Book review: Global environmental history: an introductory reader

14th January 2013

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Global environmental history: an introductory reader

Edited by John R McNeill and Alan Roe / Routledge / Paperback £28.99 / ISBN 978-0-4155-52053-9

Humans have always transformed the environment in which they live, but often fail to recognise, until it is too late, the true nature of the environmental degradation they inflict.

Environmental history is a relatively new field of academic study that can help us better understand that legacy by exploring past relations between people and their environment.

Global environmental history is a series of essays put together by two academics at Georgetown University, John R McNeill and Alan Roe, as an introduction to the field.

Organised in three parts – global perspectives, regional perspectives and environmentalism – topics covered include the impact on countries’ natural environment by European colonisation; how mining has transformed Latin America; and what 3,000 years of unsustainable growth has done to China’s ecosystems.

If you’re interested in how human activity has created the environment we have today, then this book is worth a read. Did you know, for example, that in 1669 Louis XIV created the French Forest Ordinance, which penalised forest destruction and regulated tree cutting, and was intended to repair the damage wrought by the destructive use of natural resources?

Now, if only our current leaders took a similar stance on environmental protection …

Review by Paul Suff, editor of the environmentalist


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