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In 1614, explorer John Smith sailed into what was to become Boston Harbor and referred to the wild lands and waters around him as "the Paradise of all these parts." Within fifteen years, the Puritans were developing the tadpoleshaped Shawmut Peninsula, as members of the Massachusett tribe fled. Now, nearly four hundred years later, one must wonder what remains of John Smith's "Paradise."
Equipped with wit, intellect, and an innate curiosity about people and places, John Hanson Mitchell strolls through Boston's streets, chronicling the nonhuman inhabitants and surprisingly diverse plant life, as well as the eccentric characters he meets at various turns. Using his modern observations as a starting point, he tells the fascinating stories of the tribal leaders, naturalists, community activists, and organizations who worked to preserve nature in the city over generations, from the Victory Gardens of the Fenway to the expansive woods of Franklin Park.
But much of the history is in the land itself. As he battles traffic on notorious Route 128, Mitchell considers the ancient origins of the rocks that line the highway and those that form the city's foundation. A walk across Boston Common calls to mind the Tremount Hills, flattened by seventeenthcentury newcomers; only Beacon Hill remains. A stroll through the Back Bay allows Mitchell to imagine the Charles River, so polluted by sewage that it became a public nuisance and was partially covered over with a massive nineteenthcentury landfill. With this natural history in mind, Mitchell explores both ancient and new green space from Chelsea to South Boston, including the greenway formed by the Big Dig.
Endlessly readable and full of personality, The Paradise of All These Parts offers Boston visitors and residents alike a whole new perspective on one of America's oldest cities.
A surprising and gracefully written exploration of Boston's true nature. If you love this city, you will love this book.—Eric Jay Dolin, author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America
"Hands-on and eloquent - a lover's rhapsody."—Edward Hoagland
"Like Vladimir Nabokov, John Hanson Mitchell is a writer with an eye for nature's curious details, rather than a naturalist who practices writing. His new natural history of Boston is actually more a history of naturalists, explorers, conservationists and others at play on nature's grand stage with lots of juicy subplots and a large cast of engaging eccentrics. Irresistible."—Christopher W. Leahy, chair of the Massachusetts Audubon Society and author of The Birdwatcher's Companion to North American Birdlife
"John Hanson Mitchell tells the story of how geology, nature, natives and new arrivals have continually made and remade the place we call Boston. His amiable tale rambles easily from rocks to rivers to red light districts, interweaving natural and human history in a way that's quietly but deeply meaningful."—Ginger Strand, author of Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power, and Lies
"Like Thoreau, Mitchell has a genius for sauntering, and I can't imagine a better rambling companion. "—David Gessner, author of Soaring with Fidel: An Osprey Odyssey from Cape Cod to Cuba and Beyond
"A wonderful piece of work: lively, thought-provoking and totally absorbing. The city of Boston has been chopped to pieces, riddled with tunnels, and surrounded by fill, but as Mitchell reveals in The Paradise of All These Parts, it is still a place of wonder."—Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War