Without our realising it, a single, slippery concept has become a secular deity throughout the modern world. We make terrible sacriﬁces in its name: of our money, our health and our planet. That deity is nature itself.
From supermarket shoppers to evolutionary biologists, atheists to pastors, Alex Jones to Gwyneth Paltrow, we are all prone to the intuitive faith that life should be lived ‘naturally’.
But nature can’t teach us how to live. If we try to stick to its imagined commands, eschewing human artiﬁce in pursuit of Edenic purity, we jeopardise the environment, our health and our society. (We might also waste a lot of money on pots of weird slime.) It is time to accept our profound responsibility to shape the world of which our technology and our selves are wholly a part.
Alan Levinovitz is an assistant professor at James Madison University, Virginia. His writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Slate, Salon, Wired, The Believer and The Millions.
"An indispensable read [...] The romanticisation of the "natural" is, Levinovitz notes, rooted in privilege. Only those who enjoy a lifestyle sufficiently protected from the ravages of nature have the licence to romanticise it."
– Kenan Malik, Guardian
"Concise and imaginative [...] A tour de force"
– Daniel Akst, Wall Street Journal
"Levinovitz's book is an important call for more nuance over simplicity, for compromise over dogmatism, and for embracing uncertainty over certainty."
"Thoughtful, engaging forays into realms where the idea of the natural is most abused. It is remarkably wide-ranging [...] Some of the most likeably spiky passages are still highly sceptical. The section on Goop is almost painfully sharp [...] The book does much more than sneer and scoff – and this is what makes it interesting [...] subtle and serious"
– James McConnachie, Sunday Times
"A useful corrective to lazy thinking"
"Despite Levinovitz taking smart aim at the snake-oil salespeople of late capitalism – those selling expensive natural remedies, natural "cures" for cancer, or loudly advocating "wholly natural" childbirth, sex or sport – he concludes that there is something innately glorious about the non-human natural world. What Levinovitz critiques is what he sees as a religious attitude towards nature. An appeal to natural goodness – with "unnatural" as its evil twin – is among the most influential arguments in all human thought, ancient and modern, east and west."
– Patrick Barkham, Guardian
"This is important stuff, as evidenced every time someone discusses the supposed naturalness and thus supposed inevitability of some appalling human behavior. [Natural] is a superb book – fascinating, accessible, elegantly written, and deeply thought-provoking."
– Robert M. Sapolsky author of Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst
"In a fascinating tour across time, cultures, and ideas, Alan Levinovitz shows us how the worship of an abstract idea of nature can lead us astray in everything from our health to the laws we pass and even how we structure our governments and our way of life. This book is required reading for anyone who wants to face the scientific and moral challenges of 21st century with a clear head."
– Tom Nichols author of The Death of Expertise
"Alan Levinovitz provides a bracing corrective to our often misplaced faith in all things derived from nature. Throughout its exploration of a fascinating range of issues, from vanilla to wolves, the book is both thoughtful and addictively readable."
– Deborah Blum author of The Poison Squad
"evocative, convincing [...] this argument for removing "natural" from the altar of absolute good will certainly start conversations, particularly among naturalists and environmentalists."
– Publisher's Weekly