A Forest Journey
The Role of Trees in the Fate of Civilization
by John Perlin
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Pub Date 14 Feb 2023 | Archive Date 01 Jun 2023
A Foundational Conservation Story Revived
Ancient writers observed that forests always recede as civilizations develop and grow. The great Roman poet Ovid wrote that before civilization began, “even the pine tree stood on its own very hills” but when civilization took over, “the mountain oak, the pine were felled.”
This happened for a simple reason: trees have been the principal fuel and building material of every society over the millennia, from the time urban areas were settled until the middle of the nineteenth century. To this day trees still fulfill these roles for a good portion of the world’s population.
Without vast supplies of wood from forests, the great civilizations of Sumer, Assyria, Egypt, Crete, Greece, Rome, the Islamic World, Western Europe, and North America would have never emerged. Wood, in fact, is the unsung hero of the technological revolution that has brought us from a stone and bone culture to our present age.
Until the ascendancy of fossil fuels, wood was the principal fuel and building material from the dawn of civilization. Its abundance or scarcity greatly shaped, as A Forest Journey ably relates, the culture, demographics, economy, internal and external politics and technology of successive societies over the millennia.
A Forest Journey was originally published in 1989 and updated in 2005. The book's comprehensive coverage of the major role forests have played in human life -- told with grace, fluency, imagination, and humor -- gained it recognition as a Harvard Classic in Science and World History and as one of Harvard's "One Hundred Great Books." Others receiving the honor include such luminaries as Stephen Jay Gould and E.O. Wilson. This is a foundational conservation story that should not be lost in the archives.
This new, updated and revised edition emphasizes the importance of forests in the fight against global warming and the urgency to protect what remains of the great trees and forests of the world.
A Note From the Publisher
Praise for A Forest Journey (previous editions)
“This book takes one of those bold imaginative sweeps through history that leave you full of excitement, as suddenly events seem to fall into a pattern for the first time.” – BBC World Service
"Like some Greek epic poem spanning 4,000 years of civilization…an impressive array of research and a novel topic." ― Los Angeles Times
"Perlin deftly combines a balance of social and ecological values as well as lessons for the immediate future." ― Booklist
"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...Solid survey that adds significant dimension to our picture of the current crisis."― Kirkus
Praise for the 2023 edition
“A Forest Journey documents the rich history of repeated disasters from human overexploitation of forests. Healing the planet in our climate crisis depends on restoring the richness of the world’s woodlands.” ― Steve Gaines, Dean and Distinguished Professor, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, UC Santa Barbara
“Beginning 380 million years ago, forests made the Earth a paradise. Mankind’s dependency, ignorance and violence regarding forests meld their existence and our own into a Then, Now or Never tale. A Forest Journey is an unforgettable read!” ― Forests Forever, Inc.
ABOUT THE ENDNOTES
To reduce the environmental impact in the printing, Patagonia moved 80 pages of endnotes from the hardcover edition to a website, accessible from a QR code in the printed book. The extensive online resources include over 1700 references and bibliography, a summary document, plus Teacher’s and Reader’s Guides, and several interactive maps that document the effects of deforestation.
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