cover image Profit: An Environmental History

Profit: An Environmental History

Mark Stoll. Polity, $35 (280p) ISBN 978-1-5095-3323-7

“Capitalism’s story is tightly woven together with the natural world,” according to this eye-opening survey from environmental historian Stoll (Inherit the Holy Mountain). Exploring how human development has reconfigured the natural environment for more than a million years, Stoll spotlights such innovations as the generation of fire, the mining of minerals, and the translocation of plants and animals. Discussions of the Agricultural Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the post-WWII Great Acceleration feature profiles of individuals who helped launch new stages of capitalism (Christopher Columbus, Andrew Carnegie) or raised awareness about the destructive impact of human progress (George Perkins Marsh, Rachel Carson). Stoll is particularly enlightening on the ways in which early capitalist practices, including the extraction of gold and silver to make coinage, resulted in air and water pollution, species extinction, soil erosion, drought, and even climate change. Throughout, he offers poignant reminders that even a system as ubiquitous and seemingly unassailable as capitalism has the potential to be disrupted by plague, natural disasters, and other forces beyond human control. Sweeping in scope yet grounded in intriguing particulars, this offers fresh perspective on an economic system “we cannot live with... and cannot live without.” (Jan.)