Becky's Reviews > Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England

Changes in the Land by William Cronon
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Feb 12, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: colonial-history, environmental-history, history, native-american-history, favorites
Read in April, 2012

How wonderfully enjoyable and informative this compact book turned out to be! Though I'm sure environmental history doesn't elicit much excitement from most people in general, I could see how most anyone could enjoy this book, at least anyone who has some curiosity as to the chain of events in nature in some fundamental ways or anyone who has an interest in the Indians' versus the settlers' ways with the land.

This book starts out describing the Native American Indians’ relationship with their environment (in this case, the New England environment) which is very interesting in itself because of how cleverly in sync they were with what the land had to offer - that is the way they molded their way of life to fit what nature had to offer them as opposed to molding nature to fit their way of life. It reminded me of things I'd read in the books 1491 by Charles Mann and American Colonies by Alan Taylor, the first of which disappointed me due to its confusing and semi-hostile delivery, and the latter which I appreciated very much. This book greatly complimented both for me by honing in on some interesting environmental details. It was great at telling the why and how of what it told you, such as the influence of the old world system on the settlers ways of using the land and how deforestation changed soil composition in crucial ways.

I learned so much from this book. I learned what trees were valued for what such as white pines being valued for their height and straightness and their use to build ship masts. I learned that black oak worked best for the bottom of ships because it was more resistant to some of the sea life that would bore into the hulls of ships. I learned how deforestation specifically affected the soil and subsequently water shedding and flooding. I learned how livestock too wreaked havoc on the soil. In sum, I learned what occurred to the New England environment from the beginning of the settlers’ arrival with reasoning as to why it happened, whether that reasoning was good or bad, and I learned how and why the land was used in ways unique to both the Indians and the Europeans. With all the details given in this book, one clearly sees how the land was depleted and drastically changed from what it had been and one sees why this happened from both cultural and economic standpoints.

I have to admit that I occasionally ponder the idea of existing in nature a little more like how the Indians did, especially in the way that they placed a priority on mobility as opposed to accumulation of things. And I guess you could say that our world is, in its own way, evolving to a style reminiscent of this, for example, streamlining of goods & entertainment through technology, the increase in renters versus home owners, organic diets, etc.
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