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Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century Paperback – August 24, 1976

4 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Western thought, writes Clarence Glacken in this magisterial, highly influential study, centers on three questions: Was the earth made for a reason? Does the earth shape human life? How have humans affected the earth? Tracing these three questions in turn deep into antiquity, Glacken shows how varied the answers have been. Aristotle, for instance, argued that there was purpose in nature, with each thing created for the benefit of something else--especially humans. Christian thinkers extended Aristotle's ideas, although, as Glacken warns, it is incorrect to assume that this presupposes a hostility toward or indifference to the natural world. Glacken closes his tome with the advent of modern science, when theological questions gave way in large measure to more modest, empirical questions of form and process. --Gregory McNamee

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"Through a highly interdisciplinary framework, Glacken relates social and natural phenomena to the supposed dichotomy of man and nature. . . . Containing a wealth of data and new approaches to the story of the development of human society, the account is absorbing and thought-provoking."--"Choice
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 800 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (August 24, 1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520032160
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520032163
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #893,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on March 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
More than thirty years ago a book was published with an ambitious goal: to explore `nature and culture in western thought from ancient times to the end of the eighteenth century.' Glacken traced this thought through time as three major ideas ebbed and flowed in social consciousness: that of the Earth designed for man, the influence of the environment on man, and man's influence on the environment. Glacken's book was praised as a monument and a scholarly accomplishment. Despite the passage of time, today's students of geography are still reading Glacken's tome; it hasn't been superseded. As Glacken was writing Traces, a book published in 1962 was challenging assumptions, not only in academia but on the popular scene as well. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring described the hidden dangers of pesticides, amplified by the interconnections in nature. Less then forty years later, such far-reaching impacts are relatively assumed; today, popular writers are trying to convince the world of environmental problems of a global nature. Despite major changes in the environment and our understanding of our place in it, Glacken's book is as important and unique now as it was in the 1960s. The relatively recent discoveries of global scale changes like ozone depletion and climate change have helped to underscore the third of Glacken's three themes, that of man's influence on the environment. Although these man-made, global threats could be seen as unprecedented, academics studying them would find insights and foreshadows in the historical context offered by Glacken in Traces. In early Greek writings Glacken finds conceptions of man apart from (and superior to) nature.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Unfortunately, this is a book that many geographers may own, but few take the time to read. It is cited often, but I feel not understood very well. This is a work that all scholars will enjoy reading and will be a valuable reference work for decades to come.
I took a challenge from a professor to read the work one Christmas break. I was severely impressed with the book after reading it. But craming the reading into such a short period of time was difficult, and I do not feel those long sessions of reading were the best way to get the most from the work. But I enjoy using the index to look up topics of interest. And I feel that I need to look again at the introductory essay.
Glacken has three ideas that he draws out of his look at the history of Western thought: the idea of a designed earth; the idea of environmental influences on culture; and the idea of humans as a geographic agent. It is a must have for all geographers.
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Glacken's "Traces on the Rhodian Shore" is perhaps the definitive history of "Western" natural thought ever written. It is a useful source for quotes and analysis of pre-19th Century texts that may not be widely available. Another review suggests that it is one of the most cited and least read geographic texts, and I suspect this is true. It is well indexed, and you can then pick and choose what you are looking for.

I highly recommend that students of geography and human-nature interactions read this book once. That said, I have a number of reservations about its ultimate usefulness. Firstly, this book, while exhaustive, almost moves into the realm of being pedantic. It is trying to construct a monolithic view of history, and belabors some small texts for several pages, while moving too quickly over a diverse period at the end. Second, this book is a product of its time. It has a highly Orientalist view of history, and this can be seen by the order of the book, in which Glacken organizes the authors he looks at chronologically, instead of the order in which they came to have influence on Euro-American thought. Thirdly, Glacken presents the texts unproblematically, with little social contextualization. About 50% of the book looks at Judeo-Christian interpretations of 2 verses in the Christian Bible, without questioning the wider social movements that made these two fragments important, including the movements of his own time that suggest these two verses as the source of all environmental degradation. Finally, this is a book without a clear ending. By finishing his book with the end of the Eighteenth Century, Glacken manages to sidestep the proliferation of views that erupted shortly after this time.
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