Thursday, December 22, 2016

Speaker: Jordan Fisher Smith

Jordan Fisher Smith Website
Jordan Fisher Smith: Nonfiction author of Nature Noir and Engineering Eden,  freelancer for, New Yorker, and Discover, narrator of the Oscar-shortlisted film “Under Our Skin.”

Review Snippet: “Intensely reported, rousingly readable, and ambitiously envisioned…A thrilling read. Like the best visions for parks, it combines the human and the animal, the managed and natural, the controlled and the wild.” —Wall Street Journal

Conference Workshop: Finding the Power in your Nonfiction Story, Session 1, 10:50 - 11:50

Lunchtime Author Round table, 12:00 - 1:00

Closing Panel Discussion, 3:55 - 4:45

Jordan has also generously agreed to emcee the conference!

Workshop Description:  Nonfiction is inconvenient.  Things that really happened often have no exact beginning and no exact end—they are one with the larger flow of history.  There are things that are hard to know, and the writer is tempted to make them up to render the story interesting.  Writers get lost in the arcane details of research like wilderness explorers; they and their projects are reported missing and never come back. To win at this game a writer needs to discern where the power is in the story.  She needs to make choices of what to put in and what to leave out.  Jordan will discuss how to get the wild mess of a story under control, and how to re-wild the tame one.

Jordan Fisher Smith spent 21 years as a park and wilderness ranger in California, Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska. He is the author of Nature Noir, which was a Wall Street Journal summer reading selection, San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of 2005 pick, and an Audubon Magazine Editor’s Choice; and a new narrative nonfiction book Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight Over Controlling Nature published in hardcover by Crown and an audiobook from Blackstone in 2016. 

His magazine work has appeared in, Men’s Journal, Aeon, Discover, and others, and been nominated for awards from the American Society of Magazine Editors and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Jordan is a principal cast member and narrator of the film “Under Our Skin,” which was shortlisted for the 2010 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature and appears in a 2014 sequel “Under Our Skin 2: Emergence.” He lives in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. description:

The fascinating story of a trial that opened a window onto the century-long battle to control nature in the national parks. 

When twenty-five-year-old Harry Walker was killed by a bear in Yellowstone Park in 1972, the civil trial prompted by his death became a proxy for bigger questions about American wilderness management that had been boiling for a century. At immediate issue was whether the Park Service should have done more to keep bears away from humans, but what was revealed as the trial unfolded was just how fruitless our efforts to regulate nature in the parks had always been. The proceedings drew to the witness stand some of the most important figures in twentieth century wilderness management, including the eminent zoologist A. Starker Leopold, who had produced a landmark conservationist document in the 1950s, and all-American twin researchers John and Frank Craighead, who ran groundbreaking bear studies at Yellowstone. Their testimony would help decide whether the government owed the Walker family restitution for Harry's death, but it would also illuminate decades of patchwork efforts to preserve an idea of nature that had never existed in the first place.

In this remarkable excavation of American environmental history, nature writer and former park ranger Jordan Fisher Smith uses Harry Walker's story to tell the larger narrative of the futile, sometimes fatal, attempts to remake wilderness in the name of preserving it. Tracing a course from the founding of the national parks through the tangled twentieth-century growth of the conservationist movement, Smith gives the lie to the portrayal of national parks as Edenic wonderlands unspoiled until the arrival of Europeans, and shows how virtually every attempt to manage nature in the parks has only created cascading effects that require even more management. Moving across time and between Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Glacier national parks, Engineering Eden shows how efforts at wilderness management have always been undone by one fundamental problem--that the idea of what is "wild" dissolves as soon as we begin to examine it, leaving us with little framework to say what wilderness should look like and which human interventions are acceptable in trying to preserve it.

In the tradition of John McPhee's The Control of Nature and Alan Burdick's Out of Eden, Jordan Fisher Smith has produced a powerful work of popular science and environmental history, grappling with critical issues that we have even now yet to resolve. 

Highlighted Review: 

on September 7, 2016
Format: Hardcover|Verified Purchase

Jordan Fisher Smith has written a magnificent book. Obviously, the hook here is the encounter between a grizzly and a human, with an unfortunate but predictable outcome. Mr. Smith, however, takes the reader behind the curtain into the inner workings of the National Park Service to discover the back-stories that created the conditions for this tragedy and many others. These include the wrangling over grizzly bear management policies between scientists and the Park Service, and between respected scientists themselves. 
The coverage of the history of the Park Movement, the evolution of scientific thought, and the application of science to real-life management decisions all add value to this book. Most intriguing and thought-provoking is the analysis of the biggest argument in park resource management – whether to let “nature” take its course, or whether park professionals should intervene to help create and sustain desired conditions in parks. Mr. Smith spent innumerable hours with victims, their families, scientists, and park managers to create this meticulously-researched and splendid work.

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