George Perkins Marsh
Prophet of Conservation
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.
About the Authors
"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."—Nature
"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."—Choice
"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
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