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A Forest Journey: The Story of Woods and Civilization Paperback – 20 Sep 2005


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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New edition edition (20 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0881506761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0881506761
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 0.3 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 826,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Like some Greek epic poem spanning 4,000 years of civilization...an impressive array of research and a novel topic." "Perlin deftly combines a balance of social and ecological values as well as lessons for the immediate future." -- John Brosnahan "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." "This work...captures the significant impact of wood on past and present civilizations. ...well written and well illustrated." -- M. J. Zwolinski "This book takes one those bold imaginative steps through world history that leaves you full of excitement, as suddenly events seem to fall into a pattern for the first time. Perlin not only presents us with a bold hypothesis profusely documented and illustrated, he does it with a story-teller's pace and ability to surprise." "Well documented and illustrated, it is history at its best."

About the Author

John Perlin has also authored A Golden Thread: Twenty-Five Hundred Years of Solar Architecture and Technology (with Ken Butti) and From Space to Earth: The Story of Solar Electricity. He researched and wrote the narrative for the film Power from the Sun with Nobel Laureates Drs. Walter Kohn and Alan Heeger. He lives in Santa Barbara, California.

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By A Customer on 28 Jun 1998
Format: Paperback
A Forest Journey should be required reading in every school. It thoroughly documents the absolute importance of wood to human history and how all nations declined once their forests were depleted. In his introduction, John Perlin reminds us of something taken for granted: the importance of wood to our very existence...At a time when we have lost touch with the basis of much that makes us human, this book can help us avoid the downfalls suffered by nations that have gone before us. As Lily Tomlin supposedly said, "If we would just pay attention, history wouldn't have to keep repeating itself."
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Format: Paperback
Perlin's Forest Journey traces civilizations from the Fertile Crescent to Colonial North America and how their rise and fall is related to the health of their forests. His knowledge of history is extensive and his writing style is enjoyable. The surprise is that we have yet to learn the lessons of history.
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By W. K. Mclean on 21 Jun 2007
Format: Paperback
This book should be required reading for all politicians. The book details the importance of wood to human civilisation and human reliance on the forests. One is led to wonder by the text why we have not had a serious TV program on this subject.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 18 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
The Rise and Fall of Trees­The Rise and Fall of Civilization 1 July 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A Forest Journey first reminds us of the absolute importance of wood to human history: how much we have depended on wood for our very existence:
"Throughout the ages trees have provided the material to make fire, the heat of which has allowed our species to reshape the earth for its use. With heat from wood fires, relatively cold climates became habitable; inedible grains were changed into a major source of food; clay could be converted into pottery, serving as useful containers to store goods; people could extract metal from stone, revolutionizing the implements used in agriculture, crafts, and warfare; the builders could make durable construction materials such as brick, cement, lime, plaster, and tile for housing and storage facilities....
"Transportation would have been unthinkable without wood. Until the nineteenth century every ship, from Bronze Age coaster to the frigate, was built with timber. Every cart, chariot, and wagon was also made primarily of wood. Early steamboats and railroad locomotives in the United States used wood as their fuel...
"Wood was also used for the beams that propped up mine shafts and formed supports for every type of building. Water wheels and windmills ­ the major means of mechanical power before electricity was harnessed ­ were built of wood. The peasant could not farm without wooden tool handles or wood plows; the soldier could not throw his spear or shoot his arrows without their wooden shafts, or hold his gun without its wooden stock. What would the archer have done lacking wood for his bow; the brewer and vintner, without wood for their barrels and casks; or the woolen industry, without wood for its looms?"
Perlin then thoroughly documents how all past nations declined once their forests were depleted. Today, with the world's forests in jeopardy, A Forest Journey provides much needed information that can help us avoid another needless repetition of history.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
An important and monumental history of fuel and the tragedy of the commons 14 Jan 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of the most important books I have ever read.

The relevance for our times of this highly engaging history of how the earliest civilizations to late 19th-century America have exploited wood (primarily as fuel, then as building material) and cleared forests cannot be overstated. Again and again, Perlin shows that the tragedy of the commons repeats itself throughout the patterns of human history, and the cycle has continued to the present day when we have the choice to break it by developing renewable, clean energy.

Beginning with the Mesopotamians, and continuing unabated to the present day, civilizations have access to forests previously admired and considered sacred. Greed for economic gain and/or military power, not the necessities of life (for which the forests amply provide) motivates Man to cut down forests at an increasingly alarming pace, as everyone wants to get in on the profits. Enormous quantities of wood are often cut down to produce a small quantum of finished products, such as a few kilograms of iron or refined sugar. The exploitation of forests is almost completely unregulated until it is too late for governments to do much about it. Often governments themselves dismiss or respond insufficiently to concerns by educated citizens, who warn of economic and ecological devastation if the free-for-all logging continues. And often this is because government members are well-placed to make personal profits from the wood/fuel trade. The individual cutters don't think to replant what they have taken, or even to spare saplings and young trees - why, when there's so much of it for oneself? Within several hundred years, there is little or no wood left (the latter situation was more common). The civilization declines for environmental devastation (such as large-scale erosion) and lack of fuel (as they are no longer able to compete with other civilizations and their militaries who still have access to wood, and there is little or no wood left for basic necessities such as heating and cooking). We see that the only civilizations which have exploited wood on a large scale and yet escaped this cycle were the modern-day civilizations that began to rely on coal and other polluting fuels, such as Industrial Revolution-era Britain, and eventually the United States of America.

The book goes into far more detail than this, crammed with information on the key role wood has played in wars, alliances, the building of civilizations, the power of civilizations and, again, their decline.

I found this book fascinating and read it from cover to cover. Its relevance for today is in showing us that fuel shortage problems are nothing new, and that the survival of civilizations has always depended on fuel not running out, and likely always will, for as long as we aspire to live beyond the bare necessities of life. Our present-day civilizations are no exception, but as we all know, the human population and therefore the human need is much higher than it ever has been before, and many of us are not aware of the ecological implications of our lifestyles, as we are so far removed from the natural ecology in cities. But we can make a difference before it is too late. Not only is an awareness of history a wake-up call if we choose to educate ourselves, which would encourage us to live more wisely in taking care of the environment around us, but environmentally-friendly fuel technologies are emerging for us to live at an even higher level of comfort and health than ever before.

The author, along with his Nobel-prize winning collaborators at UCSB, Drs. Walter Kohn and Alan Heeger, are avid researchers and promoters of solar and other renewable energy sources: watch this space! The author is also affiliated with a great website promoting solar energy, explaining solar technology and delving into some of the history of solar energy use (which goes back to the time of the ancient Greeks!): [...]

I cannot recommend this book more highly. We all live in a world which continues to be so unwisely exploited on our behalf that it could mean the decline of us all - this book is therefore essential reading for every single person in our time.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Trees' Most Famous Fruit ­ Wood 28 Jun 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A Forest Journey should be required reading in every school. It thoroughly documents the absolute importance of wood to human history and how all nations declined once their forests were depleted. In his introduction, John Perlin reminds us of something taken for granted: the importance of wood to our very existence...At a time when we have lost touch with the basis of much that makes us human, this book can help us avoid the downfalls suffered by nations that have gone before us. As Lily Tomlin supposedly said, "If we would just pay attention, history wouldn't have to keep repeating itself."
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A fascinating journey into four thousand years of forest use 16 Mar 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Perlin's Forest Journey traces civilizations from the Fertile Crescent to Colonial North America and how their rise and fall is related to the health of their forests. His knowledge of history is extensive and his writing style is enjoyable. The surprise is that we have yet to learn the lessons of history.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Rise and fall of civilizations 1 Sep 2001
By P. van Rijckevorsel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is a study on the rise and fall of civilizations, as caused by their management of wood resources, or in other words energy resources. Perlin tells a convincing tale on what makes a civilization tick. This is a very good book to read for anybody who cares about what the world is coming to, and perhaps even for those who don't. It is filled with fascinating historical material.
The limitations of the book are that Perlin is not as great a storyteller as DC Peattie (many of the stories here would make a sweeping tale in the hands of a truly gifted writer) and that the choice of civilizations treated is very much oriented towards the US.
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