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The Find

‘Wood: A History’ by Joachim Radkau

A illustration made for the 1878 Paris Word Fair showing steam powered foresting in the US.

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“Wood: A History’’ (Polity) is a cultural history à la Mark Kurlansky’s “Salt.’’ German historian Joachim Radkau is an affable guide, skeptical of claims by environmentalists that wood is about to disappear. Beginning with Stone Age hunters, “Wood’’ winds through time, touching on medieval cathedrals, the Industrial Revolution, the timber industry, and the impact of IKEA. Radkau is clear-eyed about the challenges of his project: “If one writes a history of wood filled with enthusiasm for the material, one finds oneself asking why it does not rule the world, instead of being driven out by other materials.’’

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