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Fire: A Brief History (Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books) Paperback – September 1, 2001

3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

yne's latest is the final chapter in the Cycle of Fire (including Vestal Fire; Burning Bush), a six-part suite charting the environmental history of conflagrations and humanity's interaction with the technology of fire. This dense and carefully researched volume examines the myriad ways people have intervened in the destructive, renewing and transmuting powers that fire provides a dual evolution leading to a dynamic coexistence. "Equipped with fire, people colonized the Earth," Pyne writes. "Carried by humans, so did fire." In exacting detail, Pyne traces a historiography of the pyre: the naturally occurring "First Fires" of the Devonian period (roughly 400 million years ago), which burned off biomass and altered early plant life; the domestication of fire by hominids for cooking, hunting, rituals, and burning land for sowing; the advent of urbanization and pyrotechnology, when humans learned to control fuel sources, to manipulate oxygen flow (via hearths and stacks) and to maintain heat to produce everything from power plants to war machines. Pyne's involved examination tends to be dry, and the heavy scientific language might dampen the appeal for the casual browser. But this is a fascinating, fact-filled book; the deft and at times airy prose often sparks with puns and ironies. Of particular interest to readers of nature and ecological history, this volume also illuminates another side of the stories Sebastian Junger told in his recent title on the same subject.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Review

"Fire: A Brief History packs into one slender volume a sweeping tale of fire, and man's interactions with fire, from prehistory to the dawn of the twenty-first century. Pyne's perceptive words and tightly organized sentences allow him to suggest many thought-provoking ideas and to bring to his audiencea fascinating story of fire's role in shaping our world."―H-Net Book Review

"An excellent overview of why the history of humanity cannot be told without the history of fire. . . . An excellent book and strongly recommended for all audiences, especially those with interests in anthropology, geography, history, natural sciences, or the humanities."―Choice

"Stephen J. Pyne writes about fire as if he were on fire, with searing, consuming heat and light. When he looks at fire he sees not biological catastrophe but social illumination and natural renewal."―Seattle Times

"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

"Pyne is the world’s leading authority on the history of fire, and his erudition is phenomenal. He offers us a broad panorama of ecological and human history in a framework of geology and geography. He shows what a great impact fire has had in shaping landscapes, flora, and fauna all over the world, and how in the late Pleistocene humans have, as it were, joined forces with fire by learning to manipulate it."―Science

"Pyne weaves together with rare interdisciplinary skill science, ecology, and the arts and humanities to write the history of human involvement with fire in all its manifestations and meanings."―American Forests

"Vestal Fire taught me more about European and world history than any other single book I have ever read, abounding, as it does, in new information, new ideas, and new understandings of the past, thanks to Stephen J. Pyne’s energetic and imaginative inquiry into the unique partnership between humans and fire."―American Historical Review

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Product Details

  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press (September 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 029598144X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0295981444
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #794,802 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Pyne has won a deserved reputation as the leading cultural historian and philosopher of fire. This book should have been an opportunity to summarize his findings in a clearly written, easily read way for people who are unlikely to read his more detailed studies. Pyne does offer us many interesting observations and perspectives on the history of fire. Unfortunately, he imposes a pretentious "writerly" style on his material, making his book laborious to read. His self-conscious literary artistry obscures as much as it reveals. Many of his poetic statements are not explained with supporting facts. A more straightforward telling of this story would be welcome.
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Format: Paperback
I had to choose a book to review for a conservation class, since none of them were in stock in any bookstore I took an random chance ordering this one. I realize now that I made a bad decision. Pyne jumps all over the place in his writing, there is no clear linear track to the chapters while discussions jump from prehistoric people to European colonization. I understand the basics of what he is trying to say, that fire has been an integral part of the world for the past 500 million years but he does it in such a convoluted way that I honestly can't recommend this book to anyone.
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Format: Paperback
This book might contain some interesting information, but if it does it's hidden beneath an impenetrable layer of literary and poetic pretension. Every second sentence contains a simile or metaphor.... seriously! It gave me a headache trying to read it.

To communicate effectively, writing should be clear and direct. This book is anything but. Perhaps the author should read someone like Jarred Diamond to see how to bring an interesting topic to life.

It's a shame, because the list of chapters looks interesting. Perhaps someone else will write / has written a book covering similar territory.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I find Pyne's writing not only expert in his content, but thoroughly enjoyable reading. Once I read one of his, I had to buy and read the others. Yes, he uses big words sometimes, yes, he quotes fine literature sometimes -- But I see these things as eloquence -- and I learn what I had not known. I'd sure like to meet him some day, and discuss some fires with him!
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