The idea of a balance of nature has been a dominant part of Western philosophy since before Aristotle, and it persists in the public imagination and even among some ecologists today. In this lively and thought-provoking book, John Kricher demonstrates that nature in fact is not in balance, nor has it ever been at any stage in Earth's history. He explains how and why this notion of a natural world in balance has endured for so long, and he shows why, in these times of extraordinary human influence on the planet's ecosystems, it is critical that we accept and understand that evolution is a fact of life, and that ecology is far more dynamic than we ever imagined.
The Balance of Nature traces the fascinating history of the science of ecology and evolutionary biology, from the discipline's early innovators to the advent of Darwin and evolution, to the brilliant and inquisitive scientific minds of today. Blending insights and entertaining stories from his own remarkable life in science, Kricher reveals how evolution is a powerful engine that drives ecological change, how nature is constantly in flux and, in effect, quite naturally out of balance--and how notions to the contrary are misguided and ultimately hazardous to us all.
The Balance of Nature forcefully argues that an understanding of the dynamic nature of ecology and evolution is essential to formulating policies of environmental ethics to guide humanity toward a more responsible stewardship of our planet's ecosystems.
"The author conveys his message in a clear writing style without using highly technical concepts or terminology."--B.R. Shmaefsky, Choice
"Kricher's book is of interest to environmental historians and historians of science not only on account of the information it contains, but also because within it there is so little of the scholarship of the history of the environmental sciences with which we, in the humanities and social sciences, are familiar."--Jane Carruthers, Environment and History
"With The Balance of Nature, John Kricher has done us the favor of producing the book our non-ecological parents should read. In a scant 200 pages of accessible prose, Kricher weaves together three themes about which any literate citizen should be aware. . . . The Balance of Nature hits its mark. Buy a copy for your parents, your students, and your children today."--Aaron M. Ellison, Ecology
"John Kricher masterfully describes the ancient origins of the concept of a balance of nature and its unquestioned incorporation into the thinking of many ecologists and conservationists. This concept implies an overarching purpose or design in the natural world, making it inconsistent with our understanding of how evolution works. Kricher shows that we can understand and protect natural ecosystems better by rejecting the assumption that nature is a well-designed machine and accepting the true complexity created by numerous interacting species."--Robert Askins, Connecticut College
Table of Contents:
CHAPTER 1: Why It Matters 1
CHAPTER 2: Of What Purpose Are Mosquitoes? 8
CHAPTER 3: Creating Paradigms 20
CHAPTER 4: Ecology B.C. ("Before Charles") 40
CHAPTER 5: Ecology A.D. ("After Darwin") 53
CHAPTER 6: The Twentieth Century: Ecology Comes of Age 67
CHAPTER 7: A Visit to Bodie: Ecological Space and Time 84
CHAPTER 8: Ecology and Evolution: Process and Paradigm 97
CHAPTER 9: Be Glad to Be an Earthling 113
CHAPTER 10: Life Plays the Lottery 128
CHAPTER 11: Why Global Climate Is Like
New England Weather 140
CHAPTER 12: Taking It from the Top--or the Bottom 155
CHAPTER 13: F or the Love of Biodiversity (and Stable Ecosystems?) 170
CHAPTER 14: Facing Marley's Ghost 186
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by John Kricher: