Man and Nature
Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action
George Perkins Marsh
Edited by David Lowenthal
Foreword by William Cronon
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In Man and Nature, first published in 1864, polymath scholar and diplomat George Perkins Marsh challenged the general belief that human impact on nature was generally benign or negligible and charged that ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean had brought about their own collapse by their abuse of the environment. By deforesting their hillsides and eroding their soils, they had destroyed the natural fertility that sustained their well-being. Marsh offered his compatriots in the United States a stern warning that the young American republic might repeat these errors of the ancient world if it failed to end its own destructive waste of natural resources. Marsh's ominous warnings inspired conservation and reform. In linking culture with nature, science with history, Man and Nature was the most influential text of its time next to Darwin's On the Origin of Species, published just five years earlier.
- Published: 2003
- Subject Listing: Environmental Studies
- Bibliographic information: 512 pp., notes, index, 6 x 9 in.
- Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Classics
In his Introduction to this new edition, David Lowenthal places Man and Nature in the context of recent scholarship and evaluates its significance for the environmental movement that has emerged since the latter part of the twentieth century. He also paints a vivid portrait of the book's brilliant, passionate, wide-ranging, and sometimes choleric author.
Although what we know and what we fear about the environment have vastly amplified since Marsh's day, his appraisal of forest cover and erosion remains largely valid, his cautions about watershed control still cognent, and his call for stewardship ever more pertinent. Man and Nature is worth reading not only for having taught lessons crucial in its day, but for teaching them still so well.
David Lowenthal is professor emeritus of geography at University College London. His books include George Perkins Marsh: Prophet of Conservation, The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History, and The Past Is a Foreign Country.
"[Man and Nature was] the rudest kick in the face that American initiative, optimism, and carelessness had yet received."
"It is no exaggeration to say that Man and Nature launched the modern conservation movement. It helped Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century recognize the damage they were doing to the natural environment, and challenged them to behave in more responsible ways toward the earth and its natural systems. . . . Man and Nature stands right next to Silent Spring and A Sand County Almanac by any measure of historic significance."
-William Cronon, from the Foreword
Foreword: A Classic of Conservation
Introduction to the 2003 Edition
A Note on the Text
Transfer, Modification and Extirpation of Vegetable and of Animal Species
Projected or Possible Geographical Changes by Man