Papyrus: The Plant that Changed the World from Ancient Egypt to Today’s Water Wars

John Gaudet. Pegasus, $28.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-60598-566-4
Well-known as a writing material in ancient Egypt, papyrus had many more uses, according to ecologist Gaudet in this encyclopedic history of the swamp-dwelling plant. Indeed, Gaudet maintains that Egyptian civilization, even before writing emerged, might not have developed without this extraordinary productive plant: the ancients used it for homes, boats, rope, baskets, fuel, and even food; it grows so densely over water that small villages were built on it. Papyrus motifs adorned their paintings, temples and tombs, amulets, and jewelry. Gaudet delivers an exhaustive description of the ancient technical processes that turned stems and rhizomes into daily necessities. Today, however, paper, wood, plastic, and cloth have replaced papyrus, and the swamps in which it grows are being drained worldwide. This process has had disastrous ecological results, as the plant acts as a filter to stop soil erosion, safeguard ground water, and support fish, birds, mammals, and, ultimately, man. The book’s second half focuses on efforts to reverse this massive ecological damage by restoring papyrus swamps. Successes are dramatic but limited, and as with many accounts of environmental destruction, readers may struggle to share the writer’s optimism. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/21/2014
Release date: 06/01/2014
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-1-60598-828-3
Open Ebook - 272 pages - 978-1-60598-597-8
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