from the publisher:
From the vantage point of a nearby pond in Newton, Massachusetts, Diana Muir reconstructs an intriguing interpretation of New England’s natural history and the people who have lived there since pre-Columbian times. Taking a radically new way to illustrate for general readers the vast interrelationships between natural ecology and human economics, Muir weaves together an imaginative and dramatic account of the changes, massive and subtle, that successive generations of humankind and such animals as sheep and beavers have worked on the land.
Her compelling narrative takes us to a New England populated by individuals struggling to make a living from a land not generously endowed by nature. Yankee history, she argues, was a string of ecological crises from which the only escape lay in creating radical new solutions to apparently insurmountable problems. Young men and women coming of age in the 1790s faced a bleak future. In a time when farming was virtually the only occupation, a burgeoning population meant that there was not enough land to go around. Worse, such land as there was had been worn out by generations of careless use. With no prospects and no options, young men like Eli Whitney and Thomas Blanchard might have resigned themselves to a life of poverty. Instead, they started an industrial revolution, the power of which astonished the world.
Reflections in Bullough’s Pond is history on a grand scale. Drawing on scholarship in fields ranging from archaeology to zoology, Muir offers an exhilarating tour of Paleolithic megafauna, the population crisis faced by New England natives in the pre-Columbian period, the introduction of indoor plumbing, and the invention of the shoe-peg. At the end, we understand ourselves and our world a little better.
“Muir excavates the environmental foundations of our age with profound completness. Reflections in Bullough’s Pond should be a sourcebook for everyone who cares about landscapes and technology.”—Artforum, “Best Books of 2000”Diana Muir is an award-winning writer whose books include The Glorious Fourth, Thanksgiving, and, for children, Cocoa Ice and Giants in the Land.
“Admirable . . . Mountains of research power this book, while Muir’s direct yet conversational tone distinguishes it . . . Serious students of New England’s original peoples, watersheds and forests, of its farms, suburbs and cities, or of its near future will seek out Muir’s volume.”—Publishers Weekly
“[The] intricte interweaving of seemingly unrelated human activities, ecosystems’ responses, and human reactions to those responses, is the strength of Bullough’s Pond. Chapter after chapter records the unwitting violence New Englanders visited upon the woods, fields and waters of their region, but because Muir marvels not only at the resilience of those ecosystems but also at human resilience, she notes the gains as well as the losses.”—Women’s Review of Books
“Eminently readable, this is a fascinating book for anyone thoughtfully interested in the history of New England and human interactions with nature.”—Northeastern Naturalist
“All these books read well, but for me the pick of the litter is Reflections in Bullough’s Pond by Diana Muir. Clever writer that she is, Muir starts with the pond across from her suburban Boston home and leads you from there to the history of New England. And back. She goes from the pond to the effect of beavers on the landscape, from the history of the railroad back to the pond. And does it all so well you scarcely notice you’re reading well-researched history, not an epic novel.”—Jules Older’s summer reading list, Vermont Public Radio
“An engaging, continually surprising book, with the narrative momentum of compelling fiction and the historian’s passion for getting it right.”—Main Sunday Telegram
“Lyrical. Who knew that economic history and . . . environmental history could be so engrossing? . . . [Muir’s] book deserves praise and deserves to be read.”—Newton (MA) Tab
“Anyone interested in New England will be interested in this book. New England past, a history wonderfully told through the land; New England present, with its degraded but still living landscapes; New England future, depending on which of the roads herein outlined we decide to take.”—Bill McKibben
“Using Bullough’s Pond, Ms. Muir connects the history of New England from its Native American beginnings through the Industrial Revolution, deftly detailing its impacts. She reminds us to recall the invaluable riches New England’s frontier once had, and the possibilities for the future.”—Fred Krupp, Environmental Defense
“This book should be of great interest to all of those concerned with the tensions between economic success and the deterioration of the natural systems that supply essential services to the human economy. Highly recommended.”—Paul R. Ehrlich, author of Betrayal of Science and Reason
“Bullough’s Pond is the remarkable history of the people of New England and our unique relationship with the land, water, and sea—a history and a relationship driven by survival, innovation, and—at times—exploitation. This book reminds us how the natural world has shaped our lives, and how our lives are now shaping the natural world—with potentially dangerous consequences.”—Senator John F. Kerry
“An extraordinary book, a combination of polemic and all-encompassing scholarship . . . What kept me fascinated here is Muir’s command of the history of trades, manufactures, and industries; of farming, sawing lumber, shipping, trapping, fishing; of the making of hats, shoes, linen, ropes, sails, paper, and more. Equally impressive and deftly imparted is her knowledge of plants and animals, their habits and requirements, and their links to us and to each other. Finally, she is lucid.”—Boston Globe