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

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  304 ratings  ·  64 reviews
This fascinating and groundbreaking work tells the remarkable story of the relationship between Americans and their trees across the entire span of our nation’s history.

Like many of us, historians have long been guilty of taking trees for granted. Yet the history of trees in America is no less remarkable than the history of the United States itself—from
ebook, 416 pages
Published April 24th 2012 by Scribner (first published April 17th 2012)
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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
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
Tom Comte
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
Gary Brecht
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
Joe Zagrodnik
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 ea ...more
Erin Bartels
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
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
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 fo ...more
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.
One of my favorite history of trees/forests books. If I were to teach a course about American forests, this book would be included on the syllabus.
Chadwick Saxelid
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 lo ...more
Susan Keegan
Very well written! The best history books are the ones that make realistic and concise connections between facts and lives. This book, surprising at times, engaging always, does just that . My understanding of America's relationship with trees and forests has come together more cohesively. This book has filled in some very important gaps in my education. I seriously couldn't put it down. I will be adding this one to my bookshelves for certain.
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 en ...more
Linda S. Johnston
Eric Rutkow looks at American history in a new way - through the trees, literally. This is a fascinating account of the important role that forests played in the history of our country.
Bart Hoag
Interesting history of the role trees and forests have played in the development of the U.S. Well researched and very comprehensive.
Mike Smith
I really enjoyed the beginning of this book, and I was blown away by some of the facts shared about the early American forests. But as the book progressed the narrative beat was lost, the story became more and more episodic. But the book did make me feel very guilty about my own environmental waste. Overall, I was glad to read it, but I feel it could have been better.
Howard Cincotta
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
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 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 ...more
Amy Reed
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 environ ...more
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 conn ...more
This is a very clever history of the US, based on one of our most prolific natural resources, lumber and lumber products. It is peopled by many public characters, and by many unrecognized figures who changed how we view out public wild spaces. Anyone who is interested in conservation and/or environmental quality will be delighted with this well accomplished history, which will add many pertinent facts to a sympathetic reader's digest of pertinent information.
Just skimmed for now, but this book looks incredibly promising as an addition to my Environmental History course. As a survey text on the role of trees throughout American history, it'll be a nice piece to return to at different weeks to ground students in the physical destruction and conservation of trees in the US as connected to larger political events and cultural moments.
If I could give this book 3 1/2 stars, I would. Exhaustively researched, it's still very readable. I thought I knew quite a bit about John Muir, Daniel Boone, Gifford Pinchot, and United States natural history before I picked it up. Ha! I know a lot more now. I could probably bore the pants off the entire cast of Jersey Shore right here, right now.
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