Lessons of Lewis and Clark

  Our Natural History: the Lessons of Lewis and Clark describes the wilderness of the American West as the two explorers encountered it during their journey 1804-1806, and compares it to today's American West as shaped by industrial civilization. Long the subject of historians, the famous journals also offer author Daniel B. Botkin, a leader in conservation biology, a wealth of ecological data:


"... I was surprised to discover how rich their notes about nature were. As an example, I discovered I could make an estimate of the presettlement density and abundance of grizzly bears simply from the expedition's encounters with these fierce animals."


Botkin teaches the essentials of landscape and biology in a memorable way, and for sheer effect this book could well replace a dozen fat texts. The technical passages are solid, yet never dull or jargon-bound, and the prose is seasoned with anecdote and essay. His treatment also extends to the realm of emotions and values:


"Not only is the classic "balance of nature" a false solution to environmental problems but it alienates human beings from their surroundings. If everything we do must be wrong for nature by definition, then we have no place in nature. A false dualism is set up, one that is both untrue and psychologically uncomfortable. Nature is never constant."


Botkin charts us a clear course: from healthy, natural curiosity to a developed ecological wisdom.


A Grosset/Putnam Book, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016. Hard cover: $25.95. 300 pages.


*C.L. Rawlins