Review: Forests under Fire: A Century of Ecosystem Mismanagement in the Southwest/Review: Fire: A Brief History

Article excerpt

Stephen J. Pyne. Fire: A Brief History. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2002. 220 pp. ISBN 0-295-98144-X (paper). US$18.95

Christopher J. Huggard & Arthur R. Gomez (Eds). Forests Under Fire: A Century of Ecosystem Mismanagement in the Southwest. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2001. 307 pp. ISBN 0-8165-1775-4 (cloth). US$40.00. Acid-free paper.

Stephen Pyne, the biologist as historian/poet, the historian as ecologist/advocate, attempts to "evoke rather than explain" (p. ix), the role of fire. Christopher Huggard and Arthur Gomez use scholarly explanation to illustrate the controversies that they believe call for change in the practice of ecosystem management.

A professor in the Biology and Society program at Arizona State University, Pyne is one of the most knowledgeable and prolific writers on the history of fire. The six-part cycle is reminiscent of a German opera, best told as a long saga that weaves together stories of humankind emerging, the discovery of combustion, and then the manipulation of fire for agricultural and industrial use. The result is a chronology of 400 million years of fire in just over 200 pages of text.

Pyne's style will read as a literary treasure for those comfortable with references to humanity as "stoker of industrial fire" (p. 185), and embers falling "like the husks of opened nuts" (p. 48). The enormity of his taskattempting to chronicle the transformation of the landscape from aboriginal "first-contact" fire to the burning of fossil fuels and the use of anthropogenic fire-might discourage a casual reader. But he manages to entice us into reading further because we yearn to see how the saga ends, or at least Pyne's reflections on the future. …

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