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The American Wilderness

Reflections on Nature Protection in the United States
Thomas R. Vale

BUY Cloth · 320 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813923369 · $49.50 · Jul 2005

Interpretations of wild nature and wilderness are particularly diverse in the American mind, given our history, our collective economic success, and our diverse social and cultural mix. Although the meanings we attribute to nature reflect our different views of the role humans should play in the natural world, there remains a divide between how we embrace protected landscapes and how we consider natural landscapes, or nature itself. Thomas Vale explores this phenomenon in The American Wilderness: Reflections on Nature Protection in the United States. In his examination of protected landscapes at all scales, from the wooded corners of a city park and the local reserve of wetland, to the vast wilderness of the Everglades and Okeefenokee, to Central Park and Yosemite, Vale argues that nature protection is an act of place-creation, an act that necessarily links humans to nature and depends on a diverse array of human interactions.

A rare combination of celebration and criticism, Vale’s argument is twofold: landscapes of protected nature in the United States represent a legitimate natural resource, and contrary to expressions in some recent literature, such landscapes bond people to nature. Providing extensive historical and modern data about the national park, national wilderness, and national wildlife refuge systems, Vale argues for the validity of landscape protection and the benefits of achieving both strict preserves and mixed-commodity places in a democratic society. His goal is to unite the often disparate threads of nature protection into a fabric that will enhance an appreciation for the extent and richness of nature protection sentiment and action in the United States.


The book is a sweeping tour de force of hundreds of ideas, themes, and people that tell the story of nature protection in America as well as a quite personal "reflection" offered by a scholar whose connection with such issues is lifelong and passionate. The result is an insightful and thoughtful narrative that takes the reader on a historical, geographical, idea-filled excursion, a journey that reaps rich rewards because of Vale's ability to think about things in fresh, clear ways.

William Wyckoff

Vale is a master of looking at issues—especially environmental ones—and explaining their complexity with objectivity and dispassion. In the polemical arena of environmental debate his is an unusual voice. He powerfully demonstrates the importance of a place for all humans and issues a call for a closer linkage of people to place in all forms of nature protection.

Lary Dilsaver, editor of America's National Park System: The Critical Documents

About the Author(s): 

Thomas R. Vale is Professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the recipient of the James J. Parsons Award given for career achievement by the Association of American Geographers.

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