- Series: Studies in Environment and History
- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (March 25, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1107004136
- ISBN-13: 978-1107004139
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,203,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History (Studies in Environment and History)
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"Gregory Cushman pursues this thought experiment with utterly magnificent results."
Frederick R. Davis, Science
"Central themes are clearly articulated in this carefully researched and well-crafted work. These include the importance of the Pacific world to the history of Australia, Japan, and the Americas; the emergence of the modern Pacific world; the "agency of nature" in that process; the link between the Pacific Islands and the Industrial Revolution; the "cultural influence" of resulting transformations; the 'experts' who caused ensuing problems; and ethical consequences. This global ecological study succeeds admirably in detailing the last two hundred years."
R. Scaglion, Choice
"Cushman traces multiple overlapping stories - he elaborates a sevenfold argument in the introduction - and his approach offers a pioneering model for future studies whose subjects cannot be contained by traditional conceptual (or physical) boundaries. ... [A] provocative example of what global environmental history can be, both broad in its geographical and temporal reach and firmly anchored in local histories and rich archival sources culled from research on several continents. Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World makes a vital contribution to Peruvian historiography, Pacific world studies, and the history of conservation."
Hispanic American Historical Review
"Diligently pursuing research in archives, and reading aggressively across disciplines, Cushman has delivered a majestic overview of not just a coastal resource, but of the emergence of the modern world in ecological terms."
Journal of Historical Geography
"... scholars everywhere will find this a highly intelligent and provocative book, well worth reading and pondering."
Paul Gootenberg, The Americas
"... the book includes some striking stories and challenging observations, and in the end it draws a compelling conclusion."
Sam White, Technology and Culture
"This remarkable book covers tremendous ground. Drawing on archival research in three languages over four continents and an enviable command of both the history and science of the environment, Gregory T. Cushman makes a compelling case that guano fundamentally shaped global economic development writ large. This is therefore an important book."
Ariel Ron, Journal of American History
"... [an] impressively vast book, which follows guano through time and space and intertwines environmental, social, intellectual, economic and climate histories with the history of colonialism, science, migration and global development ... The book is all the more noteworthy as, despite the massive breadth of the book's subject matter, Cushman remains attentive to the people in this history. The book introduces numerous individuals, from explorers, scientific experts, technocrats and colonial administrators through to the workers who mined the guano, nitrates and phosphates and members of the island nations displaced by the mining. All round, this is one of the most impressive books published in the emerging field of global environmental history."
Jim Clifford, Reviews in History
"This is as much an environmental history, as it is the history of environmental thought in the Pacific basin. Cushman is an excellent writer, bringing in a variety of perspectives, from scientists, environmental evangelists, politicians, economists and commodity traders, as well as island populations and bird-watchers, going so far as to imagine the perspective of the guano-producing birds themselves. In the hands of a less-talented writer this might have become quite confusing, but instead the persona (and animal) perspectives help anchor and reinforce the tight knit of humankind's relationship with its environment."
Juliette Levy, EH.net
This book provides a global history of guano, a once little known but vastly important commodity that originates in the Pacific Basin. Gregory T. Cushman argues that this unique resource played an integral role the Western Industrial Revolution, influencing modern developments such as environmental consciousness and conservation movements, the ascendance of science and technology, and world war.
Top customer reviews
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The book has a focus on guano, but much of it really focuses on nitrates and phosphates, the key point being the sharp increases in agricultural production when applied as fertilizer. And a whole cascade of environmental and historical effects (such as the Pacific war, won by Chile).
This is an academic study, although quite accessible. The detailed interactions among groups, individuals, institutions and markets is sometimes almost byzantine in complexity, so this is not a book for the casual reader. You will find it of interest if you are interested in guano (once a very important industry), the history of Peru, the sorry history of the Pacific phosphate islands (Nauru, Banaba), and Latin American influences on such people as Aldo Leopold. It would also be a useful source for anyone interested in a number of important but essentially forgotten figures such as William Vogt. If you are casually interested in environmental history, you may find parts of this book to be a crashing bore. Note that the book has won several book awards and is a volume in a series that has a lot of prestige.
Among some important points Cushman makes are the following. He develops the idea of a second stage of ecological imperialism--the first stage would be the ideas of Crosby and the "neo-Europes" of Australia, New Zealand, and so on (essentially settler colonies who brought their ecological systems with them). So the second stage is imperialism of say, Australia, in exploiting resources of Nauru--a useful if not well-defined concept. Cushman also discusses at some length, in various places in the text, the role of technocrats, and how they can sometimes make real blunders, a lesson for today in the sense that it is commonly thought that scientists will lead us out of the current environmental problems.
There are some surprises. There are guano islands in a number of places, including Angola and Mexico, and the US once pounced on guano islands thought to be available (we still own eight of them) because of the importance of guano to agriculture. Guano also provided raw material for explosives and for chemical industries, so Cushman's claim that guano jump-started much of the modern economy has some validity. I was unaware that Peru managed the guano islands rather successfully (Peru has gotten a rather bad press in these and other matters). One stunning fact is that profits from guano provided the payments to former slaveholders when slaves in Peru were freed (1854-55).
There's also a fine discussion of Peru's "Blue Revolution," of harvesting resources from the sea, harvesting the fish directly rather than indirectly through the birds. Which of course devastated the birds.
Cushman makes a particularly striking statement in his preface in which he states that the importance of guano in world history is comparable to that of the Second World War, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and the Black Death. He ambitiously attempts to prove the monumental importance of guano throughout the book by detailing the staggering impact guano harvesting and trade has had on the world. It is easy to disregard his words as an overstatement of a topic that is of personal importance as being exaggerated, but Cushman is rather persuasive in arguing his case.
Guano is worthy of study because it is an extremely effective fertilizer that is highly sought after globally. The exceptionally high levels of nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium makes guano ideal for commercial use. Due to its effectiveness, guano quickly became a global commodity, one in which Cushman argues played a major role in global industrial-capitalism. Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World expands upon the ideas of Albert W. Crosby’s Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 by analyzing the involvement of imperial powers in harvesting, trading, and utilizing guano fertilizer.
Cushman explains that the guano was responsible for raising and maintaining Australia and New Zealand to the status of First World countries. A large amount of guano was required for the ecological transformation of these two countries and to maintain their rural economies. The growing demand increased the need for a much large supply, which caused an increase in guano harvesting.
An increase in demand almost always results in an environmental problem. The natural habitat of many seabirds began to be overrun with people searching for rich deposits of guano. This sparked a conservation effort by the Peruvian government to protect the various seabirds and the islands they inhabited. Conservation efforts are very important because they ensure the survival of many species of bird and a continued supply of guano.
This book is an extraordinary accomplishment and brings to light importance information that is undoubtedly overlooked by the general population. At face value this book would seem to be very specialized, but Cushman integrates his topic into the larger picture of world history quite successfully. The book may be tough for some to follow because it jumps quite a bit due to the massive scale of the project. The addition of maps would have been extremely helpful because it is possible that the reader is unfamiliar the areas of the global the author is discussing. Cushman has created an excellent work that proves the importance of guano to world history and successfully shows that something as simple as bird excrement can change the world.