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The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed Paperback – May 17, 2006


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The felling of a celebrated giant golden spruce tree in British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands takes on a potent symbolism in this probing study of an unprecedented act of eco-vandalism. First-time author Vaillant, who originally wrote about the death of the spruce for the New Yorker, profiles the culprit, an ex-logger turned messianic environmentalist who toppled the famous tree—the only one of its kind—to protest the destruction of British Columbia's old-growth forest, then soon vanished mysteriously. Vaillant also explores the culture and history of the Haida Indians who revered the tree, and of the logging industry that often expresses an elegiac awe for the ancient trees it is busily clear-cutting. Writing in a vigorous, evocative style, Vaillant portrays the Pacific Northwest as a region of conflict and violence, from the battles between Europeans and Indians over the 18th-century sea otter trade to the hard-bitten, macho milieu of the logging camps, where grisly death is an occupational hazard. It is also, in his telling, a land of virtually infinite natural resources overmatched by an even greater human rapaciousness. Through this archetypal story of "people fail[ing] to see the forest for the tree," Vaillant paints a haunting portrait of man's vexed relationship with nature. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* This powerful and vexing man-versus-nature tale is set in an extraordinary place, Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands, and features two legendary individuals: a uniquely golden 300-year-old Sitka spruce and Grant Hadwin, a logger turned champion of old-growth forests who ultimately destroys what he loves. With a firm grasp of every confounding aspect of this suspenseful and disturbing story and a flair for creating arresting allegories and metaphors, Vaillant conveys a wealth of complex biological, cultural, historical, and economic information within an incisive interpretation of the essential role trees have played in human civilization. Breathtaking evocations of this oceanic realm of giant trees and epic rains give way to a homage to its ghosts, for this is the sight of a holocaust, where the creative and dauntless Haida were nearly decimated by Europeans who also clear-cut the mighty forests. It is this legacy of greed and loss that rendered the immense golden spruce, a miraculous survivor, sacred, and that drove Hadwin to cut it down. This tragic tale goes right to the heart of the conflicts among loggers, native rights activists, and environmentalists, and induces us to more deeply consider the consequences of our habits of destruction. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (May 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393328643
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393328646
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Vaillant is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, National Geographic, Outside, and Men's Journal, among others. Of particular interest to Vaillant are stories that explore collisions between human ambition and the natural world. His work in this and other fields has taken him to five continents and five oceans.

His first book, The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed (Norton, 2005), was a bestseller and won several awards, including the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction (Canada).

His second book, The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival (Knopf, 2010) was an international bestseller and has been translated into 15 languages. Film rights have been optioned by Plan B, Brad Pitt's production company.

In 2014, Vaillant won Yale University's Windham Campbell prize for nonfiction (worldwide English).

His first novel, The Jaguar's Children (HMH, 2015), is coming out in January.

Customer Reviews

Vaillant sets up the story well, priming the reader with history and science until Hadwin comes into the picture.
Jessica Lux
John Vaillant has exposed a compelling story, a murder mystery where the victim is a rare spruce with brilliant golden needles.
Salt Lake City Reader
When I read the synopsis for The Golden Spruce, I thought "Is there enough story here to fill a full length book?"
Michael Lima

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Lux on July 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The most obvious comparison to Vaillant's work is that of Jon Kraukauer. Both have chronicled superhumans in the wild, putting their main characters within the scientific, evironmental, and political context of the day.

This is a book about so many things--the natural history of British Columbia and the offshore islands, the heritage of the Haida and other island British Columbian tribes, the lives of the courageous men who felled trees for logging companies in the 1900's, and the life of logger-turned-activist Grant Hadwin, who felled a magnificent and one-of-a-kind-tree. Vaillant weaves a compelling tale of the formation of the islands and the native tribes, who first gained wealth trading sea otter pellets with the Europeans. When that business dried up, there were tough times until the logging business picked up. One tree, the Golden Spruce of myth and legend, was spared by the logging conglomerates as a publicity stunt, until Hadwin came along.

Vaillant sets up the story well, priming the reader with history and science until Hadwin comes into the picture. I only have two criticisms of the book. (1) Hadwin is kind of "snuck in" to the story. Vaillant speaks of Hadwin's uncle Angus and then brings Hadwin in without introducing him as the man the Golden Spruce story is about. Unless the reader read the inner jacket, they have no idea why they are reading about this Hadwin (or Angus) character for so long. (2) There are no pictures of the mythical Golden Spruce, other than the cover shot, which looks to be altered so that it stands out more than the other green trees. I'm not even sure if the cover shot is genuine or an artist's rendition.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Salt Lake City Reader on May 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John Vaillant conjures the mystery of the Pacific Northwest coast where hundred-foot waves wash fish into the limbs of trees and diving birds fly underwater, a land where the Haida people collaborate in their own near destruction through exploitation of the otter trade, a place where an indestructible and brilliant logger becomes a zealous, misguided environmentalist. The rainforest is a place of myth and transformation. If you dare to enter, you will be changed. And if you enter the world of this magical book, where trees grow 300 feet tall and live 500 years, you will be transfigured by what you know. John Vaillant has exposed a compelling story, a murder mystery where the victim is a rare spruce with brilliant golden needles. Without sentimentality, with complete reverence for the tree as a tree, Vaillant illuminates the terrible loss, and the deeper loss it represents: the desecration of old growth forests. Mr. Vaillant has done his research and rendered his tale with suspense and energy, with great beauty, in a language that approaches poetry.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Simon Cleveland VINE VOICE on July 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In my opinion John Valliant's book is improperly equated to Krakauer's works. I believe this is done as a marketing effort. The considerable difference is in the main subject of the work - in Krakauer's it's the man, in Valliant's it's the Nature.

This book is a manifesto, a cry for worldwide attention of the destruction forces of human nature, against the mindless consumerism that exterminates the landmarks of the natural world.

I loved this book. I enjoyed reading about the intricacies of a profession, which claims more lives each year than many other high risk jobs. I was captured in the narrative on the delicate nature of this very complex organism - the tree. I was amazed to learn of another miracle of the Earth - the Golden Spruce, this landmark of biology that survived despite all odds. I was saddened to find out of yet another disappearing Indian nation, that of the Haidas.

Beautifully written, containing a wealth of information on an industry I knew little about, it narrates a story about the act of a sick man and his effort to attract worldwide attention to the right issue via the wrong deed. But in the end, the story begs the question - Is sometimes the sword mightier than the pen? You decide, reader.

This book is wonderful and should be on the reading list of all high schools. Young adults must learn about the consequences of logging, the result of defaced lands and their effect on the world's environment.

- by Simon Cleveland
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Bert Ruiz on August 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This entertaining narrative is about a mythic tree in the Canadian Galapagos. Author John Vaillant carefully explains how the Golden Spruce and Grant Hadwin...the immensely talented but deeply troubled frontiersman who cut it down...were both one in a billion.

Vaillant is a majestic writer. His historical description of Canada's Northwest Coastal forest in British Columbia is superb. The author carefully details how the Northwest forests support more living tissue, by weight, than an other eco system, including the Equatorial jungle. He also reports how the Queen Charlotte Islands were the historical territory of the Haida People, who call their home Haida Gwaii. The Haida People knew the Golden Spruce was exceptional and called it "K'iid K'iyaas" for the Elder Spruce Tree.

The woodcutter has been the point man for Western civilization. Some loggers are good, considerate road builders. Unfortunately, most loggers are extremely wasteful and rape the earth. Grant Hadwin was a rugged woodcutter and intelligent road builder who detested the giant corporations that destroyed vast forests with little concern for fundamental environmental considerations. Over time Hadwin leaves his wonderful family...becomes mentally unglued...and commits a great crime. Recommended.

Bert Ruiz
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