Fire in America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire

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From prehistory to the present-day conservation movement, Pyne explores the efforts of successive American cultures to master wildfire and to use it to shape the landscape.

University of Washington Press

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Editorial Reviews

On rare occasions, the historical literature is enriched by the introduction of a broad new field for study, by a book that dramatically expands the boundaries of scholarly investigation. Stephen Pyne’s Fire in America is such a book. It achieves the Promethean goal of bringing fire to history.
This unusual and imaginative work takes a phenomenon that seems at first glance to be so elemental as to have no history and no evolution, and gives it a dynamic role in the drama of American advance from frontier through agricultural to industrial society. By integrating the history of fire with ecology, agriculture, logging, and resource management, Pyne has made a unique contribution to the history of science and technology, as well as to cultural history in general.
Journal of American History
Stephen J. Pyne compels our admiration for his gargantuan ambition and richly informed intelligence. He tells us more than anyone else to date has about the role of fire in the landscape, tells us we have been wrong in assuming a pristine state of nature before the white man’s invasion, tells us what fire has meant to the rise of civilization and this nation. No one interested in environmental history can afford to ignore this massive achievement.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780295975924
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/1997
  • Series: Cycle of Fire Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 682
  • Sales rank: 1,243,746
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Table of Contents

List of IllustrationsForeword by William CrononPreface to the 1997 Paperback EditionPreface to the Original Edition: History with Fire in its eyeAbbreviationsPrologue: The Smoke of TImeNature's FireThe Fire from AsiaThe Fire from EuropeThe Great BarbecueThe Heroic AgeA Continental ExperimentThe Cold War on FireFields of FireEpilogue: The Forbidden FlameBibliographic AbbreviationsNotesBibliographic EssayIndex

University of Washington Press

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2002

    Best Forest Fire Source Book Around

    Don't plan to read this book curled up, cozy and warm, next to a controlled burn in the fireplace. However, those wanting a sound education in wildland fire should put this book first on their reading list. It is substantive and comprehensive; the author takes no pity on those imprisoned by narrow, one-issue interests. Over and over, the author demonstrates that with wildfires and wildfire policies, complexity and diversity eventually emerged triumphant over narrowness and homogeneity. The changeover in the USDA Forest Service from 70 years of total commitment to fighting all fires to mixed strategies of fuel reduction and fire suppression is a case in point. Widely read pamphlets such as 'Forest and Flame in the Bible' and highly successful public relation campaigns featuring Bambi and Smoky the Bear helped the Service waged its protracted war on fire. Successes and failures alike were followed with pleas for more manpower, money, and machines to carry on the sacred fight. The author shows that in the 1970s, changing views on forest values and new scientific studies of fire physics and ecology were instrumental in forcing this radical retooling of fire control policies. Ironically, the new policies acknowledge the merits of traditional, folkloric fire practices once common with Native Americans and frontiersmen. As the reader progresses, stunning accounts of great forest conflagrations are liberally interspersed with scholarly analyses of forest history, fire ecology, and fire policy. Since the early 1900s, the Forest Service has been the undisputed leader in formulating the nation's fire control policy and practices. Strong, influential state forest agencies typically got started with a rich base of ideas, policies, funding, and professionals borrowed directly from the Forest Service. The terrible Second World War firestorms in Dresden and Tokyo and the threat of nuclear attack rekindled scientific interest in the physics of massive fires and in the great, historical conflagrations of the Great Lake States and elsewhere. Thus, fire policy in the nation's forests was impacted by a complex brew of changing vegetative and land-use patterns, availability of manpower and machines, civil defense preparedness, and new public attitudes toward fire. The book has predictive qualities like those of a good chemistry text that enables analysis of how a certain proposed reaction might behave. The section 'Fire on the Mountain; A Fire History of the Southwest, sets the stage for the great Arizona Rodeo fire, June, 2002, which of course, burned years after the book was written. This book deserves its many accolades. The scholarship level is high, the coverage is comprehensive, and the author skillfully integrates historical, cultural, and scientific components into a lively and engaging story. Many forest professionals and historians have read this book; it's time for environmentalists, national forest vacationers, insurance executives, bank lending officers, and watershed managers etc. to step up to the plate!

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