The Forest Journey was originally published in 1986 and updated in 2005. This is a foundational conservation story that should not be lost in the archives. This new, updated and revised edition emphasizes the importance of forests in the fight against global warming and the urgency to protect what remains of the great trees and forests of the world.
Ancient writers observed that forests always recede as civilizations develop and grow. The great Roman poet Ovid wrote that before civilization began, “even the pine tree stood on its own very hills” but when civilization took over, “the mountain oak, the pine were felled”.
This happened for a simple reason: trees have been the principal fuel and building material of every society over the millennia, from the time urban areas were settled until the middle of the nineteenth century. To this day trees still fulfil these roles for a good portion of the world’s population.
Without vast supplies of wood from forests, the great civilizations of Sumer, Assyria, Egypt, Crete, Greece, Rome, the Islamic World, Western Europe, and North America would have never emerged. Wood, in fact, is the unsung hero of the technological revolution that has brought us from a stone and bone culture to our present age. Until the ascendancy of fossil fuels, wood was the principal fuel and building material from the dawn of civilization. Its abundance or scarcity greatly shaped, as The Forest Journey ably relates, the culture, demographics, economy, internal and external politics and technology of successive societies over the millennia.
The book's comprehensive coverage of the major role forests have played in human life – told with grace, fluency, imagination, and humour – gained it recognition as a Harvard Classic in Science and World History and as one of Harvard's "One Hundred Great Books".
"Like some Greek epic poem spanning 4,000 years of civilization [...] an impressive array of research and a novel topic."
– Los Angeles Times
"A journey through time-a sort of Western Civ. 101 with a focus on the crucial role of wood in the rise and fall of states and cultures [...] Solid survey that adds significant dimension to our picture of the current crisis."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Perlin deftly combines a balance of social and ecological values as well as lessons for the immediate future."
– John Brosnahan, Booklist (previous edition)
"This book takes one those bold imaginative steps through world history that leaves you full of excitement, as suddenly events seem to fall into a pattern for the first time. Perlin not only presents us with a bold hypothesis profusely documented and illustrated, he does it with a story-teller's pace and ability to surprise."
– Book Talks, BBC World Service (previous edition)
"In that regard one of my favourite books – and a key text on my undergraduate Plants and People module – is John Perlin's A Forest Journey. Subtitled The Story of Wood and Civilization, Perlin's big idea is that humans are the way we are, etc. because of our relationship with trees, especially the wood that they produce. It's a compelling narrative, told in a highly accessible, engaging – and believable! – way."
– Nigel Chaffey, BotanyOne.com (review of a previous edition)
"This book takes one of those bold imaginative sweeps through history that leave you full of excitement, as suddenly events seem to fall into a pattern for the first time."
– British Broadcasting Corporation (about a previous edition)