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American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  452 Ratings  ·  83 Reviews
In the bestselling tradition of Michael Pollan’s Second Nature, this fascinating and unique historical work tells the remarkable story of the relationship between Americans and trees across the entire span of our nation’s history.

This fascinating and groundbreaking work tells the remarkable story of the relationship between Americans and their trees across the entire span
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published April 24th 2012 by Scribner (first published April 17th 2012)
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Jan 20, 2013 Paula rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Interesting, but insufficient. Perhaps all histories are notable as much for what they leave out as for what they put in. Retelling American history by looking to the trees is a worthwhile endeavor, however. It skews our perspective just enough to make us look at what we already know in a fresh way. That said, Rutkow doesn't deviate from the traditional approach of viewing history as the consequence of the acts of Great (or at least infamous) White Men. Most of the actors in the drama here have ...more
Erin Bartels
Sep 24, 2013 Erin Bartels rated it it was amazing
A unique lens through which to view our country's history. At times, hard to read, not because of the prose (which was excellent and engaging while still being informative, professional, and unbiased) but because of the cringe-inducing activities of both our forebears and ourselves. It is amazing that our country has any trees left after what it has endured at the hand of man. But Rutkow manages to give us hundreds of years of history, ring by ring, in a tone that never wags fingers or condemns ...more
Gary Brecht
Nov 26, 2012 Gary Brecht rated it really liked it
Not being a “tree hugger” by nature, I was a bit reluctant to pluck this one off the library shelf. However, Eric Rutkow’s history of America, told through our nation’s relationship with trees and forests, managed to enkindle within me a spark of concern over the fate of our planet. The author traces the evolution of our nation’s attitude towards woodlands; from the early colonists’ view of forests as an obstacle to be tamed, to a resource for survival, to a restorative place for the human soul. ...more
Aug 03, 2015 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall, a very balanced and informative book. I particularly liked his treatment of the 19th century and the early 20th century. His history of the logging industry, the growing awareness of the importance of our forest resources and the development of the National Forests were particularly interesting to me. I feel his treatment of the late 20th century tended towards the political. I would have interested to hear of Nixon's attitude towards the myriad of environmental legislation passed ...more
Joe Zagrodnik
May 29, 2012 Joe Zagrodnik rated it really liked it
The best history books bring long deceased historical figures back to life, instilling the same hopes, fears, and passions in the reader that the characters experienced themselves. Usually, these figures are known for their role in major events or for having a positive influence that radiates far beyond their physical lives. Historian Eric Rutkow illuminates one of these under-appreciated participants in the American history narrative, but Rutkow’s main character is not a person but rather an ...more
Feb 28, 2014 Tom rated it it was amazing
A thoroughly enjoyable, albeit a little overwhelming in its detailed history, book that provides a look at our history from the perspective of our trees, our exploitation and consumption of them, their contribution to critical phases of the country’s development and our eventual movement to protect them and the ecosystems of which they are part.

The book was part of the genre of storytelling from the perspective of a particular product or commodity’s effect on the world, e.g., Mark Kurlansky’s bo
A couple months ago I was having an extra hard day, and Panda decided the cure would be to visit the new Palo Alto public library and pick out a book. This one practically jumped into my hands, and has been a perfect bedtime companion for weeks -- I even took it to Yosemite with me so it could visit the great Sequoias :)

The overarching theme of the book is America's changing relationship to trees and forests. Given that the author was a student at Yale, home of the first professional forestry sc
Robin Haworth
May 04, 2015 Robin Haworth rated it really liked it
Given the author's day-job as an environmental lawyer, one might excuse him for writing, or at least expect him to write, a soapbox screed on environmentalism. And yet, in American Canopy, one finds a measured and virtually opinion-free telling of the history of America's relationship with its trees. It's a more interesting tale than one might expect, and is well-written and well-researched to boot. The relationship between humans and nature is a complex one with much gray area. American Canopy ...more
Aug 17, 2012 Lori rated it really liked it
This book is about the role trees have played in american history. how our huge amount of natural resources were an advantage in both world wars and helped build our navy when masts were made out of wood (england had depleted their forests and were forced to buy ours). many important figures like franklin, FDR, TR, frederic law olmsted, gifford pinchot, johnny appleseed. sounds boring to read about trees but it was not. there was even an effort to plant trees from canada to texas during the Dust ...more
Jul 12, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing
Really an amazing book. The author does a great job walking through the history of America and our relationship to the trees. The book had a lot of information, ready well, and was well organized.

I feel that up until the last 20 pages, he remains mostly factual and scientific. In these last pages, he pretty much attacks republicans and gives democrats leeway because of other political issues that prevent them from doing what's right. Not trying to debate the merits of global warming - just sayi
Aug 23, 2012 Dayna rated it it was amazing
I finally got this back from the library and am digging back into it. Stupid work that ruins my reading schedule.

Great read about the importance of forests to humans.
Aug 05, 2013 Mike rated it really liked it
Tracing the importance of trees in American history, Eric Rutkow is understandably forced to be selective in what he dwells on in American Canopy. Despite glossing over some areas I would not have, he still has put together a very engaging and clearly well researched series of tales showing how Americans have finally come to understand the profundity of trees through centuries of reliance, abuse and increasingly responsible management.

Highlights of American Canopy for me tend to center around th
Chadwick Saxelid
Nov 23, 2014 Chadwick Saxelid rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This review appeared in the April issue of the Concordian.

I doubt that I am alone in not giving all that much thought to trees.

When I was a child, trees were nothing more than just another set of monkey bars for me to climb in or swing from. To this day the only types of tree that I can easily identify are the Douglas fir and the Noble fir, because those are the most often used trees at Christmas, and the majestic Redwoods of Northern California.

After I grew up and became a suburbanite, trees be
Oct 28, 2013 Claire rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I didn't know more about the history of trees and forests in the US than that I'd heard that once a squirrel could have traveled across the continent on tree tops and never touched ground. I knew that old-growth forests had more to offer their environment than their wood, something that replanting did not restore. This book expanded my understanding considerably. Rutkow explores our varying attitudes toward trees and links them with the history of the development of the nation.

Two links were par
I finally checked out American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation based on Sigmagirl's recommendation over on the SDMB as well as an author interview on the Diane Rehm show back in May 2012 (it's been on my ToRead list for awhile!).

I found it to be an engrossing look at how timber and trees impacted American (and to an extent) European history. Rutkow starts with the colonies supplying raw materials to the motherland - particularly ships' masts during the height of the British Na
Mar 18, 2016 Joyce rated it really liked it
I am a sucker for history told through examination of the quotidian: cod, salt, houses -- now trees. The arc of this story is pretty simple: first we Americans cut down all the trees we could find, then we learned to grow them.

In fact the country was settled in part because of the wood supply it represented to the Old World, and western expansion especially was driven by the need for timber. Railroads were primarily wooden -- the cross ties, the cars, the fuel, even the iron wheels (which were f
May 16, 2014 Shari rated it really liked it
This is a very fine history of America's forests from the advent of our first colonists to the present day. Faced with a new land densely covered in forest, our forefathers thought there would be a neverending supply of trees. A hard land where clear space must be wrested away from the dark forest, but a land overrun by trees. These trees provided everything Man could need -- shelter, warmth. habitat for wildlife which graced their tables. But Man had to slowly learn that these great unending ...more
Feb 15, 2015 Alexis rated it liked it
Mostly kind of an expansion on things you already know a bit about in American history. Johnny Appleseed, lumber barons, organized labor, Washington's cherry trees (And Washington's cherry tree; apparently the original (but still fictional) line was, "I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet."), orange trees, Walden, Yosemite, etc., but details of which you probably don't. An interesting study of changing attitudes that ultimately wasn't in-depth enough ...more
a bit of a conundrum here. while this is a very adequate book, and even looks at a few things new to me like board feet of railroad ties used per year and why usa still uses wooden ties (instead of stone/concrete/metal like france) i already know all about all his topics, the cutting over of usa trees, the cutting down of old old trees, the diseases and invasive species, the great wealth extracted from usa tress, with very little returned back, the abnegation of our responsibilities to care for ...more
May 30, 2014 Kathy rated it liked it
This book is a timeline .......the history of trees in America from colonial (even before colonial times) to the present day and the way we view and treat our nation's trees.

It has chapters broken into subchapters covering all over the country ...for example, it talks about Thoreaux and Walden Pond and also the California sequoias and how we dealt with them...there is a chapter on Johnny Appleseed and there is a subchapter on the creation of Central Park.

My only complaint with this book is that
Dec 26, 2015 Brandon rated it it was amazing
American Canopy is by far one of my favorite books I have ever read. Not knowing much about the forestry practices of the United States in the past and present, this book does a wonderful job of outlining the history and importance of trees in America. No book has had as much of an impact on my way of thinking as this one because it broadened my limited knowledge of trees, proponents of tree conservationists, and the history of conservation in America. Also, it has a wonderful bibliography to ...more
Jul 26, 2013 Jeanne rated it really liked it
History of the United States through the lens of its forests. Wide scope, from settlement to recent elections, Rutkow takes on a lot. It took me a while to get through this book, but I think that suggests its worthwhile nature. I've had many other books that I would have given up on long before. I could see professors assigning chunks of this book to their students in either historical or environmental classes. If I had to pick one, I'd lean more towards history. Rutkow does get more into the ...more
Apr 06, 2014 Josh rated it really liked it
Great book on US history and how the development of the nation was dependent and intertwined with our relationship with the forests and their products. Something for everyone in here. The breaking up of chapters into smaller vignettes greatly enhances readability. Unlike a lot of the books on how marginal commodities change the world (Cod!) which feel somewhat overwrought, the author pulls this off nicely. Great insights into Muir, Thoreau, Olmstead, and FDR among many many others and their ...more
Wally Muchow
Jun 23, 2015 Wally Muchow rated it really liked it
American Canopy

American Canopy is a very interesting history of forests and trees in the United States. The book ranges widely over a number of related topics from how Great Britain reserved the largest most valuable tress in the New England forest for masts which caused resentment and a shortage of masts during the Revolutionary war to how wood was used in the expansion of the suburbs. It is a n enlightening book that is somewhat depressing as you read about the number of species that have been
Amy Reed
Jun 14, 2013 Amy Reed rated it it was amazing
Well-written book -- really brings the players and events to life. I thoroughly enjoyed Eric Rutkow's book and appreciate his clear, intriguing writing style. This book left me wanting to know more about the events covered, so it's led me to other related books about the significant individuals covered in this book. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in a different take on our natural history in the continental U.S. or interested in the early stages of the conservation and ...more
Jun 18, 2016 Emilie rated it really liked it
Great book about how trees shaped our nation. One point I find interesting is that the ready availability of trees since the founding of our nation and before may have played a role in consumerism in America today. The abundance of timber meant Americans didn't feel the need to conserve this resource. I enjoyed the profiles of some famous tree lovers and advocates-- John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, etc. I read this book as I sat at my campground in the Redwood National Park and ...more
Jul 19, 2015 Ben rated it it was amazing
This book combined my two favorite interests: history and trees. I am so glad this book was written. I learned something new in every chapter. This book really did a good job of going back and forth between history and tree information and at times joining the two topics. Anyway I hope my review will encourage a few of you out there to read this book and enjoy it because it addresses and informs the reader on many relevant topics. The author has clearly put considerable energy and dedication ...more
Howard Cincotta
Mar 30, 2013 Howard Cincotta rated it really liked it
American Canopy is a fascinating exploration of U.S. history through the prism of its forests, and evolution of our perceptions of them as a howling terrifying wilderness, an inexhaustible resource to be clear cut and sawn into lumber without restraint, and today, a precious environmental legacy to be managed and preserved.

An informative deeply researched book that ranges from descriptions of how the wood pulp industry grew to the invention of urban parks and Arbor Day, the unknown story of our
Mar 21, 2015 Anise rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
A rather sordid history of how we've squandered and degraded the forests from the start of European colonialism of North America right on through to the present day. I wouldn't say that it's poorly written (it's not) or that it wouldn't be interesting to the right audience (people interested in the technological evolution of the United States, or perhaps the history of the conservation movement), but I found it to be a thoroughly depressing read. I would have enjoyed it a lot more had it been ...more
May 27, 2016 Katherine rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Thoroughly enjoyable read, I'm looking forward to what else this author puts out.

Nice blend of the people behind America's "tree history" with the science, policy, and interplay with culture and other American history through the centuries.

Unlikely that even the most dedicated history, tree, and/or nature lover would not come away from reading this without learning much and enjoying the book throughout.
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