Autonomous Nature investigates the history of nature as an active, often unruly force in tension with nature as a rational, logical order from ancient times to the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. Along with subsequent advances in mechanics, hydrodynamics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism, nature came to be perceived as an orderly, rational, physical world that could be engineered, controlled, and managed. Autonomous Nature focuses on the history of unpredictability, why it was a problem for the ancient world through the Scientific Revolution, and why it is a problem for today. The work is set in the context of vignettes about unpredictable events such as the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, the Bubonic Plague, the Lisbon Earthquake, and efforts to understand and predict the weather and natural disasters. This book is an ideal text for courses on the environment, environmental history, history of science, or the philosophy of science.
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Carolyn Merchant is Professor of Environmental History, Philosophy, and Ethics at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of The Death of Nature; Ecological Revolutions; and Reinventing Eden among other books. She is a past president of the American Society for Environmental History and a recipient of the Society’s Distinguished Scholar Award.Review:
In this ambitious history of ideas, Carolyn Merchant calls attention to the ancient idea of nature as unpredictable, rebellious, and impossible to understand and control completely. She urges us to recover that older idea for the foundation of a new ecological ethic. Wide-ranging, original, and provocative.
Donald Worster, author of "Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas"
Merchant has written a key history of ideas for evaluating two of the big questions today: how did we get into this mess, and how can we get out of it. Western thinkers, who gave us the scientific method, also fell short of the truer, fuller view of reality, dynamical and chaotic. It is against this richer backdrop that we can grasp today’s emerging complexity paradigm, and find hope and insight for restoring our planet’s beautifully ‘rambunctious gardens.’
Jennifer Wells, California Institute of Integral Studies, author of Complexity and Sustainability
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