Embattled Wilderness: The Natural and Human History of Robinson Forest and the Fight for Its Future

*This page provides a description of the book and recent reviews with links.

The Embattled Wilderness
The Natural and Human History of Robinson Forest and the Fight for Its Future

Erik Reece, and James J. Krupa
Foreword by Wendell Berry

An imperiled forest—and the case for saving it

This book demonstrates the importance and beauty of the seamless integration of humanities and natural science. It epitomizes the goal of the ENS program to foster scholarship at the nexus of economics, environment, and society.

Excerpt from Foreword by Wendell Berry
“No place, no building or garden or park or farm or natural wonder, is any longer safe from destruction. This is because, by the determination of industry, the connivance of our institutions, and with the tacit consent evidently of most people, every place or thing has become merely a property exactly equaled by its market price. The inestimable service of this book, then, is to restore to a renowned and much-loved place its membership, both natural and human, and its history.”


Robinson Forest in eastern Kentucky is one of our most important natural landscapes—and one of the most threatened. Covering fourteen thousand acres of some of the most diverse forest region in temperate North America, it is a haven of biological richness within an ever-expanding desert created by mountaintop removal mining. Written by two people with deep knowledge of Robinson Forest, The Embattled Wilderness engagingly portrays this singular place as it persuasively appeals for its protection.

The land comprising Robinson Forest was given to the University of Kentucky in 1923 after it had been clear-cut of old-growth timber. Over decades, the forest has regrown, and its remarkable ecosystem has supported both teaching and research. But in the recent past, as tuition has risen and state support has faltered, the university has considered selling logging and mining rights to parcels of the forest, leading to a student-led protest movement and a variety of other responses.

In The Embattled Wilderness Erik Reece, an environmental writer, and James J. Krupa, a naturalist and evolutionary biologist, alternate chapters on the cultural and natural history of the place. While Reece outlines the threats to the forest and leads us to new ways of thinking about its value, Krupa assembles an engaging record of the woodrats and darters, lichens and maples, centipedes and salamanders that make up the forest’s ecosystem. It is a readable yet rigorous, passionate yet reasoned summation of what can be found, or lost, in Robinson Forest and other irreplaceable places.

David Gessner, author of Return of the Osprey: A Season of Flight and Wonder

The Embattled Wilderness is a vitally important book—not because Robinson Forest is the Grand Canyon or some other wilderness wonder but precisely because it is not. Less spectacular and less protected, the forest in many ways embodies the story of every embattled piece of land in this country. This is the sort of book we should all be writing to protect the places we love. I think it’s an important book, a timely book, an at once passionate and objective book, and a model for other books that start with local fights and spread outward.”

Ronald Eller, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Kentucky

"Focused on a fourteen-thousand-acre forest in eastern Kentucky, The Embattled Wilderness addresses current issues in Appalachian studies but also speaks to larger global issues of environmental quality, institutional decision making, interdisciplinary knowledge, pedagogy, and cultural values. It's a beautifully written narrative of the history and ecology of an island of natural diversity surrounded by a desolate landscape left over after mountaintop removal coal mining. Reece and Krupa combine the perspectives of both the sciences and the humanities to break unusual ground in environmental studies by helping the reader understand the vital connections between the natural and cultural contexts of a place."

About the Authors

Erik Reece is an assistant professor of English in the Division of Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Media at the University of Kentucky and the author of several books including Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness: Radical Strip Mining and the Devastation of Appalachia.

James J. Krupa is special faculty in the Department of Biology at the University of Kentucky.

You can order a copy of Embattled Wilderness through the Morris Bookshop:


Reviews (linked through the items listed here)

  1. Lexington-Herald Leader description of the book (May 7, 2013) by Tom Eblen


  2. Mary Popham, Appalachian Heritage (Summer 2013) 

  3. "Beseiged Terrain" by Gerald Thurmond, Southern Spaces (Oct. 2013). This is a very detailed article with useful links and background      information on Robinson Forest. 

  4. Amanda E. Sharp, Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries (Nov. 2013)


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