Book Review: Nature’s Best Hope

The first book on my Summer Book Reading List that I read was Nature’s Best Hope by Doug Tallamy.

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I was expecting this book to be somewhat of a downer of a book: we’ve destroyed the planet and we’ll need to make drastic changes to re-direct the train we’re on! Conservation books or documentaries all seem to have the same doomsday message, and it gets disheartening to hear it again and again.

Doug Tallamy is an entomologist at the University of Delaware. His big idea with this book is to encourage people to grow more native plants in their yards (as opposed to “introduced” plant species or blank lawns) in order to support the insects, birds, and other wildlife that we need. Rather than having a few isolated protected patches of land spread across the country (National Parks), we need everyone to create a small National Park in their own backyard. He calls this idea Homegrown National Park.

I give this book a 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was only slightly better than I was expecting. The writing is good, and the book includes lots of pictures of landscapes, birds, and insects, which was a nice touch. However, it could use better organization and it has a Jimmy-Carter-Put-On-A-Sweater vibe. I don’t think this book does a good job convincing the people who need to be convinced to grow more natives. (Case in point, he says: “Quite simply, humans have exceeded and thus degraded the carrying capacity of planet Earth, and our only long-term option is to reduce our numbers to some ideal population size that the earth can sustain…Limiting birth rates to two children per person will temporarily cause top-heavy age classes, with more old people than young people, and this will demand restructuring of our social safety nets that are in effect, Ponzi schemes that work only as long as we perpetually increase the numbers.” He may be right, but ouch….statements like these probably aren’t winning him any converts to his cause.)

On the other other hand, I think this book is helpful for inspiring people like me – eco-minded liberals who are generally sympathetic to his cause – to do a better job of sourcing natives for their yards. He highlights Portland, OR in one of the chapters: On a visit to Portland, he catalogued the street trees in the Hawthorne and Sellwood neighborhoods, and found that only 100 out of 1176 trees was native to the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve always thought a tree on the street was better than no tree at all (and maybe it is), but I never stopped to consider if the tree was native to the area. The streets in Palo Alto are lined by magnolias, which are certainly not native to California. I was inspired to catalogue the trees and shrubs in my dad’s yard when I get back to Portland to learn which ones are native and which are non-native. (The definition of “native” is an interesting question, which I might address in a later post.)

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