Losing Eden


Losing Eden

An Environmental History of the American West

New Edition

Sara Dant 
Foreword by Tom S. Udall

Environment and Region in the American West Series

368 pages
23 photographs, 6 illustrations, 13 maps, index


June 2023


$29.95 Pre-order

About the Book

Historical narratives often concentrate on wars and politics while omitting the central role and influence of the physical stage on which history is carried out. In Losing Eden award-winning historian Sara Dant debunks the myth of the American West as “Eden” and instead embraces a more realistic and complex understanding of a region that has been inhabited and altered by people for tens of thousands of years.

In this lively narrative Dant discusses the key events and topics in the environmental history of the American West, from the Beringia migration, Columbian Exchange, and federal territorial acquisition to post–World War II expansion, resource exploitation, and current climate change issues. Losing Eden is structured around three important themes: balancing economic success and ecological destruction, creating and protecting public lands, and achieving sustainability.

This revised and updated edition incorporates the latest science and thinking. It also features a new chapter on climate change in the American West, a larger reflection on the region’s multicultural history, updated current events, expanded and diversified suggested readings, along with new maps and illustrations. Cohesive and compelling, Losing Eden recognizes the central role of the natural world in the history of the American West and provides important analysis on the continually evolving relationship between the land and its inhabitants.

Author Bio

Sara Dant is a Brady Presidential Distinguished Professor of history at Weber State University. She is the coauthor of the two-volume Encyclopedia of American National Parks. Tom S. Udall is a former United States senator and representative of New Mexico who has been a strong advocate for renewable energy, the environment, and conservation efforts.


“Sara Dant has created something seemingly unattainable: a one-volume book—full of incisive analysis, wrapped in unforgettable storytelling—that covers the deep environmental history of the American West from twenty-five thousand years ago to today. She delivers an important cautionary tale about the relationship between people and nature, always asking a simple question: ‘At what cost?’ I learned something on every page.”—Dayton Duncan, author of The National Parks: America’s Best Idea

“Sara Dant’s Losing Eden is an environmental masterpiece about the American region she holds near and dear to her heart. Whether Dant tackles the problems of aridity, massive wildfires, or climate change, she hits all the right notes. . . . This is a brilliant book, learned to its core, that will stand the test of time. Environmental history at its absolute finest. Highly recommended!”—Douglas Brinkley, Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities and professor of history at Rice University

“This is environmental history at its best. Losing Eden offers a masterful narrative that explores broad-ranging themes and the historical connections, tensions, and contradictions that have defined the vibrant and diverse peoples and environments of the American West, as well as their relationship to one another.”—Eladio B. Bobadilla, assistant professor of history and Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino studies at the University of Kentucky

“This is history as it should be written, focusing not only on people but also on the natural environment as it changes through time. The result of that complex interaction has been a saga of conflict, hope, failure, conservation, and sustainability. Everyone who lives in the West should know its environmental history, and the rest of the world should know it too because it offers important lessons for humanity. This book is big in scale and rich in detail, yet written with economy and grace, with a scholar’s judicious understanding, and with a lover’s passion for the place.”—Donald Worster, author of Shrinking the Earth: The Rise and Decline of American Abundance

“In this fresh take on the history of the American West, Sara Dant tells us why ‘the West as Eden’ has always been a false illusion’ and how truth-telling of our past might resolve twenty-first-century issues and even provide hope for our future.”—Rosalyn LaPier, author of Invisible Reality: Storytellers, Storytakers, and the Supernatural World of the Blackfeet

Losing Eden is no ordinary book. Dant begins with a simple question: At what environmental cost did Americans develop the largely arid West? In answer, she offers an engaging, provocative interpretation of the region’s environmental and Indigenous history, from the primordial past to the present, with an eye toward the future in an era of climate change.”—Marsha Weisiger, author of Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Foreword by Tom Udall
Introduction: The Nature of the West
Chapter 1: Losing “Eden”
Chapter 2: The West Transformed
Chapter 3: Claiming and Taming the Land
Chapter 4: The Great Barbecue
Chapter 5: The Pivotal Decade
Chapter 6: Conservation and Preservation
Chapter 7: Roll On
Chapter 8: Booming the West
Chapter 9: Building Consensus
Chapter 10: Environmental Backlash and the New West
Chapter 11: The Last Frontier
Epilogue: Our Lonely Planet

Also of Interest