LANDSCAPE AND MEMORY
With this fascinating, encyclopedic survey of cultural landscapes, Schama (Dead Certainties, 1991, etc.) demonstrates once again just why he holds a charmed place in the literature of historical interpretation. The landscape is a work of the mind, argues Schama, another compartment in the cultural baggage we all lug about. The scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock, shaped by the same rich and complex traditions that frame other aspects of our cultural world. Without the proper context (or rather the proper contexts, as our way of seeing changes with the prevailing ideological fashion), we are unable to harvest from a look at the land all that it has to offer -- all the allegorical, mythological, and metaphorical notes (not to mention a greater appreciation of just what we stand to lose by continuing to degrade the land); instead, we emerge with an impoverished sense of place. Schama proceeds by slicing the landscape into three elements -- wood, water, and rock-and then digging deep and wide to excavate their manifold traditions, unveiling a luxurious wealth of landscape history. But Schama's project goes beyond the cataloging of marvelous incidentals and minutiae-from Druid grove to tabernacle, from Mt. Olympus to Mt. Rushmore, from sacred stream to the Yangtze. As each and every aspect of the cultural landscape comes bubbling up through the overburden of history, Schama knits it together with what has come before, creating on the page an environment so palpable you can almost crawl inside and marvel at an ancient oak, a swath of meadow, and do so through the eyes of a pagan, or a renegade, or a Victorian mountaineer. Wearing his erudition lightly, Schama effortlessly juggles a landslide of material and presents his tale with the captivating, inviting intimacy of a gifted storyteller.