A FOREST JOURNEY: From Mesopotamia to North America by John Perlin

A FOREST JOURNEY: From Mesopotamia to North America

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A journey through time--a sort of Western Civ 101 with a focus on the crucial role of wood in the rise and fall of states and cultures. Though here the story ends in the late 19th century, today's ongoing destruction of Latin American rain forests necessarily informs our reading as we follow the repeated cycle of abundant forests, prosperity and population growth, deforestation, erosion and scarcity, and finally defeat or decline. Reasoning from established history, records and writings from the periods considered, and botanical and other evidence, Perlin (coauthor, A Golden Thread: 2500 Years of Solar Architecture and Technology--not reviewed) points to how the abundance or scarcity of wood--as fuel for home heating, iron works, and other industry, as material for building homes, fences, ships, masts, even the early railroad rails--figured in the rise and fall of Crete, the Peloponnesian War, Greek architecture, the decline of Athens. The Roman baths, Arab-Christian trade, the wealth of Venice, the early Stuarts' extravagant life-style, New England's part in the slave trade, exchanged atrocities between American natives and settlers, and America's growth into a great nation. In this reading, it was not volcanic eruption but deforestation that doomed Minoan civilization, not spice but trees that propelled Europe's New World ventures, and not tea but timber that set colonists and crown at economic odds. Regret, complaints, alarming reports, and articulate criticism have been part of the cycle all along, but the warnings from history go unheeded. By the 1880 census, reports Perlin's last paragraph, it was clear that the great Eastern American forest would be ""just another chapter in humanity's piecemeal destruction of the planet."" Solid survey that adds significant dimension to our picture of the current crisis.

Pub Date: Aug. 9th, 1989
Publisher: Norton