All Natural

This is a quirky and fascinating book, one of a kind. Johnson’s parents were stalwart hippies and raised him according to the orthodoxy that whatever is most natural is best, so: natural childbirth at home, no sugar in the diet, no clothing on the baby (not even diapers!), natural medicines etc. Johnson decides to examine the scientific basis of these practices, and lo and behold, discovers more justification than you would expect for a radically less-industrialized approach to managing the various stages of development, life and death.

–Michael Pollan

I had so much fun reading All Natural that I found myself reading passages aloud to my husband and summarizing Johnson’s findings to my kids’ teenage friends.

–Randi Hutter Epstein, author of Get Me Out

Nate Johnson puts on his skeptic’s unitard and wrestles with health-store logic resulting in a blend of reportage and memoir that’s hilarious, surprising, and downright interesting.

–Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City

There is a third way between knee-jerk technophilia and an uncritical embrace of all things labeled natural, and Johnson shows us how to find it: follow the research. The fascinating science he chronicles with clarity and grace shows that sometimes higher tech means higher risk and sometimes ‘all natural’ is neither good for us nor particularly natural.

–Emma Marris author of Rambunctious Garden and staff writer for Nature

Like every parent, Nathanael Johnson worried about the right way to raise his child. He had been raised by parents dedicated to a “natural” lifestyle — should he do the same? But what is “natural”? Every time Johnson sought an answer, it squirted between his fingers. Luckily for readers, he wrote everything down. All Natural is the record of a sensible person trying to eff the ineffable, a guide to our increasingly irrational and artificial pursuit of the seemingly reasonable goal of a natural life.

–Charles C. Mann, author of 1491 and 1493

This guy can really write, and he can really report, and he can also really  help you understand why some of the things you believe don’t make as much sense as you might imagine. It’s a book both gentle and wry.

–Bill McKibben author Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet


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In this age of climate change, killer germs, and obesity, it’s easy to feel as if we’ve fallen out of synch with the global ecosystem. This ecological anxiety has polarized a new generation of Americans: some are drawn to natural solutions and organic lifestyles, while others rally around high-tech development and industrial efficiencies.

Johnson lovingly but rigorously scrutinizes his family’s all-natural theories, an inquiry that introduces him to outlaw midwives, radical doctors, renegade farmers and one hermit forester. Along the way, he uncovers paradoxes at the heart of our ecological condition: Why, even as medicine improves, are we becoming less healthy? Why are more American women dying in childbirth? Why do we grow fatter the more we diet? Why have so many attempts to save the environment backfired?

In this sparklingly intelligent, wry, and scrupulously reported narrative, Johnson teases fact from faith and offers a rousing and original vision for a middle ground between natural and technological solutions that will assuage frustrated environmentalists, perplexed parents, and confused consumers alike.