Reflections in Bullough’s Pond

Economy and Ecosystem in New England

From the Jacket:

From the vantage point of a nearby pond in Newton, Massachusetts, Diana Muir reconstructs an intriguing interpretation of New England’s natural history and the people who have lived there since pre-Columbian times. Taking a radically new way to illustrate for general readers the vast interrelationships between natural ecology and human economics, Muir weaves together an imaginative and dramatic account of the changes, massive and subtle, that successive generations of humankind and such animals as sheep and beavers have worked on the land.

Her compelling narrative takes us to a New England populated by individuals struggling to make a living from a land not generously endowed by nature. Yankee history, she argues, was a string of ecological crises from which the only escape was to create radical new solutions to apparently unsolvable problems. Young men and women coming of age in the 1790s faced a bleak future. In a time when farming was virtually the only occupation, a burgeoning population meant that there was not enough land to go around. Worse, such land as there was had been worn out by generations of careless use. With no prospects and no options, young men like Eli Whitney and Thomas Blanchard might have resigned themselves to a life of poverty. Instead, they set in motion an industrial revolutions, the power of which astonished the world.

‘Reflections in Bullough’s Pond’ is history on a grand scale. Drawing on scholarship in fields ranging from archeology to zoology, Muir offers an exhilarating tour of Paleolithic megafauna, the population crisis faced by New England natives in the pre-Columbian period, the introduction of indoor plumbing, and the invention of the shoe peg. At the end of this book we understand ourselves and our world a little better.

May, 2000: University Press of New England

ISBN: 0874519098


The Massachusetts Center for the Book has a Reading Guide for Bullough’s Pond



“A masterpiece… History as literature and something every New Englander should read.”
The Providence Journal

“An extraordinary book, a combination of polemic and all-encompassing scholarship.”
The Boston Globe

“You may never look at New England the same way again.”
Maine Sunday Telegram

“This is a beautifully written scholarly book. Highly recommended.”
Sustainable Population

“The intricate interweaving of seemingly unrelated human activities, ecosystems, responses, and human reactions to those responses, is the strength of Bullough’s Pond.”
The Women’s Reviews of Books

“Admirable environmental and economic history.”
Publishers Weekly

“A unique overview of New England history during the last 400 years.”
Conservation Perspectives

“This is history made palpable and personal.”
Economic History Services

“An altogether wonderful book, packed with information, brimming with wisdom and a delight to read.”

“A sourcebook for everyone who cares about landscapes and technology.”

“A rich romp through New England’s history.”
Conservation Matters

“An intriguing book.”
Environmental Practice

“The author has done a masterly job in turning a wide range of research findings into an absorbing narrative.”
Cambridge Chronicle

The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 63, No. 2  (Jun., 2003), pp. 607-608
Review by: Chad Montrie

Agricultural History, Vol. 76, No. 1  (Winter, 2002), pp. 134-135
Review by: Christopher McGrory Klyza

Environmental History, Vol. 6, No. 3  (Jul., 2001), pp. 487-488
Review by: Kathryn Morse

The Women’s Review of Books, Vol. 18, No. 4  (Jan., 2001), pp. 7-8
Review by: Jan Zita Grover

Massachusetts Historical Review, Vol. 3,  (2001), pp. 138-145
Review by: Ted Steinberg

Massachusetts Book Award, Best Nonfiction Book



The story of the author and of the book.
The Newton Tab, July 1, 2000
‘Reflections’ wins the Massachusetts Book Award for the best non-fiction book published in 2000.
The Boston Globe, December 9, 2001
The Daily News Tribune, December 14, 2001

David Warsh, the Globe’s business columnist, praises ‘Reflections’ in a piece encouraging conservation efforts.
The Boston Globe, August 20, 2000