Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter
In Eager, environmental journalist Ben Goldfarb reveals that our modern idea of what a healthy landscape looks like and how it functions is wrong, distorted by the fur trade that once trapped out millions of beavers from North America’s lakes and rivers. The consequences of losing beavers were profound: streams eroded, wetlands dried up, and species from salmon to swans lost vital habitat. Today, a growing coalition of “Beaver Believers”—including scientists, ranchers, and passionate citizens—recognizes that ecosystems with beavers are far healthier, for humans and non-humans alike, than those without them. From the Nevada deserts to the Scottish highlands, Believers are now hard at work restoring these industrious rodents to their former haunts. Eager is a powerful story about one of the world’s most influential species, how North America was colonized, how our landscapes have changed over the centuries, and how beavers can help us fight drought, flooding, wildfire, extinction, and the ravages of climate change. Ultimately, it’s about how we can learn to coexist with our fellow travelers on this planet.
Reviews and Praise
WINNER of the 2019 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.
“A marvelously humor-laced page-turner about the science of semi-aquatic rodents… Goldfarb has built a masterpiece of a treatise on the natural world, how that world stands now and how it could be in the future if we protect beaver populations.” — Washington Post, which also included Eager on its list of 50 notable non-fiction books in 2018.
“The book lodges itself among the ranks of the best sort of environmental journalism.” — Boston Globe
“Written with clarity, intelligence, and humor, this engaging book will appeal to basically everyone.”―Forbes
“Impressively researched, charmingly written, absolutely persuasive. . . .Goldfarb makes his argument with a quiet power and deceptively breezy writing that paints a vivid picture of how the various inhabitants of the natural world rely on one other. Take one vital piece out and the whole thing could collapse.”―The Seattle Times
“Eager takes us inside the amazing world of nature’s premier construction engineer…and shows us why the restoration of an animal almost driven to extinction is producing wide-ranging, positive effects on our landscapes, ecology, and even our economy.” — National Geographic
“Filled with hard facts and fascinating people (and animals), this is an authoritative, vigorous call for understanding and action.” — Kirkus, Starred Review
“This witty, engrossing book will be a classic from the day it is published. No one who loves the landscape of America will ever look at it quite the same way after understanding just how profoundly it has been shaped by the beaver. And even the most pessimistic among us will feel strong hope at the prospect that so much damage can be so easily repaired if we learn to live with this most remarkable of creatures.”—Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
“Eager is a revelation! If we only let them live, beavers are the solution to many of our nation’s ecological problems. Ben Goldfarb’s wonderful book will make you an even bigger fan of these intelligent, inventive, resilient rodents than (if you have any sense) you are already—and might just tail-slap a politician or two into realizing how much we need them to restore our critical wetlands.”—Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus
“Beavers are easy to caricature, and they’re a bit comical. But they’ve got their serious side, too. European settlers who cut, plowed, and shot their way west also trapped the country nearly clean of mammals. Almost killing off beavers—the continent’s major water engineers and dam builders—caused widespread problems for wildlife and people. Now, though, beavers are on the rebound, and the how and who of that story, as told in Eager, will give you a new and completely different concept of the continent.”—Carl Safina, author of The View From Lazy Point and Beyond Words
“Eager is the stunning story of beavers—so integral to early human landscapes of North America—and their function in support of people and later the American economy. Literally nature’s “Corps of Engineers,” beavers today play vital roles in restoring watersheds, landscapes, and flood control throughout the continent. To view them just as a cute animal with a flat tail is to trivialize a central player in both history and modern day landscape ecology.”—Thomas E. Lovejoy, University Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University
“Eager brilliantly presents the role of the American beaver in shaping the landscape of our continent and preserving its ecological integrity and diversity—and does so in clear, readable prose. My Native ancestors—before the cultural disruptions of the fur trade—saw the beaver people as a nation worthy of the greatest respect. I believe that any thoughtful person who reads this book will come away with a much deeper appreciation of this sacred being’s place in the America of the past and, we hope, the future.”—Joseph Bruchac, coauthor of Keepers of the Earth
“There are a number of books that focus on a single species, but the amazing story of the beaver, as told by Ben Goldfarb, is in a class all its own. Dear reader, prepare yourself to be awed by a rodent!”—Tom Wessels, author of Reading the Forested Landscape and Granite, Fire, and Fog
“One of the best things that can be said about a book is that it is both necessary and good. Not many are, but this one is.”—Richard Manning, coauthor of Go Wild
“In Eager Ben Goldfarb demonstrates that beavers are more than just a fascinating and mysterious rodent—they’re also an ‘animal that doubles as an ecosystem.’ Optimistic and exciting, the book suggests a future where rather than destroying nature, or trying to dominate it with heavy-handed management, we collaborate with species like beavers to create a wilder, more diverse, and surprising world. Eagerwill make a Beaver Believer out of you!”—Emma Marris, fellow at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability; author of The Rambunctious Garden
“Beavers do matter. Contrary to the popular image of beavers as trouble-making ‘varmints’ on the land, these hardworking animals play many critical roles in nature, including rewetting creeks in dry country. That might seem counterintuitive—beavers are famous dam builders after all—but as Ben Goldfarb explains in his riveting new book, the engineering prowess of these mighty rodents is essential to healthy riparian areas. And they do their work for free!”—Courtney White, author of Grass, Soil, Hope and Two Percent Solutions for the Planet
“In this beautifully written tribute to beavers, Ben Goldfarb paints a vivid and captivating portrait of two of nature’s most fascinating species, Castor canadensis and Castor fiber. Seamlessly combining history, ecology, biology, politics, and compelling stories of those battling over the proper role of beavers in today’s anthropocentric world, Eager resoundingly proves that these magnificent rodents do indeed matter a great deal. In so doing, this gem of a book offers hope not only for the beavers’ future, but also our own.”—Eric Jay Dolin, author of Fur, Fortune, and Empire and Black Flags, Blue Waters