Vestal Fire: An Environmental History, Told Through Fire, of Europe and Europe's Encounter with the World

Pyne, Stephen J.
ISBN:
9780295975962

Stephen Pyne takes the reader on a journey through time, exploring the terrain of Europe and the uses and abuses of these lands as well as, through migration and conquest, many parts of the rest of the world. Vestal Fire takes its title from Vesta, Roman goddess of the hearth and keeper of the sacred fire on Mount Olympus. But the book's title also suggests the strength and limitations of Europe's peculiar conception of fire, and through fire, of its relationship to nature. Between the untamed fire of the wilderness and the tended fire of the hearth lies a never-ending dialectic in which human beings struggle to control natural forces and processes that in fact can sometimes be directed but never wholly dominated or contained. Editorial Reviews Booknews Paper edition reprint of a 1997 work, part of a suite of books that narrates the story of the impact of humanity's attempt to control fire. In this volume focused on European history, Pyne (history, Arizona State U.) sweeps through over 3,000 thousand years<-->chronicling how flames have been harnessed for agriculture and industry; have served as errant shaping forces of landscape, war, and migration; and have been the focus of sacred ritual and thinking about humans' relationship to natural forces. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com) Booknews Part of a suite of books that narrates the story of the impact of humanity's attempt to control fire, this volume focuses on the seat of Western civilization. In this unique perspective on European history, Pyne (history, Arizona State U.) sweeps through over 3,000 thousand years<-->chronicling how flames have been harnessed for agriculture and industry; have served as errant shaping forces of landscape, war, and migration; and as the focus of sacred ritual and thinking about our relationship to natural forces. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or. Kirkus Reviews A dense but highly readable illustrated history of fire's role in the forging of European civilization. Historian Pyne (Arizona State Univ.) has written several books (World Fire, 1995, etc.) about the impact of fire in such far-flung places as Australia and the Grand Canyon as part of a series he has titled "Cycle of Fire." He now adds a strong entry to this series with this epic look at fire as a cultural artifact from the Neolithic Age to the present day. Pyne ranges from the Arctic to the Mediterranean and from the Urals to the Atlantic in his discussion of early European societies' use of fire in transforming the landscape from its natural state into a mediated, agriculturally useful form. Theologians would later liken this evolution by fire at the hands of humans to a kind of salvation. As Pyne writes, "the taking of land was proclaimed an act of reclamation from its fallen state." Elsewhere he considers the role of natural fire as a shaping force in settlement patterns, paying special attention to France and Germany, where frequent fire-related catastrophes led to advances in silviculture. A generous use of asides enlivens Pyne's discussions yet sometimes threatens to drown readers in detail. Among other topics, the author addresses the development of safety matches in the 1850s, an invention that changed fire from a near-sacred element to yet another "industrially mass-produced object, alienated from ancient associations, an act no longer dependent on intimate skill." He gives us a leisurely view of "the unholy trinity of money, politics, and firefighting," citing imperial Rome as a case in point. And he considers the employment of fire during war and revolution, leading to the not-unreasonable European obsession with "fire as a villain." A learned and ingenious book, likely to be influential in the history of humankind's relationship with the environment.

Tag cloud generated by Coginov API
Concepts extracted by AlchemyAPI AlchemyAPI