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The discovery of the Americas around 1500 AD was an extraordinary watershed in human experience. It gave rise to the modern period of human ecology, a phenomenon global in scope that set in motion profound changes in almost every society on earth. This new period, which saw the depletion of the lands of the New World, proved tragic for some, triumphant for others, and powerfully affecting for all.
In Shrinking the Earth, acclaimed environmental historian Donald Worster takes a global view in his examination of the ways in which complex issues of worldwide abundance and scarcity have shaped American society and behavior over three centuries. Looking at the limits nature imposes on human ambitions, he questions whether today's America is in the midst of a shift from a culture of abundance to a culture of limits – and whether American consumption has become reliant on the global South. Worster engages with key political, economic, and environmental thinkers while presenting his own interpretation of the role of capitalism and government in issues of wealth, abundance, and scarcity. Acknowledging the earth's agency throughout human history, Shrinking the Earth offers a compelling explanation of how we have arrived where we are today and a hopeful way forward on a planet that is no longer as large as it once was.
Prologue: Gatsby's Green Light
Part One: Second Earth
- The Age of Abundance Begins
- Many Revolutions Follow
- Ultimately, Stability
- Field Trip: Nantucket Island
Part Two: After the Frontier
- The Watershed
- Land of Coal and Steel
- The Resourceful State
- Field Trip: Imperial Valley
Part Three: Planet of Limits
- Plunder and Plenty
- David Potter's America
- A Wolf over the Hill
- Earth's Boundaries
- Field Trip: Athabasca River
Epilogue: Life on a Pale Blue Dot
Donald Worster is Hall Distinguished Professor of American History Emeritus at the University of Kansas and Honorary Director of the Center for Ecological History at the University of Remnin. He is the author of many books, including A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir (OUP 2008); A River Running West (OUP 2000); The Wealth of Nature: Environmental History and the Ecological Imagination (OUP 1993); and Under Western Skies: Nature and History in the American West (OUP 1993).
"One of our greatest environmental historians points out the thing we've done our best to ignore: that we live on a physical planet that comes with real limits. This intriguing volume is as much about our future as about our past."
– Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth
"In Shrinking the Earth Donald Worster compellingly shows how exponential population growth has pushed the natural world to the very edge of what it can sustain. At the same time, he explains how North America got to its present state and offers essential historical perspective for those seeking to restore some balance to our distressed planet."
– Paul R. Ehrlich, Center for Conservation Biology, Stanford University
"Donald Worster is one of the most thoughtful of all environmental historians. In Shrinking the Earth he argues that age of abundance is over and that limits on natural resources will be an increasingly central reality of our collective future. It is a sweeping narrative, beautifully written and eminently readable, that has profound implications for how we think about our place in the world."
– Peter Crane, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
"Shrinking the Earth is a book that will forever change the way we look at our world. It is as much a book about the future of humankind as it is about American history. A gripping and readable story of America's conquest of nature, it calls, with subtlety and urgency, for a new era in which humans will begin to understand the fragility of their environment and their role in preserving planet earth."
– Christof Mauch, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU Munich
"Shrinking the Earth confirms Donald Worster's stature as our finest environmental historian. In this elegant, probing narrative, he shows how some Americans have gradually and grudgingly come to recognize that our natural resources are finite. And he rightly wonders whether this recognition has come to too few, too late. Like all Worster's books, this is a sobering, compelling, and finally inspiring read."
– Jackson Lears, author of Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920
"A bracing, intelligent survey of wealth become immiseration, essential for students of environmental history."
"[Worster is] a fine, precise, and courageous author of the first order."
– Kansas Alumni Magazine