George Perkins Marsh

Prophet of Conservation

David Lowenthal
Foreword by William Cronon

  • Published: July 2015
  • Subject Listing: History / Environmental History; Environmental Studies; Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir
  • Bibliographic information: 632 pp., 34 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Contents

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.
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.

"This erudite and richly detailed biography does full justice to a brilliant American thinker, the founder of the conservation movement. It brings Marsh's world wonderfully alive, from Vermont to the Italian Alps, and convincingly shows how provocative he still is today."
-Donald Worster, University of Kansas
List of Illustrations
Foreword by William Cronon
Woodstock and the First Watershed
Burlington: Blunders and Bereavements
Puritans, Vikings, Goths
Congress and the Smithsonian
American History from the Ground Up
Constantinople and the Desert
Missionary Miseries, Mediterranean Jaunts
Debts and Dromedaries
Vermont Public Servant
The English Language
Risorgimento and Civil War
Turin and the Alps
Man and Nature: The Making
Man and Nature: The Meaning
Florence and Unfinished Italy
Last Watersheds: Rome, Cravairola, Vallombrosa
Retrospect: Forming a Life
Prospect: Reforming Nature
Abbreviations in Notes and bibliography
Illustration credits

"This is a keenly felt and carefully written biography by one of our leading geographers.Every page, almost every line, of this remarkable book shines with scholarship, learning, and insight of both the subject and author. I don't know whom I admire more- Marsh or Lowenthal."
-Historical Geography

"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 Naturalist

"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."
-The Journal of American History

"Every page, almost every line, of this remarkable book shines with the scholarship, learning, and insight of both the subject and the author."
-Historical Geography

"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."
-Northern Woodlands

"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."

"Brings to life the career and ideas of an important green forerunner [whose] book was one of the founding works of modern environmentalism."
-The Economist

"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."

"Classic. . . a compelling read."
-Boston Globe

"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."
-American Historical Review