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Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment (Publications of the German Historical Institute) 1st English Ed Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521616737
ISBN-10: 0521616735
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Joachim Radkau's Nature and Power offers the best overview of world environmental history available in the English language. Radkau has an independent cast of mind and an uncanny ability to focus on the 'hot' topics in the global environmental field. His perspective is always fresh and insightful, even when he is taking the reader down well-trodden paths."
- Mark Cioc, University of California, Santa Cruz

"Americans may have invented the field of environmental history, but today some of the most ambitious work is coming from outside the country, offering provocative new approaches and perspectives. Joachim Radkau joins that international band of innovative historians with this extraordinary work of global synthesis. It is bold, opinionated, and important."
- Donald Worster, University of Kansas

"...an indispensable addition to library collections on environmental history. Essential." -Choice

"A review like this cannot do justice to the richness of Radkau's account of world environmental history. And it is perhaps the richness, the diversity, and the complexity of this account that will be this book's most important legacy to world environmental history." - David Christian

"Radkau has crafted a book of extraordinary scope by building on regional environmental histories as well as earlier world histories...Thomas Dunlap translated Nature and Power for this English edition, and his translation is virtually flawless, providing exquisite prose that never reveals that the ideas originated in a different language."
World History Bulletin, Kim Little, University of Central Arkansas

Book Description

Nature and Power explores the interaction between humanity and the natural environment from prehistoric times to the present. It explores human attempts to control nature as well as the efforts of societies and states to regulate people's use of nature and natural resources
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Product Details

  • Series: Publications of the German Historical Institute
  • Paperback: 450 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1st English Ed edition (February 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521616735
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521616737
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,059,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Frank T. Manheim on December 11, 2011
Format: Paperback
This volume, recipient of the World History Association book prize for 2009, is an English translation of "Mensch und Natur in die Geschichte", published in Leipzig in 2002. The author, Joachim Radkau, is a German historian who doesn't do small stuff - subjects with less than historical and holistic comprehensiveness. A selection of his previous books include "German Industry and Politics from Bismarck to Today" (1974); "Wood - a Natural Raw Material" (1989), and "Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment" (2000).

I'm a policy researcher trying to make sense of U.S. environmental and regulatory policy. Radkau's book and insights amply repay study for its relevance to international perspectives on today's environmental issues. It could be useful to academic and policy researchers, advanced students, environmentalists, industry leaders, politicians and policymakers, as well as historians. Yet, there was not a single prior review of Radkau's book prior to my effort. In contrast, Thomas Friedman's "The Earth is Flat" has 1079 Amazon reviews. Friedman, a well-known columnist for the NY Times, is a knowledgeable and skilled writer. But is his book 1000 times more useful or insightful than Radkau's book? Friedman offers new observations and ideas about the issues of the moment - that tend to be dated by the time a new book arrives.

This contrast in Amazon reader interests brings to my mind a somewhat parallel assessment by a highly-regarded observer about America, Alexis De Tocqueville. In his famous book, "Democracy in America" (1835), the young French nobleman reported often-quoted flattering examples of "American Exceptionalism", i.e., national characteristics not found in the countries from which immigrants to America originally came.
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Format: Paperback
"Nature and Power" is not for the faint of heart, it is very dense, both in terms of the amount of text per page and in its conceptualizations. Throughout the text Radkau spends significant amounts of time discussing the historiography of environmental history and the intellectual history of environmentalism. The first chapter in particular says virtually nothing of substance (e.g. changing water levels in Denmark or rate of deforestation), but rather deals entirely with how we think about environmentalism. While I found it mind numbing, someone else might really appreciate it. But there is plenty of substance to be had.

One problem Radkau faces is that he tends to avoid the apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists, instead offering a balanced, nuanced view that can easily be lost in translation (so to speak, this is after all a literal translation as well, and a good one at that) -- but his environmentalist peers do not appreciate this nuance, and the anti-environmentalists are too prone to claim his as their own. Towards the end of the book Radkau tells about how a radio show used his book to claim that there are no environmental problems to be overly worried about. This clearly is not the case. Radkau simply points out that struggles with sustainability are not new, and that apocalyptic predictions tend to fall short (thankfully). As problems become manifest, human attention is diverted to them. It is environmental problems that are masked that cause the most trouble.

Humanity appears to have begun its history with wasteful use of resources. Slash and burn agriculture, where forests are burned down, and the ash used as a short term fertilizer, was the norm for many years. When humans were few and land was plenty that was generally fine.
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