Let’s venture into the history of trees, wood, and the axe. Everywhere humans have gone they’ve mowed down trees to make tools, homes, fires, bridges, buildings, and even railroad tracks. Yes, the first railroads often ran on wooden rails, as author John Perlin explains in a new edition of his classic book, A Forest Journey: The Role of Trees in the Fate of Civilization. First published in 1989, A Forest Journey has been re-released in an expanded, beautifully illustrated edition by Patagonia. And, yes, there is an environmental impact disclosure on the copyright page of the book.
John is also the author of Let It Shine: The 6000-Year Story of Solar Energy and other histories of solar technology. His writing is consistently surprising and illuminating. For example, A Forest Journey challenges many current assumptions about the advantages of peoples and nations. It is a challenge to the conclusions in Jared Diamond’s influential history, Guns, Germs, and Steel. John makes a clear case that Northern Europe achieved global dominance largely on the basis of its access to vast forests that, in other parts of the world, had been chopped down during antiquity. The largely barren Mediterranean basin, for example, was heavily forested before humans entered the region. A Forest Journey is available now from Amazon and Powell’s Books, as well as local bookstores. You can learn more about John Perlin at john-perlin.com.
- Subscribe to Sustainability in Your Ear on iTunes and Apple Podcasts.
- Follow Sustainability in Your Ear on Spreaker, iHeartRadio, or YouTube.
This podcast originally aired on March 10, 2023.