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Elvin chronicles the spread of the Chinese style of farming that eliminated the habitat of the elephants which once populated the country. He also describes the destruction of most of the forests, the impact of war on the landscape and the re-engineering of the countryside through water-control systems. He documents the histories of three contrasting localities within China to show how ecological dynamics defined the lives of the inhabitants.
Mark Elvin is professor of Chinese history at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra.
"by far the best history of the interaction between the traditional Chinese and their surroundings [...] stupendously learned."
- Jonathan Mirsky, Literary Review
"majestic depth and brutal detail [...] a heavyweight work."
- Simon Barnes, The Times
"Masterly and engaging [...] Essential for those who want to understand the long sweep of Chinese history, and it will enhance the perspective of those who think they already understand it. A scholarly tour de force."
- J. R. McNeill, Wilson Quarterly
"Elvin combines an illuminating account of the 4000 year-long collision of humans and nature with delightful tidbits about everything under the Chinese sun [...] A magisterial work."
- Nicholas D. Kristof, Scientific American