“There is delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value,” so reads the “Nature” inscription on Theodore Roosevelt Island in the middle of the Potomac River. In Crisis of the Wasteful Nation: Empire and Conservation in Theodore Roosevelt’s America, Ian Tyrrell highlights the complexity of preserving nature in the midst of empire building.
Theodore Roosevelt believed in fully living the strenuous life. He ranched in North Dakota, hunted big game in Africa, and sought out any opportunity that would enable him to push his personal boundaries and strengthen himself. Tyrrell examines this representation of TR in terms of his approach to conservation. How do you save nature and at the same time extract the resources that will advance the U.S. on an international stage? Throughout the book, Tyrrell delights in looking at marketing campaigns to see what story they tell. He does this especially well in the chapter on irrigation. Those who believed deeply in the irrigation cause made it seem as if even the driest of deserts could bloom fully through technology.
In Tyrrell’s argument, living the strenuous life becomes a form of conservation. During the Progressive era, discussion arose regarding the need to preserve personal health. Tyrrell pays close attention to concerns that were expressed about cities and the unhealthy practices that existed in urban areas.
Residents of the western U.S. or those who are interested in how perspectives on land use developed will be especially interested in Crisis of the Wasteful Nation.
The book is available from the University of Chicago Press in hardcover and E-book formats.