Williams surveys ten thousand years of history to trace how, why, and when human-induced deforestation has shaped economies, societies, and landscapes around the world. Beginning with the return of the forests to Europe, North America, and the tropics after the Ice Ages, Williams traces the impact of human-set fires for gathering and hunting, land clearing for agriculture, and other activities from the Paleolithic through the classical world and the Middle Ages. He then continues the story from the 1500s to the early 1900s, focusing on forest clearing both within Europe and by European imperialists and industrialists abroad, in such places as the New World and India, China, Japan, and Latin America. Finally, he covers the present-day alarming escalation of deforestation, with the ever-increasing human population placing a possibly unsupportable burden on the world's forests.
"The most comprehensive account ever written of when, where, and how humans have wrought what is surely the most dramatic change in Earth's surface since the end of the Pleistocene [...] The book is not simply about deforestation but about every aspect of human use of the forest and the forces that drive this use."
– Brian Donahue, Science
"A majestic work of scholarship. It will become instantly one of those classic studies that every bibliography in the field must include."
– Stephen J Pyne, author of Fire: A Brief History
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Michael Williams is professor of geography and the environment at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Oriel College. He is the author, most recently, of Americans and Their Forests: A Historical Geography as well as the editor of Wetlands: A Threatened Landscape and coeditor of A Century of British Geography.