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The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  4,135 Ratings  ·  564 Reviews
When a shattered kayak and camping gear are found on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Northwest, they reignite a mystery surrounding a shocking act of protest. Five months earlier, logger-turned-activist Grant Hadwin had plunged naked into a river in British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands, towing a chainsaw. When his night's work was done, a unique Sitka spruce, 16 ...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published May 17th 2006 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2005)
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Dec 26, 2015 BrokenTune rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, canada
2.5* rounded up.

There comes at last a moment when the pole is centred in its hole, supported only by the people who surround it, that it becomes clear to some what it means to be Haida – and plain to all how many hands it takes to resurrect a tree.

You looked at the star rating, didn't you? Well, there is a reason why this book only got 2.5* off me, but it is nothing to do with the level of interest with which I read this.

Indeed, I have never thought that I ever would read a book about logging an
Look at this beautiful Golden Spruce:

ETA: Check out National Geographic's article on the Haida (Vol 172, NO.1, July 1987)

Anyone interested in forest conservation should read this book. It is informative and clear. You will learn about the timber industry. Maybe that sounds dry, but the book is in no way dry. Why? That is because the author couples it with a true event concerning the chopping down of the tree shown above and the disappearance of the man wh
Jun 01, 2009 Jillita rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Have to admit that I picked it up because of the hunky guy coming out of the water on the book's cover. And it's about trees. How could that be bad?

Took this on a long work trip and couldn't put it down. In many ways it's utterly depressing as the author pours through the history of how humans have decimated the world's forests, native cultures, and other natural resources...but the author crafts an unforgettable story of life among the wild Pacific Northwest coastal forests...from native coasta
Mar 12, 2008 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's a lot of interesting information in this book, and I enjoyed that aspect of it, but the author would have benefited from someone reigning him in a bit. He sort of wrote a small book about the early trading that took place along the coast of the Pacific Northwest, and then one about the natural landscape and flora in that region, and then one about the guy whom the book is ostensibly about. Almost all of which was new and intriguing info for me, but I feel like there was too much shifting ...more
May 02, 2015 Mmars rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature
A 3 star read rounded up to 4.

Sometimes a book turns out to be different from what you expected and such was my reading experience with the Golden Spruce. This makes it harder to be objective. I was expecting total focus on the cutting down of the tree and the man who did it. That is here, but there is so much more. And, well, had I paid attention to the subtitle and the picture (duh!) I’d have realized the book’s focus was the tree itself. It also doesn’t help that I had heard nothing of this
The story revolves around Grant Hadwin, an expert Canadian logger turned environmentalist, and his seemingly incomprehensible and barbaric act of cutting down an old, beautiful and one of a kind mutant spruce tree with golden needles called the Golden Spruce.

Hadwin surreptitiously cut down the Golden Spruce one cold January night in 1997 and fled in the wake of his act never to be seen again. The tree was ancient and huge, over 300 years old, 50 meters tall and sacred to the Haida, the native p
Sep 26, 2015 Ms.pegasus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in conservation or ecology
Author John Vaillant portrays the unique ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest Coast with powerful images. The watery element is emphasized in the region's technical name, the Very Wet Hypermarine Subzone. The wetness comes not only from the pocket of moist air walled by a spine of coastal mountain ranges, but from the abrupt fluctuation in sea depth at the lip of the continental shelf. Tides are so high they blur the distinction between land and sea. Vaillant's most lyrical passages describe the c ...more
Aug 03, 2016 Lauren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It seems that in order to succeed - or even function - in this world, a certain tolerance for moral and cognitive dissonance is necessary.

A Sitka spruce once grew near the banks for the Yakoun River in the remote Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte islands off the coast of northern British Columbia. It grew for hundreds of years before it was technically documented for what it was: a rare anomaly of genetics and environment, growing healthy and visible for miles. Revered by the
Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma
A book about trees and you'll be surprised about how much you don't know about trees. We use tree products everyday without thinking of where those products came from.

A lot of trees have been destroyed in the past in the name of civilization.

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed tells of the life and death of that tree, which was cut down in 1997 by a disillusioned former logger. Like nonfiction writers John MacPhee or Jon Krakauer, Vaillant weaves facts into a compelling t
Dec 05, 2012 Lela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was informative, fascinating, beautifully written and haunting. Certainly continued the skew in my thinking away from the greed and destructiveness of logging companies....not to mention the continuing removal & killing of Native Americans. Had to weep at the losses.
Carol Anne Shaw
May 06, 2013 Carol Anne Shaw rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“If you want to understand Haida Gwaii,” my husband said, “read, The Golden Spruce. it’s got everything.” He was right. It does.

In 1997, The Golden Spruce - a rare Sitka spruce tree that grew near Port Clements on Haida Gwaii, was cut down illegally in the middle of the night. This tree possessed a rare genetic mutation that caused its needles to be golden in colour. Grant Hadwin, an ex-logger and engineer cut down the 300-year-old tree in such a way that it would be blown over during the next s
Lesley Hazleton
Oct 26, 2007 Lesley Hazleton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extraordinary story, wonderfully told. Was haunted by this story ever since I first read part of it, I think in The New Yorker, or maybe Harper's. Pounced on it when I saw it had come out as a book. Not just the built-in tension of the disappearing hero/antihero, driven crazy/sane by eco-destruction, but an amazingly empathetic telling from the point of view of all concerned -- conservationists, First Peoples, and loggers (and sometimes, the same person can be all three). Plus of course that sac ...more
Andy Miller
Apr 22, 2016 Andy Miller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This nonfiction account set in the rugged, rainy, isolated Queen Charlotte islands alternates between two characters. The first the title character, a golden spruce in the middle of a forest on one of the islands that was a rare unifying force between the Native Americans on the island who revered it and incorporated into their culture and religion and the logging companies who went out of their way to preserve this unique tree. The other character is Grant Hadwin, a loner from an academic and s ...more
Maayan K
Oct 23, 2016 Maayan K rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book is de rigueur in my department, and I finally got around to it. The reputation is well deserved. This is nonfiction that I can get into. It gets filed together with three other notable nonfiction efforts about the west coast: The Curve of Time, Eating Dirt, and Adventures in Solitude. The four together make me feel like I'm not such a bad BC resident. Even if I haven't been to Desolation Sound, Haida Gwaii and up the north coast, at least I've read about them.

This book is histo
Jan 16, 2016 Nicole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having been born and raised in a logging town in British Columbia (my dad was a faller/bucker), and having worked in the West Coast logging industry for a year and a half, this book was definitely of interest to me. That also may make me biased to like it. Regardless, it was a really interesting book. I enjoyed the writing style and for some reason I actually liked how John Vaillant jumped around between topics. For example, one moment he was writing about how badass and drunk West Coast loggers ...more
Howard Cincotta
Mar 12, 2014 Howard Cincotta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The Golden Spruce is ostensibly the tale of two lives and deaths: that of logger and environmental activist Grant Hadwin, and a massive Sitka spruce tree with a remarkable mutation that resulted in golden instead of green needles. But the real protagonist of this riveting and deeply researched story is the forest and coastal seas of British Columbia, an otherworldly landscape of violent winds and seas and deep arboreal forests populated by a race of giants – cedar, Douglas fir, spruce, and redwo ...more
Isaac Yuen
Short Version: This is an absorbing story that weaves together the history of Western Canada and the culture of First Nations, European explorers, and loggers on one of the most remote and pristine locations on Earth.

Long Version: The story is centered about the singular Grant Hadwin, an outdoorsman that puts other outdoorsmen to shame, and who was more at home in the untamed west coast rainforest than he is in normal society. It speaks of his transformation from a logger/ timber scout into an e
Sep 07, 2008 Dan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like trees and manly men
The story of Grant Hadwin, skilled logger turned radical environmentalist, provides the central momentum for this fluent discussion of the history and effects of the logging industry, particularly that of the Pacific Northwest. The book is broad in scope, touching upon the indiginous peoples of the British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands, the role of technology in the logging industry, the culture of loggers themselves, and the environmental ramifications of modern man’s efficiency at clear-c ...more
It's a good book. It reads like a long-form Rolling Stone article by an author with some heavy Krakauer aspirations, and -- as it turns out -- long-form Rolling Stone articles drawn out to book length can get to sounding a bit like listening to stories told by your great-grandpa Milton. But still ... good book. It's compelling where you don't expect it to be; it's informative, even if it leaves you with the impression that you might want to double check before spouting off trivia gleaned from wi ...more
Kristen Connors
May 18, 2016 Kristen Connors rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The way the book takes you through the history of the Q.C, Haida and Norwestermen made this a page turner for me. It was heartbreaking to read both sides of the (devastating) effects of logging, trade and prosperity and growth on such a small region but I enjoyed the way the author intertwined Q.C. history with the story of the Great Spruce and Grant Hardwin. Felt a little lost with all of the name introductions towards the end of the book when Hardwin was on the run; the author shifts down rabb ...more
Jul 06, 2012 Lauren rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book was a giant let down. I wanted to love it, the pages and pages of glowing reviews in the front assured me I would...but no such luck. I even bought the actual book (instead of getting from the library) since I knew I would want to pass it to my dad to read, but now I can't justify giving this to someone.

The actual story of the Golden Spruce and Grant Hadwin is really interesting, but take up about 25 pages in this 300 page book. Some of the other content is also interesting, but in gen
I quite enjoyed author John Vaillant's other book The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival and was pretty excited to start this one. The subject matter--an (arguable) act of bioterrorism resulting in (gasp!) the felling of a single tree--seems, at the outset, much less lurid than that of man-eating Siberian tigers, and I did start this one with the expectation that it might be, well, kind of dull. Never fear, you seekers of the macabre. Between the graphic descriptions of logging accide ...more
Sep 05, 2013 Loraine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story is simple; we get the gist of it from the synopsis. But it is John Vaillant's telling of it that makes it such a great read. We get wave after wave of interesting stuff and you don't know where you are going until you are in it, and then it is quite a ride!
Sep 04, 2015 Al rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This non-fiction account of the famous Golden Spruce tree that lay before in the land of the Haida people, on Charlotte Island in BC, is written almost as a novel complete with suspense and a sense of inevitability. The book is an amazing account of the live of the people who cared for this tree for hundreds of generation, and it also present an excellent summary of the forestry industry and the magical that some First Nations' culturres are still able to cultivate.

The story of the Golden Sprun
I enjoy this dual-natured non fiction story: first, an absorbing account of the logging industry on North America's West Coast and in particular, the colonial through modern day history of logging in Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands).

Second, the story of Kiidk'yaas, a rare, yellow-colour Sitka spruce tree, which was a popular tourist attraction and integral part of Haida culture and mytholody - until it was illegally cut down in 1997 as a protest by former logger Grant Hadwin again
I love this book. I love it in so many different ways and on so many different levels, I hardly know how to begin. It is filled with pages and pages of description, which I tend to get annoyed with quite quickly. This book however, is one of the rare exceptions and reminds me that extended amounts of description need not be tedious and irrelevant (as in Cold Mountain- 'The bird alighted on the tree and a leaf fell and I saw that the sky was blue, with some clouds, and I looked at the tree again ...more
Feb 18, 2010 Agreenhouse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book at a youth hostel in New Hampshire where I had gathered with fellow outdoorspeople for a weekend of winter adventures. Even after an exhausting day of cross country skiing, the subtitle of the book caught my interest, and I started to read.

I finished reading the book a few weeks ago, but it still haunts my thoughts. I do not look at trees the same way. I do not look at craziness or lost causes the same way.

Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you plan to read this book...

This boo
Bonnie Brody
Mar 07, 2012 Bonnie Brody rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very well-written and interesting book. It has several plots, each of them holding the reader's interest throughout the book.

One of the plots deals with the history of logging in the northwest, specifically in Alaska where the Haida Indians live. The Haida live in a very remote area of Alaska, difficult to get to and accessible only by air or boat. On the islands they call home, there is an amazing tree - a Golden Spruce. The Haida have incorporated this tree into their spirituality.

Nov 04, 2012 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So having now read two of John Valliant’s books - The Tiger and now, The Golden Spruce - I’m prepared to give him title of Most Best Genre Blender. It’s hard to tell you whatkindof book The Golden Spruce is because it’s a combination of straight up history (but of various subjects - colonization, the logging industry in BC), mythology, biography and narrative. The effect of the genre shifting - and it is shifting, between paragraphs and within chapters the “kind” of story subtly changes without ...more
Jun 13, 2013 Catherine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was a true pleasure to read. I generally favor novels, but this book has steered me onto a strong streak of narrative nonfiction. The Golden Spruce tells a terrific tale, and its compelling, detail-packed narrative is aptly compared to John Krakauer and Sebastian Junger's work. I should say, though: I have great respect now for John Vaillant on his own, and would like to find his other work. He writes for the New Yorker and Harper's, but may be less known in the States -- he lives in V ...more
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John Vaillant is a non-fiction author and journalist who was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and has lived in Vancouver for the past thirteen years.

John Vaillant is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and Outside, among others. His first book, The Golden Spruce (Norton, 2005), was a bestseller and won several awards, including the Gover
More about John Vaillant...

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“Fancy cutting down all those beautiful make pulp for those bloody newspapers, and calling it civilisation. - Winston Churchill, remarking to his son during a visit to Canada in 1929” 21 likes
“There is a saying among the peoples of the Northwest Coast: “The world is as sharp as the edge of a knife,” and Robert Davidson, the man responsible for carving Masset’s first post-missionary pole, imagines this edge as a circle. “If you live on the edge of the circle,” he explained in a documentary film, “that is the present moment. What’s inside is knowledge, experience: the past. What’s outside has yet to be experienced. The knife’s edge is so fine that you can live either in the past or in the future. The real trick,” says Davidson, “is to live on the edge.” 3 likes
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