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Nature Ecology

The Once and Future World

Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be

by (author) J.B. MacKinnon

Random House of Canada
Initial publish date
Sep 2013
Ecology, Natural History, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2013
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2013
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2014
    List Price

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From one of Canada's most exciting writers and ecological thinkers, a book that will change the way we see nature and show that in restoring the living world, we are also restoring ourselves. 
The Once and Future World began in the moment J.B. MacKinnon realized the grassland he grew up on was not the pristine wilderness he had always believed it to be. Instead, his home prairie was the outcome of a long history of transformation, from the disappearance of the grizzly bear to the introduction of cattle. What remains today is an illusion of the wild--an illusion that has in many ways created our world.
In 3 beautifully drawn parts, MacKinnon revisits a globe exuberant with life, where lions roam North America and 20 times more whales swim in the sea. He traces how humans destroyed that reality, out of rapaciousness, yes, but also through a great forgetting. Finally, he calls for an "age of restoration," not only to revisit that richer and more awe-filled world, but to reconnect with our truest human nature. MacKinnon never fails to remind us that nature is a menagerie of marvels. Here are fish that pass down the wisdom of elders, landscapes still shaped by "ecological ghosts," a tortoise that is slowly remaking prehistory. "It remains a beautiful world," MacKinnon writes, "and it is its beauty, not its emptiness, that should inspire us to seek more nature in our lives."

About the author

J.B. MacKinnon is a celebrated independent journalist and a contributing editor to the magazines Adbusters, Explore and Vancouver. A two-time winner of the National Magazine Foundation Gold Award for travel writing, he splits his time between Vancouver and a cabin in northern British Columbia. MacKinnon's latest book is The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating.

J.B. MacKinnon's profile page


  • Short-listed, RBC Taylor Prize

Editorial Reviews

FINALIST 2013 – Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-Fiction 
FINALIST 2014 – BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction 
FINALIST 2014 – RBC Taylor Prize
FINALIST 2014 – BC Book Prizes Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize
FINALIST 2014 – Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award
WINNER 2014 – Green Prize for Sustainable Literature

"This book is a delight. MacKinnon shows us afresh the world we thought we knew through a kaleidoscopic lens of startling facts, illuminating insight and flat-out-wonderful writing.”
—John Vaillant, author of The Golden Spruce and The Tiger

“A lean, elegant and powerful essay on what we have done to the world—and what we might do to set things right. J.B. MacKinnon has made me think in new ways about our self-destructive trashing of the ‘luckless garden’ into which we were so lucky to be born.”
—Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress
“MacKinnon is an eloquent guide through landscapes wild and tame. He takes the reader backwards through evolutionary time and forward into a delicate and unknown future. I devoured this book in a day and closed its covers marveling at our planet’s incredible abundance. Natural history at its best.”
—Charlotte Gill, author of Eating Dirt
“A re-enchantment with the natural world may be a necessary prerequisite to the changes we must make to keep that natural world more or less intact. This is deep and lovely thinking and writing.”
—Bill McKibben, author of Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist
“Henry David Thoreau warned us, in 1862, that not in wilderness but in wildness is the preservation of the world. There’s a difference. In The Once and Future World, J.B. MacKinnon brings this distinction up to date. Wilderness may be gone forever, but wildness can be recovered, and it is time to get to work.”
—George Dyson
“This book should make your blood run cold; or boil with furious rage against the despoilers of our planet. But perhaps all is not yet lost. MacKinnon tells us that the crisis in the natural world is not yet fatal…but it’s waiting. And then he tells us most convincingly what we can and must do to stop the rot. This is a handbook for those who hope to see the earth, and man, remain alive together.”
—Farley Mowat
“A gripping and convincing look at the nature that humans lost and the perspective that we gained. MacKinnon leaves us wanting to be wilder.”
—Jennifer Jacquet, author of the Guilty Planet blog at Scientific American, assistant professor of environmental studies at NYU
The 100-Mile Diet forever changed the way I see a plate of food and it is still with me today. The Once and Future World changed the way I see everything. One can only hope it spawns a movement like The 100-Mile Diet did—a moment of re-imagining, re-wilding and coming home.”
—Leanne Allison, filmmaker (Being Caribou, Finding Farley, Bear 71)
“Like Peter Matthiessen, Barry Lopez and Tim Flannery, J.B. MacKinnon is an exceptional writer with an intense passion for the natural world. In The Once and Future World, MacKinnon combines eloquent storytelling with painstaking research to provide a persuasive argument for the need to not only protect the wildness we have today, but to restore at least some of the abundance we have lost. It may be too late to bring back the Tasmanian tiger, but, as MacKinnon writes, there’s still time to create a planet that is far richer in natural wonders.”
—James Little, former editor of Explore magazine
“J.B. MacKinnon is one of the finest essayists of the natural world writing today.”
—Andrew D. Blechman, managing editor of Orion and author of Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird

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