Bookmarks Issue: 

The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise

A-SwampIn 1838, the Everglades, south Florida’s extensive wetland, housed untold avian species and a handful of white inhabitants. By 2000, south Florida had more than seven million inhabitants, only 10 percent of its initial wading bird population, half the original Everglades—and the largest ecosystem restoration project in U.S. history. Grunwald, an award-winning Washington Post reporter, explores how the Everglades evolved from a seemingly useless marshland into a contested landscape in which naïve engineers and greedy developers, politicians, and sugar interests drained, tamed, and misused the land. From the Ice Age through the Clinton and Bush administrations, the Everglades reveals a story of hubris, uncurbed development, and environmental ruin—and a last ditch effort to reclaim the land.
Simon & Schuster. 464 pages. $27. ISBN: 0743251059

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Grunwald doesn’t so much advance an argument as describe and relate facts so clearly and abundantly that a clear thesis emerges. … The exploitation and greed documented in his important saga will incite anger, but Grunwald remains profoundly engaged, never enraged, blending exhaustive research and superlative prose into a book as valuable as a week in Fort Lauderdale, at one-hundredth the price." Andy Solomon

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"… an engaging, readable and insightful study of Florida’s Everglades, how it got to its present state and what is left of it. He also warns that unless development is controlled, the end of the Everglades is in sight." Jules Wagman

New Republic 4 of 5 Stars
"The Swamp is a tremendous book—impressive in scope, well researched and well written, rich in history yet urgently relevant to current events, altogether deserving of laurels. … My big complaint is that Grunwald’s analysis of human interaction with the Everglades reflects what I once called the Fallacy of Environmental Correctness." Gregg Easterbrook

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"One of Mr. Grunwald’s virtues is his clear-eyed refusal to impose present-day standards on past behavior. … There is a feverish quality to the endless engineering assaults, the mad plans to rechannel the circulatory system of the Everglades, the blind determination to ignore the forces of nature." William Grimes

Miami Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The hubris and greed of drainage boosters, land speculators, engineers, railroad and sugar barons and developers oozes from the pages. … To his credit, Grunwald lets the facts of the ecological collapse and unintended consequences of explosive growth and flood control projects tell the story rather than letting the book deteriorate into an anti-progress screed." Larry Lebowitz

St. Petersburg Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Important modern figures such as Appelbaum rate only passing mentions, and the controversies over the rock-mining reservoirs and the deep wells get no more than a couple of sentences." Craig Pittman

Critical Summary

The Swamp emerged from a four-part series that Grunwald wrote for the Washington Post in 2002, which focused on the $8 billion plan to restore the Everglades. From there, Grunwald fleshed out the Everglades’s contested history. Critics laud The Swamp as an informative, beautifully researched and written tale that links social, political, and environmental history to current events. Many commented on Grunwald’s finesse in describing the dreamers and schemers who sold Florida swampland, the engineers who tried to buck nature’s forces. A few thought that Grunwald paid too little attention to current controversies, did not adequately explain today’s Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, and assumed a condition of ecological purity to pre-European contact Florida. These are minor complaints; Grunwald’s unbiased story will provoke outrage over our squandered "river of grass."