Books  Environmental Studies  Environmental History 

Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis - An Abridgment

Definitive history of deforestation - abridged

By: Michael Williams(Author)

543 pages, 33 b/w photos, 97 b/w illustrations, 29 tables

University of Chicago Press

Paperback | Sep 2006 | Edition: 2 | #157528 | ISBN: 0226899470
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £34.50 $45/€39 approx

About this book

Published in 2002, Deforesting the Earth was a landmark study of the history and geography of deforestation. Now available as an abridgment, this edition retains the breadth of the original while rendering its arguments accessible to a general readership.

Deforestation – the thinning, changing, and wholesale clearing of forests for fuel, shelter, and agriculture – is among the most important ways humans have transformed the environment. Surveying ten thousand years to trace human-induced deforestation's effect on economies, societies, and landscapes around the world, Deforesting the Earth is the preeminent history of this process and its consequences.

Beginning with the return of the forests after the ice age to Europe, North America, and the tropics, Michael Williams traces the impact of human-set fires for gathering and hunting, land clearing for agriculture, and other activities from the Paleolithic age through the classical world and the medieval period. He then focuses on forest clearing both within Europe and by European imperialists and industrialists abroad, from the 1500s to the early 1900s, in such places as the New World, India, and Latin America, and considers indigenous clearing in India, China, and Japan. Finally, he covers the current alarming escalation of deforestation, with our ever-increasing human population placing a potentially unsupportable burden on the world's forests.

"Williams's tome is a planetary overview of the impact of humanity on trees since the neolithic era, which has varied from disastrous to frighteningly catastrophic, and is worsening by the second. (If humans are intelligent, why didn't they understand sooner that a strict limit on their reproduction was the fulcrum of all balances?) Williams does the big view with statistics (how much timber was required to heat Rome's baths and effects thereof on the Mediterranean ecostructure) and the smaller, precisely placed detail – the dissatisfaction with the Chinese mandarinate felt by those whose fir trees were burnt in quantities to produce the soot for the bureaucrats' considerable ink requirements."
– Vera Rule, Guardian

"My first shallow reaction was that at 543 pages this is a big abridgement. But I soon realised the astounding breadth and depth of contained information and understood why it could not possibly be smaller. The book relays the complete story of forests the world over from the Holocene to the present, and somehow Michael Williams has managed to keep the story cogent and concise [...] The sheer breadth of information in this book makes it a valuable addition to any bookshelf belonging to people that want to understand why the world's forests look the way they do."
– Robert M. Ewers, Environmental Conservation

"Anyone who doubts the power of history to inform the present should read this closely argued and sweeping survey. This is rich, timely, and sobering historical fare written in a measured, non-sensationalist style by a master of his craft. One only hopes (almost certainly vainly) that today's policymakers take its lessons to heart."
– Brian Fagan, Los Angeles Times

Related titles

See the previous edition

Deforesting the Earth

Williams surveys ten thousand years of history to trace how, why, and when...

NHBS Price: £64.99 $85/€74 approx


List of Illustrations
List of Tables

1. The Return of the Forest
2. Fire and Foragers
3. The First Farmers
4. The Classical World
5. The Medieval World

6. Driving Forces and Cultural Climates, 1500–1750
7. Clearing in Europe, 1500–1750
8. The Wider World, 1500–1750
9. Driving Forces and Cultural Climates, 1750–1900
10. Clearing in the Temperate World, 1750–1920
11. Clearing in the Tropical World, 1750–1920

12. Scares and Solutions, 1900–1944
13. The Great Onslaught, 1945–95: Dimensions of Change
14. The Great Onslaught, 1945–95: Patterns of Change

Epilogue: Backward and Forward Glances
List of Measures, Abbreviations, and Acronyms
Bibliographic Essay

Write a review

There are currently no reviews for this book. Be the first to review this book!


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.

Bestsellers in this subject

Europe: A Natural History

NHBS Special Offer Price: £16.99 £24.99 (Save £8.00) $22/€19 approx (ends 31/12/2018)

The Making of the British Landscape

NHBS Price: £9.99 $13/€11 approx

Pests in the City

NHBS Price: £18.99 $25/€22 approx

Nature and Power

NHBS Price: £22.99 $30/€26 approx

Vestal Fire

NHBS Price: £68.99 $91/€78 approx

VAT: GB 407 4846 44
NHBS Ltd is registered in England and Wales: 1875194