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Papyrus: The Plant That Changed the World: from Ancient Egypt to Today's Water Wars Hardcover – 20 Jun 2014

4.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus (20 Jun. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 160598566X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605985664
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 2.8 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,375,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From ancient Pharaohs to 21st Century water wars, papyrus is a unique plant that is still one of the fastest growing plant species on earth. It produces its own "soil"-a peaty, matrix that floats on water-and its stems inspired the fluted columns of the ancient Greeks. In ancient Egypt, the papyrus bounty from the Nile delta provided not just paper for record keeping-instrumental to the development of civilization-but food, fuel and boats. Disastrous weather in the 6th Century caused famines and plagues that almost wiped out civilization in the west, but it was papyrus paper in scrolls and codices that kept the record of our early days and allowed the thread of history to remain unbroken. The sworn enemy of oblivion and the guardian of our immortality it came to our rescue then and will again. Today, it is not just a curious relic of our ancient past, but a rescuing force for modern ecological and societal blight. In an ironic twist, Egypt is faced with enormous pollution loads that forces them to import food supplies, and yet papyrus is one of the most effective and efficient natural pollution filters known to man. Papyrus was the key in stemming the devastation to the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River from raging peat fires (that last for years), heavy metal pollution in the Zambezi River Copperbelt and the papyrus laden shores of Lake Victoria-which provides water to more than 30 million people-will be crucial as the global drying of the climate continues. 8 page insert, illustrations throughout.

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By David Wineberg TOP 500 REVIEWER on 25 Jun. 2014
Format: Hardcover
In 1960, Flanders & Swann had a song in their review At The Drop Of A Hat, called The Wom-Pom Song. It praised a miracle plant, all of which could be used and which solved basically every problem of mankind (Chorus: “There is nothing that the Wom-Pom cannot do”). They might have been inspired by the papyrus plant, as explained and examined by John Gaudet.

From rope to paper to clothing to flooring to boats, papyrus ruled. It grew wild in effusive abundance, and all you had to do to cultivate it was – nothing. For four thousand years, Egypt was the sole source for paper in the western world, which led empires to crave it – Egypt, that is. It wasn’t until 1000 AD that papyrus began to fade as the paper of record.

I particularly liked the way delta-living Egyptians built houseboats out of papyrus, which floated during the flood season, and beached during the dry season, allowing the papyrus to dry out over a few months before the waters rose again. By bundling papyrus tightly, the Egyptians created air tanks that formed the hulls of their boats and rafts, giving them high buoyancy and long life.

On the paper front, the wild, uncultivated, 18 ft tall plant and the stunningly simple process to make paper from it, led Egypt to supply the known world. Gaudet says the bureaucratic Roman Empire would have ground to a halt if Egypt had stopped shipping boatloads of paper.

Unavoidably, I suppose, the story deteriorates from the upbeat to the disastrous, as papyrus has disappeared from Egypt. We have drained the swamps they need, abandoned the water purification they provide, poisoned the ground with artificial fertilizers and dumped raw sewage into the Nile in the billions of gallons – per day.
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Format: Hardcover
It is a long time since I read a non-fiction book which engaged my interest from cover to cover. Papyrus is such a book. Writing with calm authority, based on his personal experience of working with various environmental, agricultural and conservation agencies, Gaudet tells the story of the papyrus swamps which have provided natural water purification for millennia, especially along Africa’s great waterways. He starts by examining the plant’s heritage and its many uses in ancient Egypt, from boat-building and rope-making to the eponymous writing material. He uses the floating villages of the Sudd as an analogue of the Nile Delta in early times, which goes a long way to explaining why archaeological remains in that region are so scarce.

In Mediaeval times the disappearance of the Delta’s papyrus marshes was hastened by the demands of agriculture and a rapidly increasing population, and the decline in the use of papyrus paper. Now, as Gaudet chillingly reports, due to agricultural and industrial pollution and raised salinity, the Delta is a place where, “fishermen are afraid to eat their catch and farmers are unable to use the local land or drink the water.” His description of many of what he sees as misguided projects to dam or canalise the Nile are sorry reading. He questions the belief that swamps are breeding grounds for disease and a waste of space consuming vast quantities of water.

In dispassionate terms he shows that the predicted benefits of hydro-electric and other water management projects are rarely achieved and how such ‘improvements’ can destroy the healthy ecological balance of the river leading to dramatic environmental damage, economic decline and even war.
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Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is a long time since I read a non-fiction book which engaged my interest from cover to cover. ‘Papyrus’ is such a book. Writing with calm authority, based on his personal experience of working with various environmental, agricultural and conservation agencies, Gaudet tells the story of the papyrus swamps which have provided natural water purification for millennia, especially along Africa’s great waterways.

He starts by examining the plant’s heritage and its many uses in ancient Egypt, from boat-building and rope-making to the eponymous writing material. He uses the floating villages of the Sudd as an analogue of the Nile Delta in early times, which goes a long way to explaining why archaeological remains in that region are so scarce. In Mediaeval times the disappearance of the Delta’s papyrus marshes was hastened by the demands of agriculture and a rapidly increasing population, and the decline in the use of papyrus paper. Now, as Gaudet chillingly reports, due to agricultural and industrial pollution and raised salinity, the Delta is a place where, ‘fishermen are afraid to eat their catch and farmers are unable to use the local land or drink the water’.

His description of many of what he sees as misguided projects to dam or canalise the Nile are sorry reading. He questions the belief that swamps are breeding grounds for disease and a waste of space consuming vast quantities of water. In dispassionate terms he shows that the predicted benefits of hydro-electric and other water management projects are rarely achieved and how such ‘improvements’ can destroy the healthy ecological balance of the river leading to dramatic environmental damage, economic decline and even war.
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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