For many of us, jungles are the domain of films like Tarzan or Cast Away and feel far removed from our everyday lives. But across the entire world they influence temperature, create rainfall, clean the air, stabilise soils, and provide food and materials for essential products, such that the future of humankind is intertwined with their disappearing wildlife and impending destruction. As Dr Patrick Roberts shows in this startlingly revisionist history of the world, this symbiotic relationship with tropical forests is anything but a recent development.
Jungle tells the remarkable story of the world's tropical forests, from the arrival of the first plants on Earth millions of years ago to the role of tropical forests in the evolution of the world's atmosphere, the dinosaurs, the first mammals and even our own species and its ancestors. Highlighting provocative new evidence garnered from cutting-edge research techniques – from plant genetics to laser scanning from aircraft – Dr Roberts shows, for example, that contrary to popular perceptions of jungles as inhospitable, our view of humans as 'savannah specialists' is wildly wrong, with people, produce and even cities thriving in tropical forests throughout history.
Human shaping of these environments also has deep historical roots. 'Anthropocene'-like impacts began not with the Industrial Revolution, but as early as 6,000 years ago in the tropics. Later, European colonialism set off unprecedented exploitation of their resources, natural and human, with fields mercilessly ploughed for uniform stands of new crops, forests felled for timber and mining, and millions of humans brutally uprooted from their homes. As Dr Roberts shows, these extractive processes set us on course for the environmental tipping point we're fast approaching, with mass-scale burning of the fossilized remains of forests now undoing millions of years of their planetary guardianship.
In showing how we are all inexorably linked to this issue, past and present, and by explaining what needs to be done to save our tropical forests, this tour de force challenges the way we think about the world, and ourselves. Urgent, clear-sighted and original, Jungle is a book for our times, but also for the ages.
Dr Patrick Roberts is Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Germany. He has worked in jungles across the world and has received numerous prestigious awards, including a European Research Council Starter Grant (€1.5 Million). He has written or co-authored 36 peer-reviewed journal articles and his work has featured on the BBC, Channel 4 and in The Times, among others. Author of the academic book Tropical Forest in Prehistory, History and Modernity, this is his first for a trade audience.
"Jungle is a bold, ambitious and truly wonderful history of the world that shows the vital importance of tropical forests to life on Earth"
– Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees
"A fascinating story and a crucial revision of the momentous importance of tropical forests to human history. Spanning from our very evolution as a species, to the early stages of globalisation and how we fill our kitchen cupboards today, we all owe far more to jungles than we realise"
– Lewis Dartnell, author of Origins
"Welcome to the 'Jungle' – a breath-taking book showing that tropical forests were key to our evolution, provide fossil fuels for our modern carbon-hungry society and ultimately must be protected and restored if we are to have a future. This insightful and captivating book will ensure you never take our jungles for granted ever again"
– Mark Maslin, author of How to Save Our Planet
"There are many books on the history of trilobites and dinosaurs and other animals, but so few on the history of plants. Here the dynamic young scientist Patrick Roberts tackles the history of the tropics, from the coal swamps of 300 million years ago, through the co-evolutionary dance of dinosaurs and mammals and flowers, to how our own human history has been shaped by vegetation. As environments are changing rapidly around us today, this is a timely, readable and highly relevant history that celebrates the wonder and importance of jungles"
– Steve Brusatte, author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs
"Jungle sweeps the reader into the primordial heart of the earth, as if the crucible of life welcomed you to its sanctuary. Its revelations and stories will stir, rearrange and populate your mind for years to come. As a book, it is a joy, pure intellectual chocolate"
– Paul Hawken, editor of Drawdown
"An enthralling jungle-journey from the origins of life on this planet to the present day, Jungle provides a brilliant new perspective on our interaction with tropical forests, placing them at the centre of human experience – and it delivers a timely warning about our abuse of the environment"
– David Abulafia, author of The Great Sea
"Finally, a book on rainforests that does justice to their majesty and importance. Patrick Roberts skilfully and lucidly shows why tropical forests matter. He builds the case that people and tropical forests are intimately linked, whether you live in the rainforest or seemingly a world away. Those intricate links are more important than ever today, with ending deforestation playing a key role in solving the twin climate and biodiversity crises we face this century"
– Simon Lewis, co-author of The Human Planet
"Enormously ambitious, deeply researched, moves with great skill from ecology and evolution to history and politics"
– Michael Marshall, New Scientist
"Many European and American books and films imply that tropical forests are incapable of sustainably supporting large human societies. Jungle provides a superbly argued refutation of this long-held view [...] a thrilling reappraisal of our origins and our dependence on tropical forests"
– Charlie Pye-Smith, Literary Review