weaver

With his book, In a Dark Wood, Alston Chase has written a story about the ecological struggle over the forests, but in doing so he has also developed the history of an idea. The idea is really many ideas, incorporating questions about the definition of nature, the science of ecology and the question of eco-systems -- just what are they and what should we do about them.

"It is a tale without heroes or villains, in which the bad guy isn't a person at all but an idea"(p xi)

His story begins with people, from John Muir and Henry David Thoreau to the eco-revolutionaries of the seventies and eighties. But the story also begins with the question: What is Nature? For it is the battle over nature that guides the narrative and the history of the ecological movement. His focus is primarily on the forests of Northwestern United States, and the battles to protect "endangered" species like the Spotted Owl. In doing so he provides a tremendous amount of detail about incidents that, like a mosaic of tiles, fit together to create a story. But the battle is also philosophical and political. Alston points out the unintended consequences of ideas that are not fully understood, of actions that are based on questionable science or faulty and limited studies, and the irrational passions that drove many of the people in the story, both good and bad, to take unreasonable actions. Ultimately it becomes a story about those who insist on determining the one way that all must follow to do what is good for man, forgetting the folly that has occurred throughout history when that has been attempted in the past.

For Chase his ne plus ultra was a focus on people and ideas, devising a book interesting to all who are stimulated by the history of ideas and the actions men take. It also allowed him to be balanced in his approach, emphasizing science and carefully pointing out what we do know and, more importantly, what we do not know.

In a Dark Wood by Alston Chase. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 1995

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