FIRE: A Brief History

Stephen J. Pyne, Author . Univ. of Washington $18.95 (220p) ISBN 978-0-295-98144-4

Pyne's latest is the final chapter in the Cycle of Fire (including Vestal Fire; Burning Bush), a six-part suite charting the environmental history of conflagrations and humanity's interaction with the technology of fire. This dense and carefully researched volume examines the myriad ways people have intervened in the destructive, renewing and transmuting powers that fire provides—a dual evolution leading to a dynamic coexistence. "Equipped with fire, people colonized the Earth," Pyne writes. "Carried by humans, so did fire." In exacting detail, Pyne traces a historiography of the pyre: the naturally occurring "First Fires" of the Devonian period (roughly 400 million years ago), which burned off biomass and altered early plant life; the domestication of fire by hominids for cooking, hunting, rituals, and burning land for sowing; the advent of urbanization and pyrotechnology, when humans learned to control fuel sources, to manipulate oxygen flow (via hearths and stacks) and to maintain heat to produce everything from power plants to war machines. Pyne's involved examination tends to be dry, and the heavy scientific language might dampen the appeal for the casual browser. But this is a fascinating, fact-filled book; the deft—and at times airy—prose often sparks with puns and ironies. Of particular interest to readers of nature and ecological history, this volume also illuminates another side of the stories Sebastian Junger told in his recent title on the same subject. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 12/17/2001
Release date: 00/00/0000
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 207 pages - 978-1-78023-046-7
Open Ebook - 224 pages - 978-0-295-80327-2
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