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Forests: The Shadow of Civilization [Paperback]

Harrison
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Mar 1993
In this wide-ranging exploration of the role of forests in Western thought, Robert Pogue Harrison enriches our understanding not only of the forest's place in the cultural imagination of the West, but also of the ecological dilemmas that now confront us so urgently. Consistently insightful and beautifully written, this work is especially compelling at a time when the forest, as a source of wonder, respect, and meaning, disappears daily from the earth.

"Forests is one of the most remarkable essays on the human place in nature I have ever read, and belongs on the small shelf that includes Raymond Williams' masterpiece, The Country and the City. Elegantly conceived, beautifully written, and powerfully argued, [Forests] is a model of scholarship at its passionate best. No one who cares about cultural history, about the human place in nature, or about the future of our earthly home, should miss it.—William Cronon, Yale Review

"Forests is, among other things, a work of scholarship, and one of immense value . . . one that we have needed. It can be read and reread, added to and commented on for some time to come."—John Haines, The New York Times Book Review


Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; New edition edition (1 Mar 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226318079
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226318073
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.5 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 45,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
IT IS NOT ONLY IN THE MODERN IMAGINATION THAT FORests cast their shadow of primeval antiquity; from the beginning they appeared to our ancestors as archaic, as antecedent to the human world. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Believe the hype 17 Jan 2006
Format:Paperback
Don't be put off by this being written by an academic. This is a major work - so far fairly unnoticed - and worth your time. I cannot praise it highly enough. The author has taught me to look at the world in a different way; to understand my place in things; to realise why we are where we are; and even to come to terms with my mortality.
Ranks alongside "The Soul of the White Ant" by Eugene Marais as a classic of its kind.
Buy it. Once read, you won't want to sell it on.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars luminous 25 Feb 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
My old Cambridge tutor said that the only works of modern literary criticism he'd sell his shirt for were *Seven Types of Ambiguity* and *The Wheel of Fire*. For a long time I agreed. Then I read *Forests*. It is quite simply the most profound, the most moving, the best-written, the most important work of literary criticism of the late twentieth century.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars luminous 25 Feb 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
My old Cambridge tutor said that the only works of modern literary criticism he'd sell his shirt for were *Seven Types of Ambiguity* and *The Wheel of Fire*. For a long time I agreed. Then I read *Forests*. It is quite simply the most profound, the most moving, the best-written, the most important work of literary criticism of the late twentieth century.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important work with appeal to several fields 6 Dec 2003
By Robert Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Although this is clearly a work in literary criticism, it is one that will appeal to those working in other areas. For instance, those working on Environmental Ethics will find a great deal of very information about how forests have been conceived in a great deal of the literature of the greater European world throughout history. Intellectual historians with an interest in how Europeans have conceived nature as a whole will find a great deal to interest them in this book that deals with forests in particular. But the primary audience is students of literature.
The narrative of the book runs chronologically to the dawn of written history to Frank Lloyd Wright, though the vast majority of figures discusses are writers, and of those primarily writers of nonfictional literature. Harrison discusses an immense range of writers and works, from the EPIC OF GILGAMESH to Chaucer to Dante to Shakespeare to Descartes to Rousseau to Wordsworth to the Brothers Grimm to Thoreau. Although Harrison's prose style is not exhilarating, I never found the book to be less than interesting.
Whether someone will find this interesting will depend on whether they want to know more about the way that forests have been conceived in European history. At various periods of time they have been view as scared, as dark places of fear, as resources for human exploitation, or as ecosystems valuable in their own right. Harrison does not touch upon all these aspects, but I don't think anyone interested in Western attitudes towards nature could help but find this book to be of the greatest help.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars luminous 25 Feb 1999
By Prof. Jonathan Bate - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
My old Cambridge tutor said that the only works of modern literary criticism he'd sell his shirt for were *Seven Types of Ambiguity* and *The Wheel of Fire*. For a long time I agreed. Then I read *Forests*. It is quite simply the most profound, the most moving, the best-written, the most important work of literary criticism of the late twentieth century.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars luminous 25 Feb 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
My old Cambridge tutor said that the only works of modern literary criticism he'd sell his shirt for were *Seven Types of Ambiguity* and *The Wheel of Fire*. For a long time I agreed. Then I read *Forests*. It is quite simply the most profound, the most moving, the best-written, the most important work of literary criticism of the late twentieth century.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For that desert island 18 Jan 2008
By Linda McDougall - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
When I left to live in the Mexican High Sierra eight years ago, I had room for only four books - ones I could not live without: "Forests" was one of them. Through my many years as a mythologist and therapist, I'd not found any work to equal this fascinating, spiritual exploration into the real and symbolic forest. A long time ago, a student in landscape architecture at the University of British Columbia gave me a copy, requesting my opinion of it. Her wise and sensitive professor had made it required reading for his graduate students, and how many would be astute enough to recognize its importance?
Anyone with a true yearning to enter into the dark forest of myth and history, so beautifully explored by Joseph Campbell, will love Harrison's extraordinary revelations from the mythic past to the historical present, and emerge from the woods knowing that it's all part of the same mystery.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful, Pessimistic 22 Oct 2007
By Tidewater - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Harrison's work is pioneering in the sense that he delves into the human psyche as much as he does into the history of forests. By his definition, which is convincing, there are virtually no forests left in the world. For reasons the author explores, men for millennia have atacked forests and cleared them away. This destructive activity seems to have been universal, not wedded to a particular geography, culture or religion.

Harrison journeys through several epochs using the classical literature of the periods to illustrate his points. Frankly, his deeper medtitations that verge on philosophy and metaphysics were over my head. (One place he praises Heidegger for insights, in another he criticizes him. Nietszche ditto.) Nevertheless, the main thrust is clear: humans are at risk because they have denuded the world's landscape of the forests that up to now have provided the foundation for their culture, mores and myths.

What makes the book pessimistic, in my view, is that the behavior of humans over the millennia as illustrated by Harrison is overtly destructive and at the same time seemingly unreformable. Harrison makes a stab at optimism by, for example, praising the poetry of A. R. Ammons and the homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I admire them, too, but they have hardly taken the booboisie (H.L. Mencken's term) by storm. It's hard to know what comes next in human history given the looming desertification that is the current trend, but Harrison's work strongly intimates that the future is dicey for we humans.

A nice corollary read to Harrison's work is Leslie Marmon Silko's "Almanac of the Dead," written from a very deep Native American perspective.

There is a blurb on the back dust cover of my hardback edition by Bill McKibben, but McKibben's "End of Nature" is to Harrison's work as the Bowie Bay Sox are to the Boston Red Sox--not in the same league.
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