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Finished Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf (2/5).

The premise of this book is a charming one: many of the founding fathers, particularly Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Washington, were avid gardeners. What lessons can their passion teach us?

These individuals do, indeed, have lessons to teach us, but, it seems, not quite a book's worth. These founding fathers embraced an ideal which held up the independent, innovative, beauty loving farmer as the ideal citizen (indeed, for Jefferson, this was the only type of citizen that a republic can be built upon). However, they never quite seem to grapple with the problem that the unification of these traits presupposes an education and resources not available to all.

The second lesson, and the one that resonates as a more relevant legacy today, was a pragmatic environmentalism. Although not environmentalists in the modern sense, these founding fathers saw the importance of the environment to both the economy and spirit of the United States. They were interested in reducing the use of fertility destroying farming techniques, finding new and useful plans in the American wilds, and collecting species for the sheer love of their beauty and grandeur.

The passages and sources which elaborate these views are scattered amidst sometimes tedious descriptions of minutia. Fort hose who like reading descriptions of gardens, this may be interesting. I was left bored.

Overall, it was a pleasant read, but not really worth more than half its length.
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Erika RS

May 2012

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