Having done a concentration on the ecological side of biology in college (I like large scale communities. Microbiology bores me, though I do recognize its importance.), this was an interesting read. I think today, if you talked to a lot of urban dwellers (I’m firmly in that camp), and asked them their view on wilderness, they’d probably point to some wilderness preserve or national park, and talk about the importance of preserving nature so that everyone can escape there and enjoy it. I think it would surprise many members of that demographic that that was not always the case.
This book goes back to the roots of this country, and examines the way our views of wilderness have changed. Our ancestors (mine were Puritans in Massachusetts) came to this country with a dim view of wilderness – it was actually their sacred duty to subdue the wilderness and bring it under the influence of civilization. A Puritan from the late 1600s would probably look askance at our current movements to preserve wilderness. In fact, that’s a fairly recent development in this country, because the book also argues that a country must have a fairly settled existence to value wilderness. We value it now precisely because we’ve almost erased it.
I read the third edition, which was published in the 80s. (I got it for free from a book swap, so I was happy to get any edition.) I would be very interested to read the newest edition (the fifth – published in 2014), which brings in viewpoints on more current issues like climate change. Full disclosure – this is dense and scholarly, so I can’t stay I read through it quickly, but it was definitely a worthy, slow read.