Sweet in Tooth and Claw

Stories of Generosity and Cooperation in the Natural World

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Pub Date 06 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 07 Mar 2023

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What if Nature is more cooperative, and less competitive, than we think? 

A follow-up to Kristin Ohlson’s previous book, The Soil Will Save Us (Rodale 2014)Sweet in Tooth and Claw extends the concept of cooperation in nature to the life-affirming connections among microbes, plants, fungi, insects, birds, and animals – including humans—in ecosystems around the globe.


For centuries, people have debated whether nature is mostly competitive -- as Darwin theorized and the poet Tennyson described as “red in tooth and claw”—or innately cooperative, as many ancient and indigenous peoples believed. In the last 100 or so years, a growing gang of scientists have studied the mutually beneficial interactions that are believed to benefit every species on earth. This book is full of stories of generosity – not competition -- in nature. It is a testament to the importance of a healthy biodiversity, and dispels the widely accepted premise of survival of the fittest.


Ohlson tells stories of trees and mushrooms, beavers and bees. There are chapters on a wide variety of ecosystems and portraits of the people who learn from them: forests (the work of Suzanne Simard); scientists who study the interaction of bees and flowers in the Rocky Mountains; the discovery of bacteria and protozoa in the mid-1600s by Dutch scientist Antoni von Leeuwenhoek; ranchers, government agency personnel, and scientists working together to restore wetlands from deserts in northeastern Nevada; and more. It is a rich and fascinating book full of amazing stories, sure to change your perspective on the natural world.

What if Nature is more cooperative, and less competitive, than we think? 

A follow-up to Kristin Ohlson’s previous book, The Soil Will Save Us (Rodale 2014)Sweet in Tooth and Claw extends the...

A Note From the Publisher

National publicity campaign including print and digital media. Author tour to be announced.

National publicity campaign including print and digital media. Author tour to be announced.

Advance Praise

"Ohlson looks at nature through the lens of cooperation, from the intricate workings of one-celled creatures all the way to entire forests and cities (above and below ground). This deeply-reported and stunning book holds up a mirror to us humans, showing how we thrive when we embrace nature’s generous spirit. ”  - Judith Schwartz, author of The Reindeer Chronicles and Other Inspiring Stories of Working With Nature to Heal the Earth.

“Deftly weaving together science, social thought, and a remarkable cast of characters, Ohlson’s book uncovers the marvelous partnerships that make life possible, showing that cooperation, not competition, is the key to survival.” - Elizabeth Carlisle, Assistant Professor, Environmental Studies, UC Santa Barbara

"The author has a clear storytelling style." - Kirkus Reviews 

"Ohlson looks at nature through the lens of cooperation, from the intricate workings of one-celled creatures all the way to entire forests and cities (above and below ground). This deeply-reported...

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Kristin Ohlson is an author and freelance journalist in Portland, Oregon, who has published articles in the New York Times, Orion, Discover, Gourmet, Oprah, and many other print and online publications. Her magazine work has been anthologized in Best American Science Writing and Best American Science Writing. 

Ohlson’s last book was The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers and Foodies are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet, which the Los Angeles Times called “a hopeful book and a necessary one…. a fast-paced and entertaining shot across the bow of mainstream thinking about land use.” She appeared in the award-winning documentary film, Kiss the Ground, to speak about the connection between soil health and climate health. 


Kristin Ohlson is an author and freelance journalist in Portland, Oregon, who has published articles in the New York Times, Orion, Discover, Gourmet, Oprah, and many other print and online...

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ISBN 9781952338090
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Featured Reviews

Charles Darwin’s theory of "survival of the fittest" introduced a competitive mindset about nature—the strongest survive at the expense of the weak. In Sweet in Tooth and Claw: Nature Is More Cooperative Than We Think, author Kristin Ohlson offers a different model, one of mutual support. Those plants and animals that are allowed to live in a spirit of mutualism—you help me, I’ll help you—are the ones who thrive. And it’s not just one species that ends up the victor; it’s all of us.

Published by Patagonia, this is a gorgeous book, full of color photos of natural systems, some that are working, some that have been dangerously changed—a lush rebuilt waterway in Nevada that replaced an arid landscape; sheep chomping on weeds, then fertilizing a California orchard; tiny Peruvian tomatoes that can be used to develop new varieties; parts of the Amazon rain forest destroyed for agriculture.

Readers who loved The Overstory and Braiding Sweetgrass will see some familiar names and themes here. The book is solidly researched, enjoyable to read, and packed with innovation and hope for the future of humans and the planet. I thank Patagonia and NetGalley for a review copy in exchange for an honest review. See full review on Psychology Today:https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-is-well/202204/sweet-in-tooth-and-claw

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Writing Style: 5
Cover: 5
Enjoyment: 5
Buyable/Re-readable?: YES.

"So that we encourage and bolster the world’s hunger to thrive. And not just because that would benefit us, although it certainly would, but because other life-forms have as much right to flourish as we do and don’t exist for our use." - Kristin Ohlson

I want to thank everyone involved in getting this book made and to whomever allowed me the honor of reading it.

Just yes.
Read this book, devour it, soak it in, *listen* to it.

We need this research and information out there, because Kristin Ohlson reveals how everything is literally connected and amazing. Animals and bacteria and urban spaces and people and on and on, that we are not red in tooth in claw, but the opposite.. It will resonate with those who appreciate and revere nature, those who respect and love it, those who feel a connection to flora and fauna and Earth and life, it'll resonate with farmers and scientists and just...yes. The photos are a wonderful compliment to the text, some being downright stunning. The people Ohlson chose to interview, follow, include, etc are essential and so very important, the kind of not-all-heroes-wear-capes sort. They're the people we need for the change(s) we need and they're doing such phenomenal work already. This book simply instills HOPE. She gives proper credit, extensive amounts of material, and writes in such a fashion that the book isn't dry or dull; her personality and vivacious passion sing though the pages (I want to meet her. I need to meet her.). The pace, the style, the content, they're all A+, *chef's kiss*, perfect. Important and vital and magical. I geeked out over parts (tree language, hello??) and was constantly chattering about what I was reading to my husband. There were fun quotes at the beginning of each chapter and a well-deserved near novella's work list of names of all involved. Honestly, I feel like I could write a novella myself about how much I appreciate and adore "Sweet in Tooth and Claw". This book makes Top Ten of 2022.

I will buy this book.
I would buy this book for library or classroom if I had one, I'll buy it for my nephew or niece.

"The whole point of our evolution, it seems to me, is for us to find a way to fit back into the world as it is, rather than try to remake the world to fit us." - Brian Doyle

p.s. Bonus points for zero typos! :D

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I have not stopped talking about this book since I started reading it. Thank you to Patagonia, Kristin Ohlson, and NetGalley for the ARC. I will be buying a copy to reread and highlight and annotate as soon as it is published later this year.

Sweet in Tooth and Claw is about the climate crisis and yet, unlike so much written on the subject, it is a deeply hopeful book. I finished feeling more connected and empowered after reading about the ubiquity of cooperation throughout the natural world and how humanity is reinserting itself into that web of mutuality. The writing gets four stars from me, not because it isn't good but because so many writers in this field write so beautifully (Rachel Carson, Robin Wall Kimmerer) the bar is impossibly high. The content is where the book shines. It is as if Ohlson has read all the scientific papers and talked to all the experts and then distills the information into an easily consumable format for lay people. Her translation services are priceless.

I continue to think about the ideas and examples presented in Sweet in Tooth and Claw. As a reader, it has stayed with me, evolving as I wrestle with the problems and possibilities it presents. A new perspective is a rare and startling gift. I often read to get a glimpse of someone else's point of view. This book changed my own point of view. Where I once saw competition, I see cooperation. Where I saw humanity as the villain, I now see we have the opportunity to be co-creators of a thriving ecosystem. Co-creation has been an import part of my theology so I am not sure why the idea of being co-creators in a physical sense was surprising, but it was. This book provided me an opportunity to weave together my understanding of the spiritual and physical world. Provides me, present tense, because I continue to chew on the rich gift of Ohlson's research and writing.

Thanks again to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the ARC. Please pre-order the book from your favorite indie bookstore today.

Review posted: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4760046683
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I really like the conclusion of this book about how many parts of nature work together to make life better for nature and us. I like the study, about the ranchers who have allowed nature to reclaim the river and create a huge ecosystem that not only stopped the river from drying out during dry season but also create happier cow and landscape and more wildlife. I also like the community that is trying to reclaim a river in the Bronx, which was diverted long ago in to the sewer, and now they want to let it flow and create a natural environment. But like all new ideas it takes time for people to understand why this approach is good.
The book is very interesting to read and the examples about why this approach works is broad enough to understand why and encourages involvement from the reader.

I want to thank Patagonia and NetGalley for this very interesting book about working with nature.

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This was unexpected in its format and content. I thought it was a little more like the science/animal books that I like to read and instead it was a little more of a mix of philosophical wonderings mixed with the natural exploration of our world.

I liked the inclusion of the pictures and the stories/essays as they rolled through Ohlson's learning. I would have actually liked it even better as a true photo essay or photo biography because some were just awe-inspiring!

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The NetGalley ebook was riddled with printing and formatting problems and therefore difficult to read, but I stuck with it and I'm glad I did. A charming, optimistic, and sorely-needed book that reminds us all that one of our greatest evolutionary advantages is cooperation and collaboration.

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I found Sweet in Tooth and Claw: Stories of Generosity and Cooperation in Nature enthralling. I had previously read a book about trees “talking” to each other and this book started in the same vein. Trees, we learn, are connected underground by mycorrhizae, or “fungus roots”, which are a composite structure of the fungi and the roots. And not just trees are connected this way. Ninety percent of land plants are connected by mycorrhizae! These connections are of mutual benefit to the plants and the fungi. The plants trade their carbon fuel to the fungi in exchange for water and nutrients.

Kristin Ohlson reveals mutualism of this sort throughout the book, giving examples of symbiosis and interconnectedness in several varied species. I found the book becoming more and more fascinating as it unfolded. Ohlson also describes ways in which we can become part of these relationships and benefit not only nature, but ourselves as well.

The book is well researched and written in an engaging style that makes its scientific material easy and enjoyable to read.
Thank you to Kristin Ohlson, Patagonia Publishing and Net Galley for the ARC.

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Kristin Ohlson's Sweet in Tooth and Claw takes the old adage of "...Nature, red in tooth and claw" and provides several examples of cooperation rather than competition in the natural world. From the Pacific Northwest the the Great Barrier Reef, there are lots of ways that nature has evolved to support cooperative growth.

Ohlson is not a scientist herself and credits those scientists whom she interviewed with endless patience for her many questions, and the resulting work is very accessible for the average person with an interest in nature but no PhD.

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