Local author Jordan Fisher Smith gives talk in GV | TheUnion.com

Local author Jordan Fisher Smith gives talk in GV

Local writer Jordan Fisher Smith, author of a new book, Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight Over Controlling Nature, will speak at 7:30 p.m. today at Center for the Arts in Grass Valley. He will be joined by Jason Mark, editor-in-chief of Sierra Magazine.
Photo by Zdenek Mlika |

Nature Noir author Jordan Fisher Smith will talk about the writing life and his new book, Engineering Eden, at 7:30 p.m. today at the Center for the Arts in Grass Valley.

“Some stories just won’t leave you alone, and this one, about the death of Harry Eugene Walker, was one of them.” said Smith in talking about the focus of Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight Over Controlling Nature. “It kept drifting into my life in bits and pieces for years until I capitulated and sat down to write it.”

“Decades, actually,” added Smith, a Nevada County resident and bestselling author.

Smith was talking recently between stints on the road touring Engineering Eden, which covers the events surrounding the fatal grizzly attack on Walker in the middle of the festivities surrounding the Centennial of Yellowstone National Park in 1972.

When a lawsuit against the federal government by the dead man’s family went to trial in 1975 in Los Angeles, it became a referendum on how wild animals and nature as a whole were being managed in the national parks.

“It’s something of a courtroom drama,” says Smith. “With flashbacks to all the deaths and disputes between scientists that brought the assembled cast to court.”

Two of the greatest wildlife biologists of the 20th century testified against each other at the Walker trial, says Smith. At issue was what to do when nature became unnatural because of ill-advised human tinkering.

Smith is the author of the bestselling memoir Nature Noir, about his 14 years as a park ranger near Auburn. He has been getting national attention for his new one, too.

“An intensely reported, rousingly readable and ambitiously envisioned book,” said a July 15 Wall Street Journal review. “Smith’s book will draw you in with his passion, thoughtfulness and first-rate story telling,” said the Seattle Times in August.

Fans of Nature Noir will recognize Smith’s style as he tells these stories of people in extremis in nature in Engineering Eden — a strange mixture of a lyrical nature writer like Terry Tempest Williams and a cool, “just the facts, ma’am” voice of true-crime nonfiction. “I can’t make up my mind whether Jordan Fisher Smith is John Muir at the crime scene or Elmore Leonard with a backpack,” said author Mike Davis of Smith in 2005.

In the second half of tonight’s event, Smith will be joined for a conversation onstage by Jason Mark, editor-in-chief of Sierra magazine, and the audience will be invited to participate. Mark is the author of the highly regarded nonfiction 2015 book Satellites in the High Country, which plumbs similar themes to those in Engineering Eden.

Can any wilderness be called a “natural” area in the face of climate change and mass extinction? ask the authors. How can we deepen our relationship with nature during such a time as this?

Since no part of the world is untouched by human effects, should human beings reach in and take total control of nature—become it’s engineers?

Both author’s books will be on sale and Smith and Mark will sign them, thanks to Grass Valley merchant, The Bookseller. Also, 20 percent of all book sale profits go back to the Center for the Arts, located at 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley.

Tickets, available online, at the box office, or at the door the night of the event, are $20 for Center members, $22 nonmembers, and $12 students. For more information call 530-274-8384 or visit http://thecenterforthearts.org

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