George Perkins Marsh: Prophet of Conservation

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George Perkins Marsh (1801–1882) was the first to reveal the menace of environmental misuse, to explain its causes, and to prescribe reforms. David Lowenthal here offers fresh insights, from new sources, into Marsh’s career and shows his relevance today, in a book which has its roots in but wholly supersedes Lowenthal’s earlier biography George Perkins Marsh: Versatile Vermonter (1958). Marsh’s devotion to the repair of nature, to the concerns of working people, to women’s rights, and to historical stewardship resonate more than ever. His Vermont birthplace is now a national park chronicling American conservation, and the crusade he launched is now global.

Marsh’s seminal book Man and Nature is famed for its ecological acumen. The clue to its inception lies in Marsh’s many-sided engagement in the life of his time. The broadest scholar of his day, he was an acclaimed linguist, lawyer, congressman, and renowned diplomat who served 25 years as U.S. envoy to Turkey and to Italy. He helped found and guide the Smithsonian Institution, shaped the Washington Monument, penned potent tracts on fisheries and on irrigation, spearheaded public science, art, and architecture. He wrote on camels and corporate corruption, Icelandic grammar and Alpine glaciers. His pungent and provocative letters illuminate life on both sides of the Atlantic.

Like Darwin’s Origin of Species, Marsh’s Man and Nature marked the inception of a truly modern way of looking at the world, of taking care lest we irreversibly degrade the fabric of humanized nature we are bound to manage. Marsh’s ominous warnings inspired reforestation, watershed management, soil conservation, and nature protection in his day and ours.

George Perkins Marsh: Prophet of Conservation was awarded the Association for American Geographers' 2000 J. B. Jackson Prize. The book was also on the shortlist for the first British Academy Book Prize, awarded in December 2001.

University of Washington Press

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Editorial Reviews

Historical Geography
Every page, almost every line, of this remarkable book shines with the scholarship, learning, and insight of both the subject and the author.
The Naturalist
This superbly written biography provides a brilliant insight into the life and background of one who was influential in the development of today's environmental movement.
The Journal of American History
Learned in twenty languages, a lawyer, (unsuccessful) businessman, several-term congressional representative, sometimes university lecturer, lexicographer, grammarian, archaeological enthusiast, veteran diplomat, and ceaseless pursuer of sundry projects civic and scholarly, Marsh was a rare example of amateurish Yankee ingenuity transformed into a disciplined, cosmopolitan intelligence.
Northern Woodlands
Truly remarkable... Lowenthal is masterful in weaving together the whole of Marsh's remarkable life: his wide ranging scholarly interests, diverse personal experience, command of myriad languages, and his ability to constantly criticize and reverse himself in the light of new evidence and experience.
A vivid portrait of Marsh against his intellectual and social background.... Lowenthal is the ideal biographer.... Everyone should come away with a better appreciation of a man who was a century ahead in recognizing many of our environmental problems and who addressed them at a fundamental level.
The Economist
Brings to life the career and ideas of an important green forerunner [whose] book was one of the founding works of modern environmentalism.
The history of science in 19th-century U.S., the political culture of the diplomatic world, the politics of Italian independence— all are commented on by two brilliant scholars: Marsh and Lowenthal.
Boston Globe
Classic... a compelling read.
American Historical Review
This book is well written, well constructed, and thoughtful— valuable as a biography of a fascinating American Victorian amateur scholar, politician, and diplomat, and essential as a contribution to the history of environmental thought.
Providence Journal
Anyone with an interest in protecting the environment should not miss it.
Environmental History
Masterful summaries of complex Balkan and Italian politics, power struggles at the Smithsonian, small-town life in Woodstock and Burlington, big-town life in Washington D.C. and Turin...One of the classics of environmental biography.
Historical Geography
Every page, almost every line, of this remarkable book shines with the scholarship, learning and insight of both the subject and the author.
A vivid portrait of Marsh against his intellectual and social background...Lowenthal is the ideal biographer...Everyone should come away with a better appreciation of a man who was a century ahead in recognizing many of our environmental problems and who addressed them at a fundamental level.
Christina Tree
Classic...a compelling read.
Boston Globe
Library Journal
New biographical expectations, new historical and environmental insights, and the availability of new primary sources inspired Lowenthal (professor emeritus of geography, University Coll., London) to revise his 1958 biography of George Perkins Marsh. A lawyer, farmer, manufacturer, congressman, diplomat, scholar, linguist, and pioneer conservationist, Marsh is best known for Man and Nature, first published in 1864. A lifetime of study and keen observation helped him understand the impact of humans on the environment and the resulting social, economic, and political ramifications. Considerable history is included in this biography, which ranges from antebellum America, the Civil War, and Reconstruction to Turkey, the Middle East, and the story of Italian unification; Marsh witnessed them all. Marsh was a product of Puritan New England, with all the attendant class prejudices, but as Lowenthal demonstrates, he had a modern, holistic world view as well. Recommended for all libraries, especially those with environmental collections.--Patricia Ann Owens, Wabash Valley Coll., Mt. Carmel, IL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Mr. Lowenthal deserves considerable credit for bringing to life the career and ideas of an important green forerunner.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780295983158
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2003
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Book Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 632
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

David Lowenthal is professor emeritus of geography at University College London. His books include The Past Is a Foreign Country, West Indian Societies, and The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History.

University of Washington Press

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Table of Contents

List of IllustrationsForeword by William CrononPrefaceWoodstock and the First WatershedBurlington: Blunders and BereavementsPuritans, Vikings, GothsCongress and the SmithsonianAmerican History from the Ground UpConstantinople and the DesertMissionary Miseries, Mediterranean JauntsDebts and DromedariesVermont Public ServantThe English LanguageRisorgimento and Civil WarTurin and the AlpsMan and Nature: The MakingMan and Nature: The MeaningFlorence and Unfinished ItalyLast Watersheds: Rome, Cravairola, VallombrosaRetrospect: Forming a LifeProspect: Reforming NatureAbbreviations in Notes and bibliographyNotesBibliographyIllustration creditsIndex

University of Washington Press

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