American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation

Eric Rutkow. Scribner, $27.50 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4391-9354-9
The unintentional destruction of the oldest tree in recorded history, a 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine, opens environmental lawyer and historian Rutkow’s first book—an ambitious, panoramic view of American history from the perspective of our trees and forests, with a large supporting cast of humans. Some are familiar faces, like John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) and Henry David Thoreau, while others are less well-known, such as Frederick Weyerhaeuser, the father of industrial logging. America’s rapid industrial expansion after the Civil War wouldn’t have been possible without an abundant supply of cheap lumber. Industrialization denuded the forests and heralded an era of more frequent and larger forest fires, most notably the little remembered Peshtigo Fire of 1871 in Michigan and Wisconsin, perhaps the deadliest forest fire in history. Rutkow writes of the growing appreciation of nature as a source of spiritual renewal, a change in consciousness that led to the conservation movement and the environmental movement. Better stewardship of America’s natural resources has been the broad trend of the past century, Rutkow concludes, though there is “a long lineage of Americans realizing that they had abused their greatest renewable resource when it was too late.” Though a great potential resource for students, the book may prove too dry for general readers, and not original enough for specialists. Agent: Eric Simonoff, William Morris Endeavor. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/06/2012
Release date: 04/17/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 406 pages - 978-1-4391-9358-7
Ebook - 416 pages - 978-1-4391-9360-0
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