Cover Image: Beaverland


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Member Reviews

I loved this book. I am going to purchase this book. I have *already* recommended this book to several colleagues, friends, and my husband.

1. The History is Interesting
You can't say that for every book about nature that includes the history of the science or natural element being studied. This one, you can. From the Native American history, to the first conservationists, to the Beaver Wars, this was well researched. I loved every bit of history.

2. It is Well Cited
I appreciate that, as a historian, and as an educator, that the author included citations in the back of the book, and referred to the works she was using many times over in her actual body of work. It was excellent to see, and will serve as an example of how you can tell good research, and journalism, from less than desirable.

3. It is Compelling

I love beavers. I always have. I grew up across the dirt road from a beaver pond, and my first cat came from my dad finding him in a beaver trap and saving him. I have fond memories of seeing them from a distance. Of hearing their beaver slap echo from my bedroom window, probably warning of black bear, or human, or some other predator.

So it didn't take much to get buy-in from me.

But to add to layers of reasoning the way she does is absolutely exceptional. I felt included, as someone who grew up near Lake Erie, and then included again when she cited a company (Ecotone) from my own current county in which I live. But she didn't just focus there. She went all over the Northern United States from Oregon to Maine, and I cannot stress enough how much I loved it.

This review could be several pages. I want to write a full analysis of this book, but we all know no one will want to read it if I do.

Buy this book. Rent it from the library. Use it in Book Clubs. It is that good.

I'm literally going to figure out how to incorporate it into my American History Curriculum. It's so worth the read.

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I really enjoyed this book. It was a bit different format and layout than I was expecting. If you're looking for a facts and nothing-but-the-facts, book, this is not it. The book starts with an indigenous story of Beaver at the creation of the Earth, then follows her up close and personal interaction with beavers.
Woven throughout are how the world has responded to beaver and interesting facts that you need to know to appreciate this unusual animal and it's relationship with the planet.

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This was an entertaining and informative read. I found myself sharing what I learned from this book with those around me. I recommend it to fans of good and highly readable non-fiction.

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So, after reading this book, I said to a friend "I just read this fascinating book on beavers." She just looked at me like I was crazy but this book was exactly that: fascinating.

The author goes chapter by chapter highlighting beavers but in different ways. One chapter was on trapping, one was on John Jacob Astor and how he made his millions off beaver, one was about saving them. She hits upon so many topics that you never once thought had anything to do with beavers.

I found each chapter enthralling and I became not only more interested in beavers but also the topics underlying the beavers.

I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in natural history.

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Loved this book! I found it to be a thoughtful, all-encompassing look at beavers. It's amazing how much of our American history revolved around the beaver. And in how complex and fascinating beavers are. And how they continue to affect our society today.
Growing up in Wisconsin, I had quite a bit of exposure to beavers. My father and grand-father both were avid trappers, and I could not help but absorb the lessons and lore about beavers that they taught me. I did not follow in their footsteps, but can appreciate the lessons they taught me. As a college graduate with a degree in natural resources, and a lifetime outdoorsman and fisherman, I continue to learn about beavers. They are one of the most fascinating animals I know of.
I was very grateful with the author's even handedness in her telling of the very different groups that concern beavers. And especially pleased to learn things that I did not know about beavers.
The book just left me with a satisfied feeling of nostalgia, appreciation of today, and hope for the future. What more can one ask?
Highly recommend this book!

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An interesting mix of the history of the beaver and the role it played in shaping America's economic history, the role the beaver plays in Native American culture, beavers and trappers today, and the beaver and how it might help both teach us and guide some aspects of environmental change in the future. Leila Philip did a good job of balancing the trapper and hunter view and the environmentalist view (even though she admits where her feelings lie, she's admirably evenhanded). I liked the history and Native American culture aspects the best but was very interested in learning about how geologists and other scientists are trying to learn how to work with or imitate beavers to deal with climate change and water issues today.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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Reviewed for the Washington Post

Leila Philip’s fascination with beavers was unexpected. As she recounts in her new book, “Beaverland,” it all began with a community of beavers near her home in Woodstock, Conn. She became intrigued by their “chunky and awkward” bodies, the meaning of their tails slapping against water and their ferocious work ethic. She and her dog became regular visitors to their pond.

“I felt almost uneasy about my obsession with the beavers, as if I had fallen into what was now a well-known trope in American nature writing,” Philip writes, “a woman of a certain age journeying into the natural world to discover solace. But my beavers were so completely determined, how could I not fall for them?”

And so, she finds herself one of the converts, just the latest “American eccentric” to throw herself into the study of beavers. But Philip is not the average nature writer. She once moved to Japan to learn traditional pottery, and in “Beaverland” she again joins a new culture with an anthropologist’s curiosity.

One of her guides is a trapper, who teaches her to skin a beaver. She also traces the old fur industry route as far as the Pacific, and meets conservationists trying to work with beavers on river preservation. Using historic maps and descriptions, she finds her way to a beaver pond that is centuries-old.

The world she introduces to the reader is fascinating, both on scientific and historical levels. Biologically speaking, beavers should be fairly dim based on their brain-to-body ratio, but their teamwork and focus, as well as knack for engineering, suggest otherwise.

Their instinct for building is so deeply ingrained, when they hear running water — even a recording of the sound — they run toward the source and start building a dam. Their dams protect the entrance to their lodges, and they will grab anything, from sticks and mud to hubcaps and pieces of cable, to patch a leak.

According to Philip, beavers are a “keystone species,” without which other species would surely perish. They help prevent catastrophic floods by damming rivers and tributaries, which in turn create wetlands that support a diverse ecosystem. And beaver meadows — the wetlands created by runoff from beaver ponds — help retain water in the soil, allowing plants to survive through droughts.

Philip also delves into the history of human-beaver relations in Europe and North America. The importance of beaver fur as a commodity in the 19th century is hard to overstate.

America’s first multimillionaire, Philip notes, was Johann Jacob Astor, who made his fortune by buying beaver skins in North America and selling them on the lucrative London market. (In honor of the source of Astor’s wealth, a beaver graces the Astor Place subway station tiles.)

Back then, beaver fur hats were worn everywhere and beaver castor — the wax from beaver glands — was in high demand. “The lure of the trap line was considerable; in the early 1800s a fur trapper made forty times the daily pay rate of the typical farm worker back east,” Philip writes. As a result, beavers were largely cleared out of many states, only to be reintroduced in the 20th century.

But the beavers came back to a different world.

Fur, once a major industry in North America, has become a quirky hobby. At one fur auction at a VFW in central New York, Philip sees pelts sold alongside taxidermied animals. “At the end of one table, several bobcats frozen whole seem to be prowling,” she writes. “And in the corner is the pile of winter mink that Henry VIII would have snatched if he were here, given his greed for fine ermine. A collective frisson fills the room; the air tastes electric. This is what remains of the historic North American fur trade.”

Pelts today sell for a fraction of what they would have decades ago, if they can find buyers at all.

Still, beavers continue to touch our lives in big and small ways we may not notice. You may have even eaten beaver castor. The ingredient, considered a “natural food additive,” can be found in foods ranging from vanilla pudding to strawberry Twizzlers.

Despite our long intertwined history, beavers remain mysterious creatures (since they don’t have necks, they can’t be fitted with radio collars to be tracked in the wild).

Philip explains that the Algonquin called beavers “the underwater people”: both like us and unlike us. “I thought of beavers as an enigma, a constant reminder that there was a world under that water I could never fully know.” This lyrical exploration is a portal for readers to enter into the mysteries of that world themselves.

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#Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America by Leila Philip is a worthy followup for anyone who discovered #Beavers through 2019's #Eager by Ben Goldfarb. It's not for the squeamish, as one reads quite a lot about trapping. But one gets a perspective on the beaver's role in #AmericanHistory, and on the people who respect beavers. A readable #PersonalNarrative in the tradition of #NewJournalism.

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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Twelve Books for an advanced copy of this book on geography, water planning, myths and the importance of one animal to an ecosystem, and too one author.

One of the things that I enjoy most in life is reading a book, and thinking, or most likely speaking aloud to myself, who can I give this to because I really want to talk about this book right now. Another thing I enjoy is just walking up to friends, family and companions and talking about fun things that I have learned from a book. Most people I know are used to it, and I hope kind of enjoy my enthusiasm. However I don't think people were prepared for all my discussions about dams, river purification, fur trapping, Indigenous lore, and John Jacob Astor and his what seems to me traitorous actions during the War of 1812. Nor all the facts that I was sharing about an animal I consider one of the most remarkable of creatures, the beaver. Leila Philip has in Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America, written one of the most engaging, fascinating, fun, informative science and outdoor sports books that I have read in quite a while.

The book begins with a short story about the importance of beavers to the indigenous people, followed by an introduction to the author and her dog watching a small beaver dam by her home in Connecticut. Without her thinking about it, being around these creatures has given her something to focus on while things are not going well. Soon she begins to investigate these water rodents and opens up a whole new world of understanding. Philip follows a fur trapper who works for the state getting rid of troublesome beavers, whose life has been changed for the better by all the time he spends in nature. Philip discusses the fur trade, the role of John Jacob Astor in its growth and his attempt at controlling everything for his own profit, and she attends a fur auction where she meets trappers and buyers and learns about the economy of modern fur trade. And of course the stars the beavers. Beavers had quite a role in developing the early American landscape and their importance to the indigenous people. Nearly wiped out, beavers were reintroduced in the early part of the twentieth century with tremendous results, and some environmental issues that are also shown.

The writing is really beautiful. Warm, friendly, informative and endlessly fascinating. Philip can writer about her mother's health, fur auctions, walking through wetlands, the make-up of a beaver's tail, and corporations that work on flooding conditions with the ideas that beavers bring to their dam development. Philip never loses the narrative, nor puts too much information in that slows things down or overwhelms the reader. That is a rare gift. Readers can feel that this is an important subject for Philip and one she wants to get right, and share to the most people. She makes the reader care about every character from her dog, to trappers, scientists, and engineers. And of course the animals, who are so interesting, and so important.

My nephew is what he calls "A Friend to the animals". I Facetimed him numerous times while reading this sharing facts and stories about beavers which he enjoyed. This was his favorite book he told me, I have to agree. This is the first book that I have read by the author, but not the last and I look forward to reading more. A book that belongs under the Christmas tree, or under a spruce tree by a small pond in the woods. I really can't recommend this enough.

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This was a bit of a wild card read for me - but I really enjoyed it. I also have to admit that I enjoyed the 'how' chapters/section at the end almost as much as the actual content chapters themselves. I really value and appreciate how the author highlighted her sources and really seemed to authentically and truthfully present them for examination in her work.

I loved the various approaches she took in exploring beavers at home and abroad, but mostly at home in and around New England. The book is really focused on this area but draws on examples and stories from other regions to support her theories and show that trends are present elsewhere too - or, conversely - how various regions differ.

I enjoyed this work and it has encouraged me to read more about the natural world.

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An interesting read. I’m not sure most people realize how important beaver once were. To the world economy. The style of writing was perhaps a little too lyrical. I think in general I prefer a more straightforward approach to this sort of topic. Still a very worthwhile book.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing an ARC copy for my review.

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An entertaining educational illuminating and at times uncomfortable read. Did not realize that there was so many beavers in North America before colonization and heartbreaking to read about how people were so short sighted and decimated the beaver populations..

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The author presented extensive research on the history and the economic benefit the beaver has brought to America. A lot was learned about the fur trades. For anyone interested an important rodent in America's history, a well written must read.

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