Cover image for Tinkering with Eden : a natural history of exotics in America
Tinkering with Eden : a natural history of exotics in America
Todd, Kim, 1970-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [2001]

Physical Description:
viii, 302 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Subject Term:
Format :


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Material Type
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QL86 .T64 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
QL86 .T64 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Mosquitoes in Hawaii, sea lampreys in the Great Lakes, mountain goats in the Olympic Mountains of Washington State--not one of these species is native to the environment in which it now flourishes. Kim Todd's Tinkering with Eden is a lyrical, brilliantly written history of the introduction of exotic species into the United Sates, and how the well-meaning endeavors of scientists, explorers, and biologists have resulted in ecological catastrophe. Todd's assured voice will haunt her readers, and the stories she tells--such as the druggist who brought starlings to America because he wanted the landscape to feature every bird mentioned by Shakespeare--will forever change how we see our increasingly afflicted landscape and its unanticipated inhabitants.

Author Notes

A former newspaper reporter, Kim Todd holds a B.A. from Yale University & an M.F.A. from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula, Montana.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Imagine the common birds of city and suburb, the ones we all see daily as they perch on phone wires and peck for crumbs on the sidewalk. The three most numerous species in our imaginations--starlings, pigeons, and house sparrows--are all exotic, non-native birds that were deliberately introduced to North America from Europe. In this fascinating history of the introduction of exotic species into the U.S., Todd gives the reader the story behind the initial introduction of each species as well as its status today. Some introductions were deliberate: starlings, released by an eccentric who wanted for the U.S. all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare. Other introductions were accidental: knapweed, which can blanket the dry upper Midwest to the detriment of native grasses, appeared as seeds mixed with alfalfa. Each of these stories, as well as 11 others, is told in a conversational style as the author delves into the history and rationale that drove each introduction and provides a snapshot of where we are today. The impact that exotics have on the ecosystems in which they thrive produces a series of cautionary tales, especially important in an era of global trade with its inherent possibilities for future introductions. An excellent example of the popular-science genre. --Nancy Bent

Library Journal Review

Many people are aware that starlings and gypsy moths are exotic species, but readers may be surprised to learn that such common critters as honeybees, ladybug beetles, brown trout, ring-necked pheasants, and many others were intentional introductions. Each chapter of this carefully researched work by a former journalist recounts the situation or problem that prompted a human to try to improve on nature, by releasing a nonnative species. Todd does a good job of explaining motivations and helping provide understanding of why people did what they did. Each chapter concludes with a description of the consequences of the introduction. With genetically modified organisms and their release being debated, there may be renewed interest in the impact of exotics. The final chapter urges readers to develop a sense of biological history. Recommended for all ecology collections and larger public libraries. Nancy Moeckel, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Recipient of the PEN/Jerard Award for creative nonfiction, Todd masterfully weaves details of animal behaviors and plant ecology gleaned from the scientific literature with details from historical records to create fascinating and readable accounts of species introductions. She uses more than a dozen examples to show how tinkering with evolutionary processes has had profound consequences for ecosystems and biodiversity. Each vignette captures the social milieu and motives of the individual who introduced a species and chronicles the impact of that species introduction on the American landscape. Todd carefully documents her tales with endnotes and an extensive bibliography without letting the documentation interfere with her storytelling and re-creation of biological history. She prompts the reader to ponder not only past introductions and efforts at eradication or control but also the parallels with current genetic engineering practices and possibilities. This award-winning book belongs on the shelves of all high school, public, and academic libraries along with Jason Van Driesche and Roy Van Driesche's Nature out of Place: Biological Invasions in the Global Age (CH, Jun'01). Academic libraries will want to round out their collections with a recent reprinting of Charles Elton's classic The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants (CH, Nov'00). All levels. B. L. Shepherd University of Alaska Southeast

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 3
I. Initial Forays
1. The Pigeon's Progressp. 9
2. The Land of Milk and Honeyp. 24
3. War Storiesp. 39
4. Flight of the Mosquitop. 47
5. An Artificial Weddingp. 62
II. Victorian Embellishments
6. Following Silk Threadsp. 77
7. Flush with Successp. 90
8. Trout Diplomacyp. 104
9. The Bug Huntersp. 118
10. Words on the Wingp. 135
11. Mission to the Northp. 148
III. Here and Now
12. Improving the Olympicsp. 169
13. Tarzan in the Empire of Sunshinep. 183
14. Swamp Richesp. 195
15. A Borderline Casep. 213
16. A Fly in Every Seed Head, a Weevil in Every Rootp. 230
17. Narrow Missp. 245
Afterwordp. 251
Endnotesp. 257
Bibliographyp. 267
Acknowledgmentsp. 287
Indexp. 289