Otzi the iceman could not do without wood when he was climbing his Alpine glacier, nor could medieval cathedral-builders or today's construction companies. From time immemorial, the skill of the human hand has developed by working wood, so much so that we might say that the handling of wood is a basic element in the history of the human body. The fear of a future wood famine became a panic in the 18th century and sparked the beginnings of modern environmentalism.
Wood: A History traces the cultural history of wood and offers a highly original account of the connection between the raw material and the human beings who benefit from it. Even more, it shows that wood can provide a key for a better understanding of history, of the pecularities as well as the varieties of cultures, of a co-evolution of nature and culture, and even of the rise and fall of great powers. Beginning with Stone Age hunters, it follows the twists and turns of the story through the Middle Ages and the Industrial Revolution to the global society of the twenty-first century, in which wood is undergoing a varied and unexpected renaissance.
Radkau is sceptical of claims that wood is about to disappear, arguing that such claims are self-serving arguments promoted by interest groups to secure cheaper access to, and control over, wood resources. The whole forest and timber industry often strikes the outsider as a world unto itself, a hermetically sealed black box, but when we lift the lid on this box, as Radkau does here, we will be surprised by what we find within.
Introduction: Praising Wood, Caring for Wood, Splitting Wood - and a Historical Synthesis
Chapter One: Paths into the Thicket of History
1. The 'Wooden Age'
2. Man and Forest: Stories and History
3. Wood and Historical Change
Chapter Two: Middle Ages and Early Modern Period: Maximum Exploitation and the Beginnings of Sustainability
1. Medieval Society and the Limits of the Forest
2. Timber Becomes a Commodity
3. Large-Scale Firewood Consumption and the First Wave of Forest Ordinance
Chapter Three: From the Apogee of the 'Wood Age' to the Industrial Revolution
1. Reform, Revolution and the Wood Econony
2. The 'Spectre of Shortage': Did the Timber Trade Face Catastrophe?
3. The Forest: From Living Space to Capital
4. Wood Consumers: Economies in the Home and Outside
Chapter Four: Wood in the High Industrial Age: Degradation and Rebirth
1. The Forest as an Economic Factor
2. Technological Revolution in the Timber Industry
3. Fissile Material and Bonding Agent: Forest and Wood in the Eco Age
Chapter Five: Global Prospects and Contrasts
1. Lessons from Asia
2. Conflicts and (Ostensible) Solutions
3. Looking Back to the Future - Six Spotlights on the History of Forest and Wood
Joachim Radkau is professor of modern history at Bielefeld University.