American Canopy by Eric Rutkow
Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation

71%

11 Critic Reviews

A meaty history of the American forest and a convincing testament to its continued political, cultural and environmental importance.
-Kirkus

Synopsis

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 the majestic white pines of New England, which were coveted by the British Crown for use as masts in navy warships, to the orange groves of California, which lured settlers west. In fact, without the country’s vast forests and the hundreds of tree species they contained, there would have been no ships, docks, railroads, stockyards, wagons, barrels, furniture, newspapers, rifles, or firewood. No shingled villages or whaling vessels in New England. No New York City, Miami, or Chicago. No Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, or Daniel Boone. No Allied planes in World War I, and no suburban sprawl in the middle of the twentieth century. America—if indeed it existed—would be a very different place without its millions of acres of trees.

As Eric Rutkow’s brilliant, epic account shows, trees were essential to the early years of the republic and indivisible from the country’s rise as both an empire and a civilization. Among American Canopy’s many fascinating stories: the Liberty Trees, where colonists gathered to plot rebellion against the British; Henry David Thoreau’s famous retreat into the woods; the creation of New York City’s Central Park; the great fire of 1871 that killed a thousand people in the lumber town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin; the fevered attempts to save the American chestnut and the American elm from extinction; and the controversy over spotted owls and the old-growth forests they inhabited. Rutkow also explains how trees were of deep interest to such figures as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, and FDR, who oversaw the planting of more than three billion trees nationally in his time as president.

As symbols of liberty, community, and civilization, trees are perhaps the loudest silent figures in our country’s history. America started as a nation of people frightened of the deep, seemingly infinite woods; we then grew to rely on our forests for progress and profit; by the end of the twentieth century we came to understand that the globe’s climate is dependent on the preservation of trees. Today, few people think about where timber comes from, but most of us share a sense that to destroy trees is to destroy part of ourselves and endanger the future.

Never before has anyone treated our country’s trees and forests as the subject of a broad historical study, and the result is an accessible, informative, and thoroughly entertaining read. Audacious in its four-hundred-year scope, authoritative in its detail, and elegant in its execution, American Canopy is perfect for history buffs and nature lovers alike and announces Eric Rutkow as a major new author of popular history.
 

About Eric Rutkow

See more books from this Author
Eric Rutkow, a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, has worked as a lawyer on environmental issues. He splits his time between New York and New Haven, Connecticut, where he is pursuing a doctorate in American history at Yale. American Canopy is his first book.
 
Published April 24, 2012 by Scribner. 418 pages
Genres: History, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math, Professional & Technical, Sports & Outdoors. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for American Canopy
All: 11 | Positive: 7 | Negative: 4

Kirkus

Excellent
Apr 01 2012

A meaty history of the American forest and a convincing testament to its continued political, cultural and environmental importance.

Read Full Review of American Canopy: Trees, Fore... | See more reviews from Kirkus

Publishers Weekly

Below average
Feb 06 2012

Though a great potential resource for students, the book may prove too dry for general readers, and not original enough for specialists.

Read Full Review of American Canopy: Trees, Fore... | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

Wall Street Journal

Below average
Reviewed by GERARD HELFERICH on Apr 13 2012

...the author's enthusiasm slips into overexplanation (we probably don't need to be reminded that Thomas Jefferson is "best remembered as a statesman" or that "in the history of America, there are few dates more prominent than December 7, 1941")...

Read Full Review of American Canopy: Trees, Fore... | See more reviews from Wall Street Journal

LA Times

Below average
Reviewed by Emily Green on Apr 29 2012

There is so little description of actual woods and trees in "American Canopy" that one can't be sure if he knows a cedar from a pine.

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The Washington Post

Excellent
Reviewed by Colin Woodward on Jun 01 2012

. . .readers will come away. . . wiith a greater appreciation of the role of both forests and trees in our ongoing national story.

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Chicago Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Julia Keller on May 04 2012

..."American Canopy" is an energetic, illuminating book, and it ends on a rising note of beauty...And just in case Walters ever asks — I think I'd want to be a sycamore. How about you?

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Boston.com

Excellent
Reviewed by Anthony Doerr on May 20 2012

. . . a deeply fascinating survey of American history through a particularly interesting angle. . .

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Cleveland.com

Below average
Reviewed by Michael Scott on Apr 22 2012

. . .fascinating, but dense. Its prose can be as dry as kindling.

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Business Week

Excellent
Reviewed by Tal McThenia on May 03 2012

. . .an even-handed and comprehensive history that could not be more relevant.

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St. Louis Today

Excellent
Reviewed by Joseph Losos on Apr 21 2012

There is much in this book on the prevalence of wood products in our life, but more on their deeper significance.

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UT San Diego

Excellent
Apr 21 2012

It is a lively story of driven personalities, resources that were once thought to be endless, brilliant ideas, tragic mistakes and the evolution of the United States.

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jennifer druckman

jennifer druckman 5 Sep 2013

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