Praise for Dreaming the Biosphere

News flash: Dreaming the Biosphere has won best general adult nonfiction of the year in the Arizona Book Awards, administered by the Arizona Book Publishing Association!

Dreaming the Biosphere has also been selected by ForeWord Review as the Gold Medal winner in the Environment category in its Book of the Year awards, which recognize the best of independent publishing!

•        •        •

From Booklist (starred review):

Heralded as a grand scientific experiment in the early 1990s, Biosphere 2 fell out of favor and was relegated to pseudoscience at best and man’s folly at worst. Reider’s impeccably researched analysis of the project and the people intimately involved in it begins decades before with a group of disaffected intellectuals and artists who sought to change the world and “mend the rift between humans and nature.” The wandering troupe in the “Theater of All Possibilities” managed to develop serious agricultural projects around the world while performing plays as an integral part of their business plan. Thanks to the wealth of one member, they were able to harness their vision and gain the support of the scientific community in constructing a self-contained biosphere to mimic life on earth and collect data for future planetary colonization. Reider sees Biosphere 2’s complicated success and failure as far more than a clash of science and myth or data and personality. She writes a fable of epic dreams burdened by superegos and drama that could not be contained. Riveting, surprising, and in the end devastatingly human, this is a saga for the ages.

•        •        •

From the San Francisco Book Review:

With reverence and pizzazz, Rebecca Reider has unveiled Dreaming the Biosphere…. Her book is an inspiration, a canvas to build upon for those bold enough to undertake the effort and research to better understand our living environment.

•        •        •

From the Tucson Weekly:

After reading Rebecca Reider’s beautiful and balanced account of Biosphere 2 and the people who participated in its construction, abandonment and rediscovery, I feel better knowing that the whole enterprise wasn’t in vain… Reider does right by them, re-framing the enterprise as a hair-raising adventure and a triumph of the eco-minded will that starkly illuminates what it means to live in (and out of) harmony with nature when nature is severely limited….

Dreaming the Biosphere is a wonderful read, offering both narrative pleasure and thought-provoking analysis. Arizona historians and environmental academics will appreciate a positive, but not at all hagiographic, take on this oft-ridiculed test outside of Tucson, while anyone with a taste for edgy nonfiction will love the Robinson Crusoe-like spirit displayed by the biospherians. (Full review here)

•        •        •

From Scott Slovic, Professor of Literature and Environment, University of Nevada, Reno:

Rebecca Reider has created a narrative that often reads like a novel (eccentric and eloquent characters acting out their foolish and fabulous dreams), while at the same time placing the story’s people, events, and settings in the context of the history of science and American frontier and counter-cultural history.

Reider has studied and synthesized much of the existing work on Biosphere 2, but she has gone much further than any other versions of the Biosphere 2 story in contextualizing the story in scientific and cultural history and in providing an intimate (yet balanced) version of the story through the interviews she conducted with more than three dozen designers, managers, scientists, and others associated with Biosphere 2.

As an environmental studies scholar with a strong interest in environmental literature and journalism, I find that this book appeals to both my academic interests and my interest in well-told stories…. The author has been privileged to have special access to both the Biosphere 2 facility and the many participants in this colorful story…. what’s presented in this book is a rare glimpse into the backstory of one of the most famous and infamous efforts in the field of environmental studies—a story that overlaps thoroughly with the story of the American counter culture from the 1960s to the present.

I find both the scholarship and the writing here to be superior…. The style of this book is extremely accessible. Though carefully researched and fastidiously presented, the narrative reads like a novel. While general readers and academics alike might have been tempted to pick up earlier narratives by the Biosphere 2 staff members out of curiosity, they’ll turn to this new volume for an authoritative and honest treatment of the meaning of the project.

I think Reider’s book will help to “clear the air,” will enable readers within the academy and beyond, to learn from the Biosphere 2 experience and to discuss the merits and problems of that project. It was, quite simply, the grandest effort ever made at simulating the planet’s ecological systems, and, as Reider clearly demonstrates, what was learned from the experiment is just how complex Earth actually is, how far beyond the human capacity to imitate. Reider’s book stands out from the existing books on this subject for its special combination of intimacy and detachment.

Biosphere 2 represented an extraordinary effort to simulate Earth systems. I can imagine a variety of classes in environmental studies making use of this book, which sheds light on the challenges of not just describing natural processes but recreating these processes, especially when an ecosystem has begun to degrade. This book is relevant to sustainability, environmental modeling, environmental history and history of science, environmental philosophy, environmental engineering, and various fields—like American cultural history—not directly associated with the environment. It’s also an impressive model of environmental journalism.

•        •        •

From Dr. Tony Burgess, botanist and 20 year staff member at Biosphere 2, as ecosystem designer and then Columbia University professor:

It is consistently humbling, occasionally painful, and yet ultimately therapeutic to be confronted with the irrational contradictions in one’s most cherished work. For almost two decades I invested energy and dreams in Biosphere 2; thus I’m sensitive about how its story is told. Reider created a useful reckoning which I want the rising generations to read.

She took on our toughest issues in epistemology, ethics and meaning, crafting a synthesis that offers global relevance to the hard-won lessons. She guides the reader to the conclusion that the problems we faced in designing and managing a self-organizing, human-inhabited biosphere are essentially those that confront globalizing humanity. The story is told with the nuanced complexity and paradoxical questioning that it deserves…. In tandem with her critical analysis, Rebecca Reider captures some of the excitement and idealism that we felt, given a chance to do something extraordinary. She skillfully narrates how the Biosphere 2 crew became deeply, personally connected with air, food and water cycles as they were confronted with low oxygen, hunger, and internal conflict.

This history could be told cynically as a tale of seduction and hubris, which would dismiss the sincere investments of hope and creativity that made Biosphere 2 possible. Such an interpretation would not serve the future. Instead Reider committed to hard work of logic and compassion, framing the story as a search for meaningful commitment in a postmodern society where economic demands threaten the capacity of our planetary biosphere. The description of eight hungry people trying to decide how to manage the wilder parts of their biosphere to stabilize atmospheric chemistry, provide more food, and somehow preserve the integrity of a rainforest and a coral reef will be disturbingly familiar to conservation biologists.

Reider also critiques environmentalist thought…. Those interested in human-nature dialogue will find this book thought-provoking. Dreaming the Biosphere provides a fine introduction to the knowledge needed by those who would become mindful stewards of their biosphere. Reider’s scholarship frames the narrative, showing how beliefs and cultural themes influenced the design and management of human-biosphere interactions. This makes the book’s relevance far more poignant, because it provides keen insight into the factors shaping future relationships among Americans and the living landscapes they inhabit.

There are other lessons useful for those who manage challenging projects…. Members of creative teams will appreciate this case study of what could be termed spiritual management – practices that motivate and focus human commitment at the highest levels. Reider describes an audacious social structure anchored in shared projects, theater practice, and a charismatic visionary well versed in American corporate culture. Those familiar with Integral Psychology will appreciate her account of a project that forced thinking into higher levels in order to cope with more complexity, and how the participants responded when demands for more integrative thinking exceeded their abilities. I include myself among those whose capacities were whelmed. The analyses are done graciously, with compassion for the characters; yet the critical problems and misunderstandings are diagnosed clearly. “Biosphere 2 was testing not just an ecological question but a social question as well: what human organizational structure could possibly manage a complex ecological world?” (p. 126).

Rebecca Reider asks the important question: “what would it mean for people to truly get along, with each other and with all the other life forms on the planet?” (p. 4). With the recognition that we live in the Anthropocene, a period when human needs substantially influence Earth’s ecosystems, Dreaming the Biosphere offers timely lessons within an engaging narrative. It is a well-crafted contribution guiding us to become wiser crew members of our planetary biosphere. I am grateful that she devoted so much time and thought to create a useful outcome from our endeavors.