The Bears Ears: A Human History of America’s Most Endangered Wilderness

Norton. Feb. 2021. 352p. ISBN 9781324004813. $27.95. NAT HIST
In this “saga full of contradictions, characters, and conflicts,” adventure writer Roberts (The Lost World of the Old Ones) returns to his beloved Bears Ears, the swath of desert in Southeastern Utah known for its scenery and cultural significance. With his rambling style and multiplicity of sources, Roberts “jumps around the ages,” seamlessly blending memoir, history, and reportage to describe the region’s human story. The controversy over national monument status for the area is a key topic, and the author’s argument in favor of protection is both nuanced and convincing. As in his previous books on the Southwest, the influence of the Anasazi (i.e., the Ancestral Puebloans who migrated from the area in the 12th and 13th centuries, leaving traces of cliff dwellings, art, and artifacts) is felt in each chapter. Roberts offers appreciation for Diné chief Manuelito and Paiute chief Posey, while also including sketches of Mormon settlers, ranchers turned archaeologists, pothunters/culture thieves, uranium miners, and many more. Insight into the author’s struggles with recurrent cancer lends a personal touch.
VERDICT One last fond look at a favorite place? A swan song of a prolific author? Roberts adds inviting details throughout this must-read book, adding poignancy to an already fascinating read.
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