Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, A Trial and the Fight Over Controlling Nature - Jordan Fisher Smith (Crown)
“In 1972, a young man named Harry Walker left his home on a farm in Alabama to find himself. Nineteen days later, he was killed by a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park.” That is the back drop for the story of Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, A Trial and the Fight Over Controlling Nature by author and former park ranger Jordan Fisher Smith.
Therein lies the problem…the story about Walker’s death and the subsequent trial/lawsuit are just that; a potentially great story, not necessarily a great book. Smith tries mightily to inject the story about Walker’s demise and the deaths and injuries of others in the seemingly ages old argument about the attempt to control/manage wild life in America’s National Parks.
It is the effort to strike a balance between nature and wild life and the desire to create an atmosphere that is tourism friendly and attracts visitors to the parks that is at the crux of the argument. It is an almost silly notion to think that you can exert any level of true control over nature and wildlife. Visitors want to see and have access to things like bears, at the same time they don’t want to have to deal with the danger that is inherent in the relationship between man and beast.
Smith ends up with a multi-faceted book that is more than a little disjointed. While each of the books story tracks; Walker’s grizzly death, the trail, the infighting between biologists and the best approach for controlling nature, all make for interesting stories. The problem here is trying to mold these stories in to a coherent book, which unfortunately does not happen.