I had a friend review this class to me, and I'm still trying to understand why. The class was seminar format, yet Professor Leach routinely lectured and students rarely had the chance to bounce ideas off each other before he would hop in and take the discussion somewhere else. Professor Leach would also often introduce articles he had read on his own and then we would discuss those for half of the seminar, even though no one in the class had read them. He also seemed particularly crotchety at times, dismissing students ideas rather harshly and becoming defensive and angry when his ideas were challenged. It was at times humorous how diorderly the seminar was run and how frustrated students felt attempting to understand his poorly explained tangents. There was not a great exchange of ideas but rather a one way flow of what Professor Leach was interested in that particular day. That said, it was not a particular taxing seminar and I did learn a fair amount about Americans conception of nature.
Professor Leach is a passionate instructor who presents a broad and interesting look at everything from farming and Bambi to highways and genetic engineering. This class is for anyone with an interest in nature, urban development, environmental science, or any related fields. You won't want to miss a single class (especially since it only meets once a week for 2 hours).
Just about the worst damn class I have ever taken at Columbia. If you like to be degraded on a weekly basis, attacked for views that differ from the professors, or urged to write and study obscure subject material that will have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on your outside life ... then this is the class for you. Granted, this man is a genius, if you can suffer through his utterly inefficient and downright bad teaching style you will be impressed by his sporadic outbursts such as, "highways, they are just like sex!" Otherwise, steer clear.
Best class ever. Leach is a professor who demands a lot out of you, but in the end I can't imagine anyone feeling that their efforts weren't well spent. The most important thing I got out of this class was a real knowledge of the environmental issues Americans face today, with an in depth understanding of the historical roots of those issues. Seminar topics are varied and amazing - You can tell Leach is both fascinated by the study of nature as well as with discussing it with students - take him up on office hours! The sometimes stern demeanor and objectivity he has in class might just give way to an endearing old gent who will banter with you about gardening and inspire you to go do your reading.
The other two reviews are right on. Professor Leach is a MAGNIFICENT professor. At first he seems a bit brusque, a perhaps even unfeeling and intimidating for some students. But never fear - he really has a soft side, and he cares immensely about his students. The diverse range of readings also made this seminar a joy. Totally unlike any other class you will take at Columbia. We talked about an immense variety of subjects - hunting, suburbia, plastic surgery, highways, everything. Leach is passionate and not afraid to share his opinions - but they're not always what you expect, and he wants you to challenge him and others in the class. There was definitely not a dominant attitude or doctrine in the class - everyone was free to express their various opinions. The class is not a joke - Leach takes the course very seriously - but it's also lots of fun.
The previous review is right on. This was one of the best classes I took at Columbia. This class is not merely about environmentalism. It is about American culture in general. It immensely influenced how I think about many issues. Professor Leach makes Eric Foner look like a mainstream pussycat.
Just about the best damn class I've ever taken at Columbia. This seminar manages to touch at least tacitly on a huge range of subjects under the general umbrella of the American (and English, here and there) view of nature: the National Parks, industrial agriculture, ecotourism, Darwin, suburbia, butterfly collecting, Moby Dick, and Bambi, to name just a few of them. The reading list is generally good, and made good fodder for class discussions. Leach is representative of a dying breed of professor and should be applauded for it; he expects his students to work hard and does not skimp on criticism. Only take this class if you can afford to put a fair amount of time into it (it's worth it), or else steel yourself for a reasonable amount of verbal abuse. But he's fair about it, and puts a lot of time into his students. His own fields of particular interest are often eccentric, bordering on kind of insane; the degree to which he is obsessed with them made even topics in which I had no interest (e.g. the history of amateur bird collecting) perversely fascinating.