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

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  7,070 ratings  ·  839 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
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 17th 2006 by W. W. Norton Company (first published May 17th 2005)
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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Jenny (Reading Envy)
This is one of those books that turns me into THE most annoying wife. I just couldn't help myself, I needed to read the interesting tidbits out loud. A golden spruce AND an albino raven. Trees as heavy as jumbo jets. A seven hour ferry ride to get to these cold weather islands. A first-nations group whose language is not related to any other group. Strong as the Vikings. Etc.

This book was recommended to me by someone who knew I'd be on a ship near the Haida Gwaii. Never heard of whatever that i
Jul 28, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Sep 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: canada, reviewed
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
Cathrine ☯️
4✚ 🌲 🌲 🌲 🌲
“Eight hundred years to grow, and twenty-five minutes to put on the ground. It’s sad, but it’s a living.”
—veteran B.C. logger

“Fancy cutting down all those beautiful trees . . . to make pulp for those bloody newspapers, and calling it civilization.” —Winston Churchill, remarking to his son during a visit to Canada in 1929

Following my favorite book of 2019, The Overstory, this surprise page turner sawed into the ventricles of my heart and rendered it into pulp. It was not lost on me tha
J.K. Grice
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite accounts of man and the natural world, THE GOLDEN SPRUCE is such an amazing book. Vaillant does a superb job weaving the history of the logging industry into this tale of Native Americans and one white man who seemed to push himself over the edge. If you like books such as INTO THE WILD, don't miss this one. Just and extraordinary read.
Apr 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 26, 2015 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
Mar 12, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Connie G
The golden spruce was a tall tree venerated by the Haida, a Canadian First Nation tribe living on the Queen Charlotte Islands. The shimmering golden color was formed by a genetic mutation. This 300 year old Sitka Spruce thrived because reflected light from the water of the Yukoun River reached its inner green needles, allowing photosynthesis to occur. The book centers on Grant Hadwin chopping down this mythical tree in the dead of night in 1997. Hadwin was an expert logger who had a psychotic my ...more
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
Nov 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Apr 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
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 of 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
Ettore Pasquini
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: natura-viaggi
What a painful book.

This is a story about a tree, although from the get-go you see it is actually about many trees. And actually it’s about the region of Earth (Queen’s Charlotte Islands in British Columbia) that hosts them and what relation its inhabitants have built with her in the last 300 years.

It talks about how western "civilization" has exploited the natural resources of the North-West without any conscience. This was and is primarily carried out by logging corporations, who nonchalantly
Aug 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A riveting read with breathtaking scope, considering that the core is a mystery story without resolution. Vaillant takes the reader on a walk through a vast tract of background, covering Canadian history from first contact, Pacific logging practices, Grant Hadwin's ancestry, Haida Gwaii traditions, and environmental opinion. All this with the pageturning energy of a murder mystery. But there's no convenient good/bad guys; there are complicated, layered, and very current issues to be weighed.

I th
waffling a bit on the star rating... 3.5, if we could. not quite a 4-star read for me.

vaillant is a very good writer. i was riveted by his book The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, so was keen when the golden spruce was chosen for my in-person book group. the book club discussion was very good, and the group was divided on hadwin's fate - a testament to vaillant's writing and the structure of the book, leaving readers open to form their own ideas and opinions.

there is a lot of inf
Lesley Hazleton
Oct 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Reading in the Rockies
⭐⭐⭐ 3.5/5

“During one autumn around 1700, on the west bank of the Yakoun River, a random Sitka spruce cone opened and let a seed like no other drift to earth.”

The Golden Spruce is a fascinating and detailed account of the rare tree after which the book is titled, the story of how it came to be and its unique ecosystem in the coastal wilderness; the story of the man who felled it, and the nearly 300 years of context in between. Vaillant describes the exploration and discovery of British Columbia,
Overall Rating

I finally finished The Golden Spruce and recognize that I may have done a disservice to the author and the book by reading it in short doses over too long a period. That’s not how I like to read. I find the reading process much more fruitful and powerful by reading only only book at a time and over a short period so that only one book can be my primary focus. Unfortunately I had lots of work commitments and too many books on the go at the same time as I read The Golden Spruce.

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
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
Abby Howell
Oct 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Since I worked for the Forest Service in Oregon 1979-80, much of the story about logging and the huge trees of the Pacific Northwest resonated with me. I remember logging trucks with one, at the most two huge trees, barreling down the curving logging roads. I didn't realized I was seeing the end of an era. This is more a book about this not-to-long-ago era of rampant logging in the Northwest and the Queen Charlotte Islands, and less about the one man who killed a sacred tree. I appreciated the i ...more
Taylor Rutherford
May 12, 2017 rated it liked it
My biggest criticism about this book is that the back of the book makes it sound like it will focus on Grant Hadwin, however that was not really the case. The book really focuses on the lumber industry and ties everything back to the industry, rather than to Grant. I do however think the book succeeds in making you rethink how you see the environment.
Feb 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
I remember visiting the Big Cypress in Florida as a school girl and hearing years later that it had been burned by an arsonist. I don’t think Grant Hadwin’s motive for destroying the Golden Spruce was fully explored or explained in the book. Some conjecture about mental illness and plenty of indication that he liked to prove he could outwit and outdo others.
We are collectively guilty of depleting the earth’s natural resources to meet our needs and satisfy our whims and desires. How many “golden
Howard Cincotta
Mar 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Maayan K
Oct 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Stunning story of the history of Pacific Northwest logging, the Haida culture, and a man who defies understanding. I especially loved Vaillant’s detailed accounts of the loggers and their trade, the evolution of technology in the forests and its clear and defeat sting results. Hard to read how we have destroyed so much ecosystem.
Feb 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
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2015 Reading Chal...: The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed by John Vaillant 1 13 May 21, 2015 06:07PM  

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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

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