659 pages, b/w photos, 65 illustrations, maps
Stephen Pyne has been described as having a consciousness "composed of equal parts historian, ecologist, philosopher, critic, poet, and sociologist." At this time in history when many people are trying to understand their true relationship with the natural environment, Vestal Fire offers a remarkable contribution – breathtaking in the scope of its research and exhilarating to read.
Pyne takes the reader on a journey through time, exploring the terrain of Europe and the uses and abuses of its lands as well as, through migration and conquest, many parts of the rest of the world. Whether he is discussing the Mediterranean region, Russia, Scandinavia, the British Isles, central Europe, or colonized islands; whether he is considering the impact of agriculture, forestry, or Enlightenment thinking, the author brings an unmatched insight to his subject.
Vestal Fire takes its title from Vesta, Roman goddess of the hearth and keeper of the sacred fire on Mount Olympus. But Vestal Fire's title also suggests the strengths and limitations of Europe's peculiar conception of fire, and through fire, of its relationship to nature. Between the untamed fire of the wilderness and the tended fire of the hearth lies a never-ending dialectic in which human beings struggle to control natural forces and processes that in fact can sometimes be directed but never wholly dominated or contained.
"Stephen Pyne's Vestal Fire is an astounding tour de force, even by this writer's demandingly high standards: nothing less than a total history of the western conception, practice, and response to fire through (at least) three millennia."
– Simon Schama, author of Landscape and Memory
"Vestal Fire can be described as Pyne's masterpiece, a prodigious and eloquent narration of European history spanning several millennia, woven together by a common thread, fire."
"A work of marvelous intellectual force and considerable learning."
– Atlantic Monthly
"No one is better qualified to teach us about fire's history, fire's crucial role in shaping landscapes, than Stephen Pyne. His discussions of forestry, land-management elitism, pastoral incendiarism, nature reserves, the conservation movement and the ecology of disturbance are profoundly valuable."
– New York Times Book Review
"Vestal Fire is Stephen Pyne's masterpiece. In it, he offers nothing less than a retelling of all of European history from a vantage point no other historian has ever adopted so consistently before: that of the fire which in Pyne's view burns at the very heart of Western civilization.""
– William Cronon, from the Foreword
"A learned and ingenious book, likely to be influential in the history of humankind's relationship with the environment."
– Kirkus Reviews
Foreword by William Cronon
Prologue: Quest for Fire
Book 1: Elements
Diamond in the Rough: A Physical Geography of European Fire
New Worlds from Old: A Biogeography of European Fire
Fusain and Flame: A Natural History of European Fire
Errant Fire: The Hominid Colonization of Europe
Cultivated Fire: The Agricultural Reclamation of Europe
Pyrotechnia: The Technology of Combustion
Domiciled Fire: Hearth and House
The Fire in the Cave: Combustion and Cognition
Need-Fire, Vestal Fire: Ceremony and Ritual
Book 2: Europe
Eternal Flame: Fire in Mediterranean Europe
Prologue: West of Eden
Behold, Before a Garden, Behind a Waste
Arcadia and Anarchy: Mediterranean Pastorale
Grand Traverse: Imperial France
Mediterranean Miniature: Cyprus
Epilogue: Fin-de Siecle Fire
Controlled Combustion: Fire in Central Europe
Prologue: Ashes and Embers
Landnam: The Fire of First Contact
Reclamation: The Fire in the Garden
Revolution: The Enlightenment Comes to Agriculture
Revolution Redux: Forestry Takes Command
Wild Hearth: Fire in Boreal Europe
Prologue: Fire and Water
Fire and Sword: The Historia of Olaus Magnus
Fire and Ax: The Finnish Colonization
Fire and Field: The Travels of Linnaeus
Fire and Iron: The Adventures of Nils
Epilogue: Final Flame
Flaming Front: Fire in Eurasian Europe
Prologue: Wooden Rus' Is like a Fire
The Candle and the Torch
Lines of Fire, Fields of Fire
Emancipation and Suppression
When the Sky Burned
Epilogue: Fire in the Minds of Men
Spot Fires: Fire in Atlantic Europe
Prologue: Sparks in the Wind
It Was All a Planted Garden: The British Isles
Green Fire: The Celtic Isle
Northern Mists, Northern Smoke: The Norse Islands
Blessed Isles, Burned Isles: The Iberian Islands
Epilogue: The World Encompassed
Book 3: Earth
New Fire: The Coming of Antropogenic Fire
Strange Fire: The Coming of European Fire
Sacred Fire: The Coming of Conservation
Carrying the Fire: Europe Expands
Counter Fire: Europe Contains
Fire in the Ashes: Europe Rekindles
Conduction: The European Connection
Radiation: The Neo-Europes
Convection: Black Death, Heat Death
Epilogue: Beyond the Realm of Fire
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Stephen J. Pyne is professor of history at Arizona State University. He is the author of nine other books, including Fire on the Rim: A Firefighter's Season at the Grand Canyon.