Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment

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This Book Aims to Demonstrate that the changing relationship between humanity and nature is a key to understanding world history. Humans have been grappling with environmental problems since prehistoric times, and the environmental unsustainability of human practices has often been a decisive, if not immediately evident, shaping factor in history. Ironically, the measures that societies and states have adopted to stabilize the relationship between humans and the natural world have repeatedly contributed to environmental crises over the course of history. Nature and Power traces the expanding scope of environmental action over the course of history: from initiatives undertaken by individual villages and cities, environmental policy has become a global concern. Efforts to steer human use of nature and natural resources have become complicated, as Nature and Power shows, by particularities of culture and by the vagaries of human nature itself. Environmental history, the author argues, is ultimately the history of human hopes and fears.

About the Author:
Joachim Radkau is Professor of History at the University of Bielefeld in Germany

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Joachim Radkau's Nature and Power offers the best overview of world environmental history available in the English language. Radkau has an independent cast of mind and an uncanny ability to focus on the 'hot' topics in the global environmental field. His perspective is always fresh and insightful, even when he is taking the reader down well-trodden paths."
- Mark Cioc, University of California, Santa Cruz

"Americans may have invented the field of environmental history, but today some of the most ambitious work is coming from outside the country, offering provocative new approaches and perspectives. Joachim Radkau joins that international band of innovative historians with this extraordinary work of global synthesis. It is bold, opinionated, and important."
- Donald Worster, University of Kansas

" indispensable addition to library collections on environmental history. Essential." -Choice

"A review like this cannot do justice to the richness of Radkau’s account of world environmental history. And it is perhaps the richness, the diversity, and the complexity of this account that will be this book’s most important legacy to world environmental history." - David Christian

"Radkau has crafted a book of extraordinary scope by building on regional environmental histories as well as earlier world histories...Thomas Dunlap translated Nature and Power for this English edition, and his translation is virtually flawless, providing exquisite prose that never reveals that the ideas originated in a different language."
World History Bulletin, Kim Little, University of Central Arkansas

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Joachim Radkau is Associate Professor of History at Universität Bielefeld in Germany. His books include Deutsche Industrie und Politik von Bismarck bis zur Gegenwart (1974). Holz: Ein Naturstoff in der Technikgeschichte (in collaboration with Ingrid Schäfer, 1987), Das Zeitalter der Nervosität: Deutschland zwischen Bismarck und Hitler (1998), and the biography of Max Weber, Die Leidenschaft des Denkens (2005).
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Table of Contents

Preface to the German Edition     xi
Preface to the English Edition     xv
Thinking about Environmental History     1
Blinders and Dead Ends in Environmental History     1
The Sameness of Vicious Circles and the Complex Ways of Escaping Them     6
In the Depth of Time, and the Mysterious Regenerative Power of the Nature Idea     15
Trees or Sheep? The Problem of Value Judgments in Environmental History     20
Ecology as Historical Explanation: From the Collapse of Mayan Culture to the Great Irish Famine     27
Terra Incognita: Environmental History as Secret History or the History of the Obvious?     32
The Ecology of Subsistence and Tacit Knowledge: Primeval Symbioses of Humans and Nature     36
In the Beginning Was Fire: Global Slash-and-Burn Agriculture and Pyromania in Environmental History     41
Humans and Animals: Hunting and Domestication     45
Gardens and Fruit Trees     55
Farmers and Herders     62
The "Tragedy of the Commons" and the Plaggen Plague: Was Premodern Agriculture "Unconscious Plunder"?     71
Mother Earth and the Father in Heaven: On the Ecology of Religion     77
Water, Forests, and Power     86
Hydraulic Engineering, Power, and Ecological Chain Reactions     87
Egypt andMesopotamia: An Archetypal Contrast     93
The Irrigated Terrace: A Socioecological Cell Culture     97
China as a Model and a Terrifying Vision     103
Water Civilizations within Constrained Spaces: Venice and the Netherlands     117
Malaria, Irrigation, Deforestation: Endemic Disease as Nature's Avenger and the Protector of Ecological Reserves     127
Deforestation and "Ecological Suicide" in the Mediterranean Region: A Fictitious Problem? Erosion in Harmony with Nature and Misleading Historicization     131
Forest and Power in Europe: From the Forest-Clearance Movement to the Era of Forest Regulations     136
Focal Points of an Early Consciousness of Crisis: Cities and Mining     142
Colonialism as a Watershed in Environmental History     152
The Mongol Empire and the "Microbial Unification of the World"     154
Ecological Dynamics in Overseas Colonialization     157
The Birth of the Global Perspective: Colonial and Insular Origins of Modern Environmental Awareness     164
Colonial and Postcolonial Turning Points in India's Environmental History     169
Yankee and Mushik Ecology     177
The Question of European Exceptionalism in Environmental History: The Effect of Colonialism on the Colonial Powers     184
At the Limits of Nature     195
Toward the Last Reserves     195
"Wo Mistus, da Christus" (Where there is dung, there is Christ): From the Fallow to the "Cult of Dung" and the Politicization of Agriculture     205
Alarm over Wood Scarcity, the Afforestation Movement, and the Rise of an Ecological Forest Apologetics     212
"Sweet, Holy Nature": The Ambiguous Development of the Modern Religion of Nature     221
Nature and Nation: Making Concrete the Nature in Need of Protection     226
The First Industrial Environmental Crisis and the Genesis of Basic Patterns of Modern Crisis Management     239
In the Labyrinth of Globalization     250
The Deepest Rupture in the History of the Environment: The Failed Americanization of the World     250
Blood and Soil: Self-Sufficiency Gone Mad     260
Substrata of Environmental Concerns: The Nuclear Apocalypse and Cancer Fears     265
Scientific, Spiritual, and Economic Origins of the Environmental Movement     272
Nepal, Bhutan, and Other Summit Perspectives: Environmental Problems in Tourism, Development Aid, and Space Flight     280
The Problems of Power and Uncertainty in Environmental Policy     294
Epilogue: How to Argue with Environmental History in Politics     304
Notes     331
Index     409
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