Tony's Reviews > The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed

The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant
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's review
Feb 14, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: read-2008
Read in March, 2008

THE GOLDEN SPRUCE is sort of three stories in one, except, really, it's all the same story. Wheels within wheels, the saying goes, and that is the case with this tale of First Contact, the rarest of trees, and Grant Hadwin, the man who shall be forever linked with that tree.

John Vaillant does a great job weaving these three stories together, taking the reader on a ride through four centuries of conflict, commerce, and exploitation. The historical background of the story, from the beginning of the fur trade between Europeans and the First Nations of the northwest to the modern day consumption of timber and other resources, is deftly covered. The book never bogs down in the details, and never loses sight of the history's purpose, to show how the behaviors of the past led to the behaviors of today.

The story of the golden spruce is well-handled, as well, though it is the slightest of the three strands of the narrative. A good deal of the heritage of the tree is held in First Nation oral tradition, and, as Vaillant explains, the translations leave a good deal to be desired.

The story of Grant Hadwin, the human subject of the book, is detailed, yet, for me, is the least interesting part of the narrative. This part of the story is most reminiscent of Krakauer's INTO THE WILD, which this book is unavoidably compared to, but the humanity of the subject is not as prominent. It might be a function of the subject, himself, or the writer; however, Grant Hadwin's story didn't grab this reader as did the story of Chris McCandless.

Hadwin's attraction and his mystery, however, might lie in his choice of expression. His psychology might be up for debate, but his motivation, the end of clear-cutting timber, is not. We may never really understand how the wheels of Hadwin's mind worked, but we can still see with wonder how the wheels of time, love, and greed meshed together to bring one man and one tree to one place at one time.

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